Mileage Plates

Who doesn’t like a discount? Whether you are living paycheck to paycheck or are flush with cash, there’s something satisfying about finding the lower price for a product. It’s just part of the American dream. There’s an inherent gamble in deals though. Occasionally the seemingly same product is not all that it was cracked up to be. Illinois truck registration is no different. It’s expensive, but there is a discount version…until it creeps up and bites back you in the pocketbook.

Here’s a quick comparison to get your attention. If you purchase the flat weight tax 80,000 pound Z-plate, the cost is $3191. However, the same 80,000 plate in mileage tax form is $1415! That’s a 56% discount. These costs do not include other administrative fees like the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax, the Special Hauling Vehicle permit or title/transfer fees. 

THE FACTS
Mileage plates are available for both trucks and trailers. The premise is simple. While you receive a fee discount, you have a limited amount of miles the vehicle may operate each year on the registration, as opposed to unlimited miles on flat weight tax. The authority and classification options for mileage plates is found in 625 ILCS 5/3-818 of the Illinois Vehicle Code. 

Interestingly, there are a few aberrations compared to their flat-weight tax cousins:
•   Mileage truck plates have a 20,000 pound “MG”plate. There is no “G” flat weight truck plate.
•   The flat weight “H” truck plate has a maximum capacity of 26,000 pounds. The “MH” mileage plate is only 24,000 pounds.
•   Regular truck plate have a “Q” plate for 50,000 pounds, but there is no “MQ” mileage plate. 
•   A flat weight “TG” trailer plate is good for 20,000 pounds, and there is no flat weight “TF” trailer plate. There is a mileage “MF” trailer plate, and it is good for 20,000 pounds instead.
•   Flat weight trailers have a “TN” plate for 40,000 pounds, mileage trailers have a “MM” plate for 40,000 pounds.

Those who elect to pay the mileage tax instead of the flat weight tax must have working odometers for the vehicle, including both trucks and trailers. This requirement is found in 625 ILCS 5/3-701. Odometers for a trailer are found in the hub of an axle. Records for the mileage of each vehicle must be kept.

Also, anyone who opts for mileage tax must post a $500 bond in event they exceed the limited number of miles allowed for that particular plate. If the truck exceeds the mileage, the $500 bond is used to make up the cost.

THE PROS
Obviously a discounted rate is a pro. Mileage plates are great for seasonal jobs with trucks dedicated to seasonal operation only.  Snow plowing and tree removal operations are perfect examples of this. This concludes the pros of mileage plates.

THE CONS
Here is where you pay the piper. While the mileage tax has a purpose, so does honesty and enforcement. After years of abuse, the 
Illinois Secretary of State Police now sends investigators out to do surprise audits. If the records are inaccurate, prepare to pay. If the odometer is broken, disconnected or otherwise not spinning at the appropriate rate, prepare to pay. Cheating on mileage plates is like not having plates at all. You may very well be force registered to pay the full rate for the fiscal year.

While most enforcement authority rests solely with the Illinois Secretary of State Police, local police officers have a hand in this too. There is nothing local police officers can do about a truck exceeding its mileage, or checking record books. However, if a local police officer lawfully stops a vehicle with mileage plates and finds the odometer not operable, the truck has no registration. That means no registered weight, which means overweight on registration, which means expensive citations. 

This is not license for a police officer to stop a mileage plated truck for any traffic violation, just to have it run a course to check mileage. Or to inspect record books. That is fruit of the poisonous tree.

Local police authority is limited. If a police officer has independent reason to believe the vehicle is overweight (axles/gross/registration) he can most certainly measure the mileage from the point of the traffic stop to the weigh station to guarantee odometer accuracy.

All that glitters is definitely not gold.

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Recreational Vehicles

“It’s all about revenue.” “Money money money.” “You guys are only trying to pad the City coffers on the backs of the working man.” These are very common statements heard from the drivers, owners and managers in the trucking industry when police officers write overweight citations. Unfortunately, many times they are spot on. The article this week will discuss a practice in truck enforcement that serves to prove this point: recreational vehicles.

If have been following the Illinois Truce Enforcement Association for any length of time, you probably have quickly learned there is little tolerance for enforcement that strays or bends rules for the sake of revenue. Unlike a basic truck enforcement course offered by another training institution where the instructor opens with a shameful “welcome to revenue 101”, the ITEA is the exact opposite.

Any police department which facilitates a truck enforcement program fueled by moneylust is a disaster waiting to happen. Laws have a purpose, as do fines. The revenue generated by truck enforcement should only be the byproduct of quality police work, not the catalyst for it. 

When a police agency demands or expects officers to perform truck enforcement duties solely to create income, they are encouraging police officers to find creative interpretations of the law. There are dozens of examples of this, but this week recreational vehicles have the spotlight. 

The foundation is simple. Registration and commercial driver’s license are under the regulatory authority of the Illinois Secretary of State. The Illinois General Assembly, for right or wrong, creates statutes which the SOS must enforce. Where the statute is silent to procedure, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) fills in the gap.

Truck registration in Illinois is expensive. There’s no doubt about it. Given the high price, there is incentive for truck owners to try and cheat the system to purchase registration of a lower price. This is the case with RV plates.

Many second division vehicles are RVs. In those times when the trucks are indeed RVs, they may be appropriately plated as such for a substantially lower fee. In the times when the truck is not an RV, they must secure the exponentially higher base plate fee.

The problem police officers run into is when they try to ascertain who is cheating and who is not. The police officer who focuses on the purpose of the truck quickly finds he may very well be stepping on the authoritative toes of the SOS. 

The purpose for the truck being used as RV, whether lawfully or unlawfully, is incredibly complex and quite subjective. To say there are perfect, clean cut rules to this topic is faulty thinking. 

The reason police officers will attempt to use creative interpretation of statutes in regards to determining RV purpose harkens back to first few paragraphs of this article. Follow these breadcrumbs: 
•   If the truck officer believes there is cheating going on, then he can say the truck is improperly registered as an RV. 
•   If the truck is improperly registered as an RV, then it needs flat weight truck plates. 
•   If the truck needs flat weight truck plates and it does not have them, then an overweight on registration citation may be issued. 

Cha-ching.

The most common rationalization an officer uses to make this determination is that the RV is being operated for business purposes. This is correct in simplistic terms…a business may not use RV plates to circumvent regular truck registration or exercise a CDL exemption.

The creative, moneylusting police officer will attempt to find easy rationalizations to make the RV operation a business purpose. However there is no easy way to do this. It takes an extreme amount of investigation into tax filings and other regulatory paperwork to make a proper determination. The work required far exceeds what a patrol officer can accomplish on a traffic stop.

What’s worse is the police officer who detains a driver far beyond customary traffic stop time limits, set by the United States Supreme Court, to play Elliot Ness. What’s even more disconcerting is the police officer who employs his own low-standard rules and issues the citation, leaving the driver to prove his innocence in court.

This is bad police work. The burden of proof is on the officer. If the officer cannot rightly meet his lawful burden, he must send the vehicle on its way and continue his investigation. There are other administrative ways to bring the registration or CDL cheat to justice. 

To counter this problematic enforcement, the ITEA recently ratified a Standard of Practice (SOP 38) to provide guidance to our member police officers. 

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CDL Arrest Policy

On the road to maturity as a police officer, one quickly learns to quit taking things personally. Some take longer than others, but the sooner a police officer learns to judge the actions of a violator and not the actor himself, the easier life becomes. The reality is sometimes mistakes are made, but sometimes the consequences exceed the reasonableness of the offense. This can readily be seen in commercial driver’s license violations. The ITEA has a solution though…read on!

Earlier this year, under federal mandate, the Illinois Secretary of State began canceling CDLs for those who had not complied with the medical merge process. No fault can be attributed to SOS. Illinois went above and beyond the call of duty.

In the end, Illinois had one of the earliest and highest compliance rates in the nation because of this effort. Even still, just under 20,000 Illinois CDL holders still had their CDL cancelled for not certifying. Many of these CDL holders probably were not using their CDL anymore, but many probably just did not get it done.

There’s another wrinkle to this issue. Of the 400,000+ CDL holders in Illinois, 46% are certified as non-excepted interstate (NI). This means they had to submit a valid medical card at the time of certification. As interstate certified drivers, they are required to provide the SOS a new, and valid, medical card every two years before the date it expires. If not, the CDL will be cancelled.

Just to add some more regulation to the process, as of May 21st, 2014 all driver physicals have to go through a specific set of doctors called “the registry”. No more “doc-in-the-box” offices writing out bogus medical cards for obviously unfit drivers. While the number of qualified doctors has surprisingly met expectations, it will still slow down the ability for CDL holders to get their physicals done in time.

Once the CDL is cancelled for any of these reasons, the driver has thirty days and then the CDL will cease to exist. The driver will have to start from scratch to obtain a new CDL. Permit tests, pre-trip inspections, skills course and road course…just like he never had a CDL in the first place.

The medical merge regulation is just one way to be in violation of CDL laws. How about these situations?
•   With the new CDL criterion, the driver who did not need a CDL June 30th based on GVWR may need one simply because he weighed one pound more on the scale July 1st.
•   The driver who did not know about a new regulation which says the aggregate total of 119 gallon tanks exceeding 1000 gallons needs a tanker endorsement.
•   The driver who received bad CDL advice from a police officer who was trained in an unauthoritative truck enforcement class, is now stopped by a well-trained police officer.

All that to say this: there’s a lot of new ways to have your CDL yanked for nothing but paperwork issues. There’s also a lot of ways to be in violation of a CDL. Yes, the medical merge process is important to weed out medically unfit drivers. Yes, the responsibility to be compliant with all rules and regulations falls on the CDL holder themselves.

However, many good drivers may lose or have their CDL cancelled solely because relatively minor issues, not necessarily because they are unqualified drivers. If the CDL is their livelihood, they will continue to drive regardless. Others will continue to drive, ignorant to the complexities of CDL law. And yes, that is on them too.

The question is not whether or not the operator should be held accountable for the decision to drive without the CDL when required, the question is whether or not the penalties for all CDL violations fit the crime. As mentioned in previous blog posts, driving without the proper CDL when required is a Class-A misdemeanor. Outside the various state police agencies, the vast majority of local police departments require misdemeanor traffic arrests to be custodial.

Handcuffs. Towed trucks (exponentially more expensive than towed cars). Fingerprints. Mug shots. FBI and state ID numbers. Maximum one year in jail. Maximum fine $2500.

As an alternative, local police agencies could adopt a model policy brought forth by the ITEA last month which provides police officers discretion. A model policy which allows police officers to still do their job, but not make a custodial arrest of every CDL violator. A model policy which attempts to harmonize state and local methodologies. A model policy already adopted by many ITEA member police agencies.

Click HERE to download ITEA Resolution 2014-02. Police officers, start the conversation with your administration. Truckers, make the phone call to your local police agency and respectfully demand they adopt a policy which allows for non-custodial arrests of CDL violators.

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Harmonization

The majesty of music is hearing multiple layers of sound working together. Each person in a choir is an individual singing something unique. Their voice is not the exactly the same as the other vocalists, their line of music is not the same, but it all comes together to make something beautiful. Lest you think the Illinois Truck Enforcement Association is getting soft, harmonization between units of government is a national issue for the specialized transportation, and this article will explain how the ITEA is supporting the effort.

Imagine this: you are a heavy hauler domiciled on the east coast. An energy company in California hires you to transport a massive generator from the Port of Baltimore in Maryland to Los Angeles. Months are spent planning. Route surveys, permit procurement, escort vehicles, utility relocation, police protection…the list goes on and on. It’s a massive process, and expensive too.

Just when you think you got it all figured out, one the states you are going to pass through (let’s just say Illinois) reports there is problem with the route crossing an overpass. You are informed the move will have to be diverted onto local roads involving one county and four municipalities.

Your transportation world just imploded. Other than the hassle of obtaining the local permits, each individual locale has their own specific rules and provisions about lighting, signs, escorts, and times of day. What may be customary and industry standard at the state level does not jive at the local level.

There is no harmony. All the voices are working against each other. The only tune being sung is utter discontent for bureaucracy.

Make no mistake, harmonization is not just about local government, it’s about state government as well. Rules for oversize/overweight (OSOW) moves vary between each state, each county, each township and each municipality. 

In Illinois, the Illinois Department of Transportation is the permit authority for all state highways, sans the tollways. Their rules and regulations have been most replicated by local government in Illinois, but this not a universal trait. Many locals have created their own set of rules which do not harmonize with IDOT. 

Several years ago, the American Association for State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) began studying this issue in depth. AASHTO represents the state departments of transportation for all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington DC. 

In 2012, the subcommittee on highway transport, and all 52 members, passed a resolution committing to harmonization based on five permit categories: escort requirements, warning flags, warning lights, warning signs and, days/hours of operation. This was called Phase I. In March 2014, the subcommittee released the results of their Phase II study.

Phase II explored all the different rules and regulations between the states, and identified the minimum requirements. For instance, let’s say 10 states required escort vehicles over 12,000 pounds GVWR, 38 states required escort vehicles over 10,000 pounds, and 4 states required escort vehicles over 8,000 pounds. The 10,000 pound escort vehicle would become the minimum standard, meaning four states would need to come into harmony by passing rules or legislations to do so.

This is no easy task though. Legislation and administrative rulemaking is an intensely political issue. Change has to begin somewhere, and AASHTO is taking the lead role creating model policy for the states to follow.

The problem is the final mile. Even if all 52 member AASHTO jurisdictions come into perfect harmony, there is no mandate for local government to do so. Even in a day where consolidation of local government is becoming a buzzword, Illinois is decades away from ever seeing real change. Until then, it will be a battle to harmonize over 3,000 units of local government with highway jurisdiction. 

Like AASHTO at the national level, the ITEA has agreed to champion this cause for local government in Illinois. Last month, the ITEA Board of Directors voted to pass Resolution 2014-01 encouraging local government to adopt the minimum Phase II standards for their local permits.

For our police members whose towns or counties offer OS/OW permits, step up and begin the conversation to meet these standards in your local town. For our industry members, pick up the phone and start respectfully demanding them to do so. 

It’s no secret Illinois is one of the most unfriendly states to good business. Permit harmonization is a small measure all those involved in Illinois transportation can take to start improving that reputation. On July 14-17, the SCOHT is meeting for their annual conference in Philadelphia. Let’s give them a shock that Illinois is doing something right.

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Exemplary Police Work #5

The war on drugs. One could not invoke a law enforcement initiative with so great a political divide. The truth is, the war on drugs is hardly a war. It’s maintenance. There will never be a victor. There will never be a white flag of surrender. The idealistic goal is eradication, but the practical goal is to maintain a high quality of life for the people law enforcement serves. In paled comparison, the goal of the Illinois Truck Enforcement Association has never been to completely eradicate mistakes by truck officers. The goal has always been to minimize them and have accountable police officers correct their errors. The article today tells the story of a police officer who exemplifies what the ITEA stands for.

Last week’s article discussed a radical new change in how law enforcement will determine when a commercial driver’s license is needed, and what class of CDL is required for certain vehicles. CDL law is a federal mandate which states must impose, manage and enforce.

Not all trucks require CDLs though…at least not yet. Rumor is beginning to swirl that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is looking into a potential expansion of CDLs to cover Class 5 and 6 trucks. Where federal regulation of CDLs end, the individual states pick up the regulation of non-CDL vehicles.

What makes things confusing is the definition of a commercial motor vehicle. At last count, the ITEA had about eight versions. However, any vehicle with a GVWR or actual weight of 10,001 or more, used in commerce, is a commercial motor vehicle under the authority of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Not all of these vehicles need a CDL though.

Illinois is one of a handful of states which require a Class-C non-CDL for certain trucks. Any motor vehicle with a manufacturer’s GVWR (not actual weight, never registration) of 16,001 pounds to 26,000 pounds is required to have a Class-C non-CDL. It is these vehicles that are the potential target of future CDL regulation.

There is no doubt CDL and classification determination is soup of confusion. Ask a dozen people and you will get a dozen answers. Unfortunately, police officers sometimes make mistakes when it comes to classification issues too.

The most common mistake police officers make in this arena is to combine the GVWR of a truck and trailer to arrive at a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) that lands between 16,001 and 26,000 pounds. The officer then erroneously requires the driver to have a Class-C CDL.

For instance, a truck has a 15,000 pound GVWR. If operated on its own, the driver only needs a Class-D license. Now take the same truck and add an 11,000 pound GVWR trailer. Even though the trailer exceeds 10,000 pounds, the driver does not need a CDL because the GCWR is not over 26,000 pounds. Because the driver does not need a CDL, the classification goes back to whatever is needed to operate the power unit only. In this case, a Class-D non-CDL.

The mere fact the GCWR lands in Class-C non-CDL territory does not mean the driver needs a Class-C non-CDL. As a matter of fact, the only time a GCWR can be used is to determine if a combination of vehicles requires a Class-A CDL. That’s it. Every other time the classification only needs to cover the power unit.

Earlier this month, an ITEA certified police officer stopped a trucking member of the ITEA operating combination of vehicles with a GCWR under 26,001 pounds. Because the total was more than 16,000 pounds, the officer wrongly cited him for a violation of classification for not possessing a Class-C non-CDL.

Everyone makes mistakes, even the most educated truck officers. What makes this officer stand out is that he is an ITEA certified police officer. He works under a code which states:
•   I understand I don’t know it all
•   I know where to find authoritative resources for help
•   I will make informed decisions before making wrong ones
•   I will be open for correction when I make mistakes

Our officer made a mistake, and when a representative from his ITEA Chapter reached out, he acknowledged the error. He accepted the correction professionally. He humbly agreed to dismiss the charge in court.

Nobody likes a self-righteous police officer. Simply wearing the uniform inherently oozes the perception of arrogance, even when the officer is meek. The ITEA is proud of this officer and his attitude. We count him among the best.

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Two Ways to Skin the CDL Cat

Do you want to have your mind numbed? Well, there’s a lot of ways to accomplish that unlawfully, but if you want a legit method, study the requirements of commercial driver’s licenses. For years, local Illinois law enforcement received some bad advice on which criterion should be used to determine who needs a CDL and when. In those days, unauthoritative instructors taught three ways, when in actuality there was only one. Until now…there’s two!

Here is what has absolutely nothing to do with driver’s license classification, whether it is a CDL or non-CDL: registration. License plates and driver’s licenses are like an old divorced couple. They don’t talk and want nothing to do with each other, and there is nothing anyone can do to reconcile it. 

Registration is nothing more than a tax to carry weight upon a road. If a vehicle owner wants to pay $3191 to the Illinois Secretary of State to carry 80,000 pounds of registered weight on his F-150 pickup truck, he is more than welcome. That does not mean he needs a CDL however.

Until just recently, the only thing that mattered – the only thing – was the manufacturers GVWR. That’s it. If International said a truck was rated to for a certain maximum loaded weight, that is the number used to determine whether the vehicle which class of CDL the driver needed. If Eager Beaver said a trailer was rated a certain maximum loaded weight, that number was all to be considered.

While registration was once falsely taught as a criterion for CDLs, a second faulty criterion was to use the actual weight of the vehicle on the scale. While it seems like a logical method for determining the necessity of a CDL, it was not. Over time, the FMCSA adopted guidance that actual weight of the vehicle could be used, but only in absence of a manufacturers GVWR.

Unfortunately many police officers were taught that you take the highest of the three (registration, actual weight or GVWR), and use the one which served your purpose. Oh how wrong.

For the last several years, the FMCSA has been trying to find a way to make CDL determination and classification a true comparison between actual weight and GVWR. Effectively April 18th, 2014, this became so under federal law, which meant in Illinois only the Illinois State Police could enforce the law as such. 

Effective July 1st however, Illinois statute adopts the federal statute, which means all Illinois police officers (who are trained appropriately) will enforce the law uniformly. In simpler terms, a police officer will be able to use the higher of either manufacturers GVWR, or actual weight, to determine if a CDL is needed and what class of CDL is required.

What this does not mean is that non-CDL vehicles are subject to the same comparison. Trucks which do not require CDLs are managed under administrative rule of the Illinois Secretary of State. The administrative rules require the GVWR to be used only, exceptactual can be used only with a trailer that is missing the GVWR.

For instance, a truck has GVWR of 15,000 pounds which would normally require only a Class-D non-CDL. If an officer stops the truck and it weighs 16,500 pounds on the scale, the driver still only needs a Class-D non-CDL. There can be no comparison as the vehicle has not crossed over into the CDL world of regulation.

However, if a truck has a 25,000 pound GVWR, it would normally only require a Class-C non-CDL. But if the officer puts the truck on the scale and it weighs 26,500 pounds, the driver just made the magical leap into the world of CDLs. The true comparison is at work. 

What’s important to understand is this new rule is about enforcement only. Those who go to test for a CDL will still be required to show up in a representative vehicle for the class license they desire based upon GVWR. That means if you want a Class-B CDL, you must test in a vehicle with a manufacturer’s GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more. You cannot show up to the CDL facility in a 25,000 pound GVWR truck that has been loaded to more than 26,000 pounds.

For our membership reading this, the ITEA Standard of Practice (SOP 11) and the CDL flowchart resource document are being revamped to reflect the changes and will be available soon.

This is important! To wrongly arrest a driver for a Class-A misdemeanor CDL offense cannot be excused by ignorance. To wrongly tell a driver he can drive a vehicle to which he is not properly licensed or classified is just as dicey.

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Nuke the HOS Rules

Once upon a time in the olden days, a builder finished a house and looked on it with pride. The house was square, level and plumb. All the mechanical systems were run for optimum efficiency. Fast forward 50 years and you walk into the basement and find octopuses of electrical, low voltage wiring, plumbing and HVAC…it’s a horrid mess of fix upon fix. There is no way to make it pretty again. Sometimes, it needs to be blown up, torn out and rebuilt from scratch. That’s what the nations’ hours-of-service laws are like for truckers. It’s time to go back to the drawing board.

On June 7th, a tragic crash occurred in New Jersey that has fanned the flames of an already raging fire regarding hours-of-service (HOS) and driver fatigue. The driver of a semi-tractor trailer combination crashed into the back of a limousine, killing one celebrity comedian and critically injuring another. The trucker has been accused of being fatigued, but the investigation has shown he was within the HOS laws. The question is, what was he doing prior to going on-duty? 

There’s an old adage that when a train hits a truck, the train wins. When a truck hits a car, the truck wins. Winning is the most uncompassionate word. When people die, everybody loses. That’s just the physics of larger and heavier objects crashing into smaller and lighter ones.

In a perfect world, this would never happen. Unfortunately, it’s an imperfect world and tragedy strikes. Crashes like these do not absolve government of doing the right thing by regulating the trucking industry. Conversely, it does not empower government to over-regulate with kneejerk reactions.

The value of life should never be compared based on the occupation of victims. The families of celebrities killed in truck crashes grieve just as hard as the families of highway workers, state troopers and “regular” people who lose loved ones in truck crashes. Death plays no favorites and will claim us all one day.

It’s unfortunate that when a celebrity is involved, the political nature of driver fatigue is somehow artificially amplified, as if driver fatigue was not an issue prior to it. The fact is driver fatigue has been on the radar screen of the industry and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for many years.

Props should go to the FMCSA for attempting to find solutions to reduce highway deaths due to driver fatigue. Recent rulings however proved only to create economic harm to the carrier industry and did little to reduce the number of highway deaths. To that end, the United States Senate this week will have hearings this coming week on the Collins amendment which would roll back some of these restrictions. 

This regulatory regression is heralded by all sects of the carrier industry, but it could now be in jeopardy because the New Jersey crash. The rollback would be another step climbed in the ascent of profitable trucking, but instead it’s become a political soapbox. 

A soapbox mostly for those politicians representing industries competing with highway travel. It’s become a marketing strategy for those like the law firm which recently took out a full-page ad in Maxim magazine demonizing truckers by referring to them as “serial killers”.  

The harsh reality is that no matter how much or how little regulation there is, tragic crashes will occur due to driver fatigue…in trucks and cars. There is always a way to cheat and find a way around the law. Ask any police officer. You can spend 30 years running radar in the same place and still get speeders. Compliance may improve, but violations will continue.

The forgotten goal is balance. A student of the industry (and this topic) understands the robust complexities of  trucking. Certain HOS regulations may be good for one part of the industry, but not others. There are divergent operational distinctions between truckload, LTL, fleet operations, owner-operators, specialized transportation and short-haul drivers. It’s not apples to apples. Apparently as the nation’s social policies slowly descend into egalitarianism, truck law is not exempt.

For years, the federal government has been trying to create a static, one-size fits all HOS rule for the industry. It’s a noble effort, but it’s a waste of time. Instead they have created a hodge-podge of difficult rules excepted by exception after exception. 

The nation is not safer for it, and the economy is not prosperous for it either.  It doesn’t work. The drivers are still falling asleep. The trucks are still crashing. People are still dying.

It’s high time to wipe clean the HOS slate and start from scratch. A dynamic industry needs dynamic rules with dynamic enforcement strategies. Different trucking disciplines deserve what works best for their operational trade. 

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Surcharging

The sticker shock of an overweight citation is remarkable. Whether it’s a $10,000 ticket or a $500 ticket, it’s a lot of money for a so-called “traffic” violation. Regardless of how robust a company is, every dollar counts in a weak, cut-throat economy. A confusing part of truck law is understanding how the total fines are calculated. Even more confusing is how the fines are supposed to be dispersed! The article this week will discuss an interesting portion of an overweight fine…the surcharge.

Let’s be clear. The police officers of Illinois did not create the fines. Yes, overweight citations generate more revenue than other minor traffic violations. However, do not kid yourself that local police departments who issue the citations reap all of that money. That is simply not true.

The three main portions of a fine are:
1.   The statutory fine – this is set by the General Assembly (your elected leaders).
2.   The surcharge – also a statutory fee.
3.   The court costs – allowed by statute, set by the individual circuit court in each county (by an elected clerk).

The best way to understand the surcharge is to change your viewpoint of it. Instead of thinking of it as part of the fine, think of the surcharge as a “tax” on the fine. The General Assembly has created a sliding scale for the fine portion based on how much weight the vehicle(s) exceed the legal limit by.

The authority for the surcharge is derived from 730 ILCS 5-9-1. Here is how the surcharge is calculated:
1.   Take the total statutory fine amount, for instance $1050.
2.   Divide the fine by 40, which in this case is 26.25.
3.   Round up to the nearest whole number. The number is not rounded down, as the statute says “or fraction thereof”. In this case, the dividend is rounded up to 27.
4.   Multiply the dividend by 10, or $270. This is the surcharge amount.

In rough (very rough) numbers, the surcharge is usually about 25% of the statutory fine. That’s a lot of money. What $270 is to an overweight fine of $1050, $2630 is to an overweight fine of $10,500. Tack on another $200 in court fees, and the total bail comes out to $13,300.

If you are reading this and you are in the industry, you are probably not very happy. Please understand that the local police agency who wrote the ticket gets absolutely zero dollars of the surcharge and zero dollars of the court fees. Of the $10,500 statutory fine, the local town is entitled to half by statute ($5750), but Supreme Court Rule 529 only gives the police agency 44.5% of that fine ($2558).

That’s still a lot of fine revenue for one traffic stop, but is only 19% of the total bail amount. Where the rest of the fine money goes is a colossal disaster to understand, and it is no different with the $2630 in surcharge funds.

But guess what? A portion of the surcharge revenue is allocated to the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board. These statutory revenues help equip police training, which includes truck enforcement training.

Now here’s the real irony. The law authorizing the surcharge specifically says it is NOT to be collected for violations of registration. In other words, if the police officer writes an “overweight” on registration citation, he cannot collect the surcharge in the bail/fine.

However, for over 20 years, local law enforcement was improperly trained to collect the surcharge on all overweight citations, including those for overweight on registration. It wasn’t until the conception of the ITEA that this faulty, destructive training was exposed.

How many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in overweight “tax” surcharges were collected during that time frame by local law enforcement? These are the same taxes which partially financed the very training teaching police officers improperly! Don’t blame the police officers themselves…they were just following a leader like they were told to do.

If the carrier industry is going to be taxed at such a heavy rate for being overweight, the ITEA would be happy to host a debate arguing the merits of it. But at the end of the day, if those dollars are going to be used for training police officers to do truck enforcement, that training needs to be authoritative.

Training which is of the highest quality. Training which is applauded by the industry. Training which is supported by the state regulatory agencies. Training which teaches police officers to do their jobs, but to do it with respect and compassion. Training which teaches police officers to protect the industry. This is the training police officers receive from the ITEA.

A quick way to gauge the heart of a truck enforcement officer is by the tone and method in which he delivers the bad news. Regardless of how an officer personally feels about the fine structure, there should never be high-fives or laughter. That is a slap in the face of a trucker, far worse than the fine or the surcharge, which he doesn’t get a piece of anyhow.

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The Need for Speed

In the 1983 TV show The A-Team, actor George Peppard was famous for saying “I love it when a plan comes together!” Whether it’s gears meshing on a transmission, the final piece of a jigsaw puzzle laid in place or a surprise birthday party that truly surprises, when it all blends nicely, people are happy. The problem is when things don’t come together nicely, bad things happen. Sitting on the desk of Governor Quinn is Senate Bill 930, which was written to make sure truck and automobile traffic speeds are more closely sync’d. Read on to understand why this is important.

First, the ITEA is not endorsing higher speeds for trucks or unsafe truck driving. Common sense will tell you this: the heavier the vehicle is, more damage will be inflicted when they crash. The faster the heavier vehicle is, the more damage will be inflicted when they crash. The reality is when trucks crash, cars (and their occupants) lose. 

What this bill attempts to do is solve the opposite problem. When Governor Quinn signed into law Public Act 98-0511, he raised the maximum speed for cars to 70mph on interstate highways outside Cook and the collar counties. There was a glaring omission from the law though…trucks were still limited to 55mph.

Are trucks more safely operated at 55mph than 70mph? For sure, but the same can be said for cars. The issue at stake here is not the maximum speed, but the speed differential. Before the change, cars were limited to 65mph, a 10mph differential from trucks.  The proponents of this bill believe that a 15mph differential presents too great an opportunity for car versus truck crashes. 

If the Governor signs this bill, the speed differential will be reinstated to a 10mph difference by raising the maximum truck speed on interstates to 60mph from 55mph. Interestingly, as speed synchronization is being fought legislatively at the state level in Illinois, a similar war has been brewing for years at the federal level.

The issue nationwide is whether or not to mandate speed limiters, or governors, on all trucks. These electronic devices are built into the computer of the vehicle and restrict fuel intake in order to limit vehicle speed. Many carriers voluntarily use speed limiters already, many do not. The maximum velocity of trucks with speed limiters is up to management of the individual companies or owners.

The argument against speed limiters is the same as the argument for lesser speed differentials in Illinois…the closer all vehicles are in speed, the safer they are. 

There is no perfect solution and crashes are inevitable regardless of speed differentials, but there are some interesting questions posed by a potential nationwide mandate of speed limiters. It’s easy to argue the benefits of a speed limiters. Here are some arguments against speed limiters:

Hours of Service
In a day when fatigued truck driving is all the enforcement rage, many over-the-road drivers are paid per mile. The incentive to speed is great. Speed limiters do not correspond to speed limits though. Drivers may choose make up lost time (and money) by speeding in reduced speed areas like construction and school zones, or on local streets.

Uniformity
The going rate for a potential speed limiter mandate is 65mph. Many states, like Illinois, now have 70mph interstate speeds. Some are at 75mph. A few are at 80mph. Texas State Highway 130 is now at 85mph! Speed limiters are creating a greater speed differential in different areas of the country.

Congestion
As interstate speed limits continue to increase, speed governed trucks may impede traffic. Have you ever been driving your car on a four-lane highway waiting for one semi-truck to pass another? There will always be some variance in governors, so one truck going 65mph is not exactly the same as another going 65mph. Imagine the time it will take for one truck to pass another in that situation if the passing driver cannot temporarily increase speed to pass, even if it is within the law.

The jury is still out on the benefit of speed limiters, but the studies have adequately shown that speed differentials between cars and trucks are hazardous. In the end, the goal should be safe trucks and safe drivers. Maybe more incentives to reward safe truck drivers is the answer. 

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The Power of Natural Gas

Everyone loves politics whether they want to admit it or not. Merely knowing the right thing to do, or having the best solution, does not promote legislative change. The political game must be played. When it goes your way, it’s awesome. When it doesn’t, you say the system is broken and corrupt. Both statements are partially correct, but the reality is the political process is an impasse of ideology. By the time this article goes to print, a bill providing extra weight for natural gas powered trucks will be probably be sitting on the Governor’s desk awaiting ratification or veto. Where do you stand?

There are not many political arguments which invoke emotional fervor quite like the environment. Few will argue that being good stewards of our planet’s natural resources is not important, but the polarization of opposing views is astounding.

Over the last 20 years, incredible strides have been made to clean up the pollution caused by large commercial vehicles. Gone are the days black smoke billowing from the exhaust stacks. The introduction of diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) has cleaned it even further. Aerodynamic side skirts, trailer tails, wheel covers and undercarriage diffusers have made trucks more fuel efficient than ever before.

But it all comes with a cost. It not only takes money to make money, but to save money as well. Some environmental controls are elective. Others are regulated with hefty price tags, making industry profit margins even slimmer.

As the nation as a whole grapples with foreign oil dependence, multiple power alternatives have been developed for non-transportation industries. Wind and solar are leveraging an ever increasing market share of the residential and commercial power industry. For trucks, natural gas is the wave of the future in domestic energy.

There are two main types of natural gas being outfitted for commercial vehicle power, compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG). In Illinois, fleets in the garbage industry began testing natural gas powered vehicles a few years ago. This use continues to grow as cement mixers and other local, short haul commodities have begun to not only outfit their trucks for natural gas power, but also building natural gas fuel plants in their yards.

As a means of sweetening the pot for industry to transition their vehicles from diesel to natural gas, states have begun granting extra weight tolerances for those who adopt the new technology. Ohio, Indiana and Colorado have passed legislation which grants natural gas powered vehicles an extra 2,000 pounds of weight.

Illinois is following in their footsteps. Senate Bill 3574 is a stone’s throw from the Governor’s desk. If approved, the extra weight will be of consternation to many, yet a blessing to others. The politically conservative see this move as business friendly and for once, Illinois is not the last to approve such measures. The politically liberal see this as a beneficial move for the environment.

The rest see it as another measure by which those with political and financial clout are leveraging more savings for themselves. regardless of the wear and tear on an already crumbing infrastructure. All of these arguments hold some kernel of truth and validity.

If trucking must move away from diesel fuel dependence, then this weight tolerance is necessary. While natural gas is lighter than diesel fuel, the equipment needed to power a truck on natural gas is heavy. Without an extra weight tolerance, less material or freight can be hauled, resulting in a financial loss for the carrier. A loss pssed back onto all of us as consumers.

A major irony of the natural gas powered truck movement is loss of fuel tax revenue. As the federal and state governments have mandated more alternative fuel sources in an effort to make commercial vehicles more efficient, less fuel tax revenue is being generated. States around the nation are struggling with how to compensate for this loss while facing unprecedented highway infrastructure failure.

Could natural gas powered vehicles be a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Will legislators look for new ways to make up for lost fuel tax revenue on the backs of the truckers? Will future profits gained from fuel efficient trucks in turn be passed onto the very same tuckers for whom the extra weight was created?

Only time will tell.