The Fatal Five

The commercial transportation industry has been struggling for over a decade to backfill the exodus of qualified drivers from its ranks.  A study commissioned by The American Truck Association reported in 2005 a driver shortage of around 20,000.  A great-recession and 11 years later, the number has nearly doubled to 38,000.  Many factors compound to create a complex national problem.  Could you be at risk of joining those numbers and not even know it?

Throughout the great-recession there was no doubt owner-operators felt the squeeze and may have exited the industry all together, never to return.  Once gainful employment was found in another industry, it was hard to break back into what seemed like a financially treacherous trucking industry.

Baby boomers are also exiting the industry to the detriment of the profession.  An entire generation of skilled workers who spent decades with their noses to the grindstone is passing the torch to a generation who expects shorter hours, higher pay and employers who cater to an their needs.

Regardless of the generational divide, long hours and time away from home, trucking wears on driver’s ability to maintain longevity.  Commercial driving is still thankfully one of the remaining industries which can provide a decent wage to a dedicated and skilled driver.

The climate within the commercial transportation industry has undoubtedly changed as well.  Companies must be able to sufficiently navigate the regulation and red-tape associated with local, state and federal regulations in order to ensure compliance.

The quickest way for drivers to get bounced from the industry is failure to comply with the most critical regulations effecting a commercial driver: safe driving.

Commercial motor vehicle drivers are held to a higher standard when it comes to the “Fatal 5 Violations”.  One or multiple of these violations have been found to be present in nearly every serious injury and fatal traffic crash.  The troubling fact is that every one of these violations are completely preventable.

Driving Under the Influence
This is a no-brainer.  Do not pass go.  Do not collect $200… in fact, pay a few thousand dollars, then find yourself disqualified.
Since the advent of the ‘hardship license’ which gives a DUI suspended driver a license to operate for work related purposes, there’s a common misunderstanding how the licenses can be used.  Simply put, the ‘hardship license’ cannot be issued to operate a commercial motor vehicle which requires a CDL to operate.

Improper lane use
Improper lane usage by commercial vehicles is often a complaint of the motoring public.  Most officers understand keeping an 8-foot 6-inch wide truck within a 10-12 foot wide lane can be difficult at times, but meandering too far from your lane or unsafely passing is inexcusable unless in an emergency situation.

Following too closely
This is risky business.  Undoubtedly, those pesky four-wheelers will pull out in front of a commercial vehicle. If given even the smallest gap, and factoring in brake lag on air braking systems and reduced stopping ability, following too closely is asking for trouble.

Speed
Speed kills. Enough said.  Seen those billboards lately?  Commercial motor vehicle drivers convicted of two speeding violations within a three-year period have their CDL disqualified and justifiably so.  Speeding increases stopping distance and potential damage in a crash, because the faster one drives the further he is going to travel during the same time.

Cell phone use
Mobile phones have been unlawful at both the state and federal level for years.  Unless being used hands free, drivers are committing a serious traffic violation when they choose to text or talk on a hand-held phone while driving.  Some debate the merits of these laws, but study after study shows distracted drivers are more prone to traffic crashes.

The trucking industry suffers enough from the exodus of skilled retiring drivers, regulation compliance and retention of Gen-Y drivers. Don’t allow your commercial driver’s license to be the next preventable factor in the growing shortage of experienced drivers.

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1+1=Combination of Vehicles

Its simple math: 1+1=2. Or isn’t it? When a person has a locker which needs to be secured, he employs a lock which is opened with a key, or a combination. Why is it called a combination lock? Because there is more than one number needed to open the device. When multiple objects are together, the singular is lost and the plural is found. This is no different in truck world, but for some reason the difference between a single vehicle and a combination of vehicles eludes both police officers and truckers alike.

First, for purposes of this conversation, the word “vehicle” is very generic. A vehicle is not defined as to whether or not the vehicle is used for commercial purposes. It’s not defined by the requirement for registration. It’s not defined by needing a certain class or endorsement of a driver’s license. It’s defined by whether or not it moves on its own power.

Now stretch and free your mind. Take a single vehicle (represented by the integer “1”) and add it to another single vehicle (also represented by the integer “1”). The sum total of 1+1=2. When this equation is deployed in the vehicle world, there is no longer a single vehicle, but a combination of vehicles. It could be a truck and a trailer, or conversely a trailer and a truck. Either way it is two vehicles.

Interestingly, folk superstars Peter, Paul & Mary had something to say about this in their blockbuster 1969 single, There is Love: “A truck will leave its mother, and a trailer leave its home, and they shall travel on to where the two shall be as one.”

Since the confusion is now clear, here are some practical truck/trailer configuration examples, from easy to hard:

A pickup truck towing a tag trailer
PUTTThis is a combination of vehicles. The pickup truck (1) is towing a trailer (1). Therefore, sum total of vehicles = 2.

 

A semi-tractor towing a semi-trailer

semi-truckThis situation is very similar to #1 above, but there is a twist. What confuses some people is the fact a portion of the load of the semi-trailer (1) is being carried upon the semi-tractor (1). Regardless of the weight distribution, the sum total of 1+1 in this configuration equals 2. This is a combination of vehicles.

 

An all-terrain crane towing a dolly

craneNow things are starting to get interesting. Imagine a massive all-terrain crane with a total of nine axles. Due to bridge load ratings on the crumbling infrastructure of Illinois, these 175,000 pound (or more) behemoths cannot safely operate on the six axles native to the power unit portion of the crane.

To compensate, the carrier will spin the boom backwards and put a three-axle dolly under the boom to spread the weight of load. So there is a power unit (1) and a dolly (1), bringing the sum total of vehicles to 2. This is a combination of vehicles.

“Whoa” says the naysayer. Since the boom is connected to the power unit and now the dolly, this is a single vehicle. Incorrect. These are two separate vehicles. Isn’t this just the reverse of a semi-tractor, semi-trailer combination? In the case of the semi’s, a portion of the weight of the trailer is being carried on the tractor. In the case of the crane, a portion of the weight of the power unit is being carried on the dolly. Combination.


An articulated bus

ctaThese are the accordion buses commonly operated in big cities. The trailer portion of the bus is coupled by a stinger under the rear of the power unit. Then they add this funky accordion curtain to allow passengers to move freely between both vehicles. Do the math: bus (1) + trailer (1) = 2. Very good!

For the legalists though, it must be made clear an articulated bus, while undeniably a combination of vehicles, is considered a single vehicle in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations for the purpose of driver’s licensing. This means an operator only has to have a Class-B CDL with a passenger endorsement.

Never let your schooling interfere with your education.

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#squadhaul

There are moments in life when things combine which restore a person’s faith in humanity. Peanut butter and chocolate. Michael Jordan and a basketball.  The internet and Pokemon (sorry).  Police departments and trucking companies…and there it is. Right to heart of the matter. Coming on August 27th, 2016, the greatest opportunity in recent years for law enforcement and the carrier industry to hook up for a great cause will happen in Hoffman Estates, IL. It’s called #squadhaul, and there is big prize money on the line for those who participate.

For several years, the Illinois Truck Enforcement Association has partnered with the Illinois Special Olympics as part of the World’s Largest Truck Convoy. Special Olympics is a massive organization nationwide designed to provide athletic opportunities to kids and adults with special needs. There are many aspects of Special Olympics, and one department of the charity is the Law Enforcement Torch Run.

Within the Law Enforcement Torch Run there are many fundraising event such as the Polar Plunge, the Dunkin’ Donuts Cop on Rooftop, the Illinois Plane Pull, and the World’s Largest Truck Convoy. Each of these events encourages police departments statewide to participate in some of the most fun benevolent activities around.

The original Convoy continues to be held in Tinley Park, IL as it has for many years. Due to geographic constraints, the ITEA convinced the Illinois Special Olympics to host a second Convoy in the north and northwest suburbs of the Chicago area. In response, the first Hoffman Estates Convoy was conducted in 2015 with great success and over 80 trucks participating! It was such a success a third Convoy was added this year in downstate Troy, IL!

But only, only, only at the Hoffman Estates Convoy on Saturday, August 27th will you find #squadhaul.

What is #squadhaul, you ask? #squadhaul is a new initiative designed to bring local police departments and their local trucking companies together for the Convoy. While the police historically have participated in the Convoy for logistical support and traffic control, it was evident they could play a bigger role.

To enter the #squadhaul competition, a police department needs to partner with a local trucking company to carry a marked squad car atop a flatbed, lowboy, drop deck or any other appropriately sized trailer, or a roll-back carrier tow truck. The goal here is to have within the convoy a line of commercial vehicles hauling marked squad cars all lit-up bright and blue.

What’s the incentive? If participating in a fun, unique event for a good cause is not enough, there is a $1000 cash prize for the winner, courtesy of Oxcart Permit Systems, LLC.  Each truck driver and police officer participating in the event will be entered to win the drawing. Not a $1000 television. Not $1000 in gift certificates to your favorite nail salon. $1000 cold hard cash.

To sign up for #squadhaul, visit the Illinois Special Olympics website by clicking HERE. The cost is $100 for the trucker and $50 for the police officer’s squad car. Being part of the Convoy is great time of fun and camaraderie between two of the most honorable and noble professions in Illinois. Sign up today and help be a part of something bigger for those who need it.

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We’re Not So Different

In light of recent tragic events which have unfolded in our country, it seems appropriate to take a step back from normal topics covered in this blog. In the spirit of the ITEA, parallels can be drawn between the two main groups likely to read this blog, police officers and truckers. While at first it may seem the two professions have very little in common, nothing could be further from the truth. The slogan of the ITEA is “Exceptional Authority Demands Exceptional Accountability”. Were you aware this tag line is not exclusive to law enforcement, but also calls for the accountability of those in the trucking industry? The fact is, both professions carry a great burden when it comes to the prosperity of this great country.

While both jobs couldn’t be more different on their faces, they do share some very distinct commonalities.

1) Both professions are regularly demonized by both news media and those on social media.

Both the police and those in the trucking industry are deprived of the luxury of complete, thorough and accurate details of specific incidents being reported to the general public. The media is quick to get their cameras on the scene of a tragic event and immediately spew tainted, one sided stories of what unfolded. They do so with a complete lack of accountability or responsibility for what happens to those involved in the incident. In the law enforcement profession, this comes in the form of officer involved shootings and other incidents in which there is any application of force. In the trucking industry this is evident whenever a crash occurs where a commercial vehicle is involved and another party is seriously injured or killed as a result.

The problem is headlines which immediately fault the truck driver or the police officer will always outsell the headline which blames the driver of the other vehicle or the suspect who was hurt or killed by the police. The truth is generally not important to those reporting the incident.

What takes precedence is reporting the possibility some sort of injustice took place. This type of story is what will pay the bills, meanwhile the true reality often becomes an inessential burden which might be covered on the last page of a newspaper six months after the event took place.

These types of news stories undoubtedly invoke emotional responses from a wide variety of individuals. While some people in the general public will immediately jump on the anger bandwagon and blame the truck driver or the police officer, others will attempt to defend those in either profession. The will say things like “every profession has its bad apples.”

2) The bad apple argument is sometimes as destructive as reckless media reports.

Saying that every profession has bad apples is doing nothing more than justifying the portrait the media has painted of that individual. This bad apple they are referring to, may actually be the farthest thing from a negative example of the profession.

In recent news reports, officers have been accused of being unreasonable, murderous thugs by those in the media. These same officers were later found to be completely lawful and justified in their actions by authorities who conducted a complete and thorough investigation of the incident. The problem is that once that stigma has been placed on the officers, they may never recover from the initial accusations.

This is very similar to incidents when commercial vehicles are involved in serious traffic crashes. The first thing running through the minds of the public, and what is often eluded to by the media, is the truck driver was most likely at fault. Assumptions are made that the driver of the truck must have been violating some state or federal statue, or driving negligently.

News broadcasts will plaster the worst Facebook photo they can dig up of the driver, while they simultaneously display a picture of the “victim” from the other vehicle, wearing their Sunday best. When the facts later come out proving the truck driver was not at fault (and the supposed “victim” was actually under the influence or driving recklessly) the media will be nowhere to be found. Why is this you ask? Because unlike the police and trucking professions, media accountability not only lacks, but is relatively non-existent.

This author would not be fulfilling his responsibility if he didn’t discuss the incidents where people in each profession step outside of their authority and act in a negligent, reckless or unlawful manner and actually cause injury, death or injustice to an innocent party.

These particular individuals not only disgust those outside of the profession, but anger and disgrace those who proudly perform their jobs honorably on a day to day basis. Nobody wants the true bad apples to be eliminated more than those who take pride in their profession and regularly perform their duties flawlessly.

3) True bad apples, as in those who enter the profession or perform their duties with malice, are hard to come by.

While these true bad apples are few and far between in both professions, the mainstream media would have you believe they are the majority and not the extreme minority. While having even one bad police officer or truck driver is unacceptable, it is simply unreasonable to weed out every single problem child before they put their black mark on the profession. As hard as employers may try, it is an impossibility.

Unfortunately, humans are imperfect beings and always will be. This is why accountability is important in both professions. True accountability can only be enforced by those who do each respective job well. These subject matter experts are the only ones who best know how to perform their duties. They can recognize the signs of those who are not conducting themselves in accordance with the law and professional standards. It falls solely on their shoulders, not the shoulders of those who have never strapped on a badge, gun and vest or sat behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle.

The only thing to do is stay the course, take care of each other and constantly strive to be better.

For those of you in the trucking industry, keep doing your thing. Know that a vast majority of the population appreciates and respects what you do. This includes those in law enforcement. You provide a valuable service to this country which is often overlooked and thankless, another commonality between police officers and truckers.

For those in law enforcement, it is important for to remain strong and have faith. Recent tragedies will haunt every one for years to come. We cannot allow those who try to dishearten, demoralize or even kill police officers to succeed. They cannot break your will, and you must continue to hold the line. The very line which protects the good from evil. Continue to hold your head high and provide your communities with the very best possible service, but watch your back for those who would do you ill.

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No License Required

Illinois, at its core, is an agrarian state. A great portion of its commerce is driven by agriculture. Generations of agricultural families are rooted deep in communities and share their name with some of the most traveled local roads. Local agricultural communities stick together in ways unmatched by the trucking industry. The trucking industry may share a common lobby or trade organization, but when the life of someone from the agricultural community is cut short, all other local members step up to help the family, the farm and the community.

The agricultural community benefits by having commercial trucking laws tailored to its local, farm specific operation. These laws cut some of the red tape inherent with operating a small business which essentially only operates season to season and is often times operated at the family level. The issue surfaces because the local community often doesn’t understand these statutes or the conditions/limitations associated with them. So, what are some of these red tape laws?

• Farm tractors and their outfits are exempt from operating in compliance with elevated structure weight laws.

• Often times to the frustration of the motoring public, farm tractors are permitted to slowly travel our busiest local roads in order to access fields.

• Farm tractors and implements may operate beyond standard dimension restrictions while driven on the operated on the roadway.

• Farm tractors and implements transported on a trailer are not required to obtain state permits when operated in compliance with other typical over-dimension requirements such as flags, escorts, maximum speeds, and during daylight hours.

• While operating on the roadway in connection with farming operations, surprisingly, no license is required to even operate the largest of farm tractors. This doesn’t excuse the need for the driver to use due care.
With all of these exceptions for the farming community, drivers are often frustrated by on-road tractors.

Motorists stuck behind slow moving tractors regularly take chances which endanger other motorists or even result in crashes that injure or kill the tractor operator. While farm tractor drivers are still required to use due care, nearly all will tell you it is a rare occasion when the tractor operator causes the hazard.

The ITEA recently had a conversation with a farm sprayer driver who told of motorcycles passing right under their sprayers while the sprayer is moving at full speed.

A southern Illinois farmer was killed after his farm tractor and homemade trailer was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer.

A farmer was killed in a rural suburb of Chicago after a motorist attempted to overtake his tractor in an intersection while he was beginning a left turn.

Another tractor operator died near Springfield after his tractor was rear ended by a passenger car.

Motorists must recognize farm tractor operators have reduced visibility and limited ability to hear horns or other vehicles around them. These crashes are completely preventable.

With harvest season approaching, don’t be the reason a farming community has to rally around one of its own farm families. Instead, use your understanding of farming operators to educate others in being patient and cautious around farm tractors and implements this season.

A Truck Divided

The basic principle of a divisible load is simple, only those items broken down to the bare minimum qualify. One bucket per excavator. One excavator per trailer. Nothing more, nothing less. Cranes cannot carry extra equipment or building materials, and concrete pumpers must be made as light as possible. Permits were created to provide objects too heavy to be legal weight an opportunity to be brought to a job site. But as with anything in the trucking industry, sometimes divisible items are considered non-divisible loads. Read on for a few examples.

Concrete pumpers use water (and a lot of it) to help push the material over a longer distance, or sometimes up a great height. Water is easily divisible, as it could be carried to the job site by a different vehicle or an on-site water source. By allowing the concrete pumper to simply pay for the extra weight of the water by obtaining a permit, they are able to be more efficient.

For many years mobile cranes were not allowed to carry counterweights, requiring a separate “oiler” truck had to follow behind with all the necessary equipment to make the crane functional. In recent years, IDOT has relaxed this rule and has allowed counterweights when they are securely mounted on the crane. Crane companies can save thousands of dollars by eliminating the second vehicle.

One thing which has not been addressed is spare tires. Every vehicle is required to have spare tires in the event they get a flat. Some trucks use different size tires for different axles requiring multiple spares to be brought with. The advantage is if a flat occurs, the truck driver knows he has the correct spare and does not have to rely on the tire service company called to the scene.

But where does this allowance end? When does a non-divisible load change to a divisible one? The importance of safety in keeping spare tires with the truck is obvious, but how many tires should be allowed? And how much water in the pumper is too much? And when do the counterweights of a crane become too much weight in too small a space for the roadway it’s driving on?

Business in Illinois must move efficiently and effectively, and sometimes there are legitimate exceptions for divisible loads. It’s important for the trucking industry and law enforcement to work in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Transportation to understand what is an acceptable exception to the rule and what is simply a divisible load.

The Illinois Truck Enforcement Association is here to work with the trucking industry, law enforcement and the Illinois Department of Transportation so everyone has a uniform understanding and agreement as to what is divisible and what is not.

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The Failure of the Illinois General Assembly

On June 30, 2016, the State of Illinois failed the trucking industry. While there is no doubt the stop-gap budget deal was the highest priority, the political clamoring of the last two years failed to bring to the floor a vote on a bill which would have protected carriers from a debilitating surcharge increase. This article is not political posturing, but rather a real-time example of long-held prejudices against the economic backbone of Illinois. Trucking is not a crime, and it is surely not a bank.

Recent events nationally involving police use of force has created a dialogue for police body cameras. In 2015, the elected leadership of Illinois decided this was a priority and created a funding mechanism. Deceptively sold to the people as a “$5 increase on traffic tickets”, in reality it is an exponential $5 increase on the surcharge multiplier for traffic tickets. Public Act 99-352 was effective January 1, 2016.

The truth is a motorist receiving a $120 traffic ticket does not see a fine increase at all. Prior to the new law, the surcharge was baked into the $120 fine at $10 per $40 of fine. In other words, the $30 of statutory surcharge was backed out from the $120. With this new law (and subsequent increase to $15 per $40 of fine), $45 is now backed out from the $120. Thanks to the new sign & drive law, the motorist exits the police encounter with a signature promising to pay, and actually pays nothing more than before out of his pocket.

The exact opposite is true with overweight truck tickets in Illinois. By Supreme Court Rule 526(b)(1), the cash bail must be collected inclusive of “fine fixed by statute, plus penalties and costs”. Because statutory overweights fines increase based on the amount of excess weight, the surcharge multiplier increase as well. This exponential figure must be posted before the driver can be released.

No sign & drive. No simple $120 maximum fine. No increased surcharges backed out from the fines.

Those who sold this legislation to the people as a funding mechanism for police body cameras left out this little tidbit of information. Or maybe they honestly did not how this affected the trucking industry. Regardless, the trucking industry fought back. Not because they objected to paying their fair share to help fund police body cameras, but because they objected to paying a disproportionate share.

In response, the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board (to whom all the proceeds from the $5 increase are diverted) challenged the trucker’s arguments of a disproportionate share in the surcharge. They even released a hastily assembled study claiming proof the truckers were not paying a disproportionate share.

If read critically, this study clearly showed a lack of uniform surcharge collection and disbursement between the 102 counties in Illinois. No one knows how much money is truly being collected and transmitted to the ILETSB. This is a completely different failure of government which should be remedied before any new revenues are collected against any motorist.

But it doesn’t matter to the truck driver or company paying out the cost on the front-end of enforcement. He’s still out the money at roadside whether or not his exponential increase is appropriated according to statute.

Let this point be made: no one is saying the best police training should go unfunded. Of course it should. In a day when the credibility of law enforcement is hanging by a weak thread, sewn by sensationalist news media and idiotic social networking commentary, the police need all the help they can get.

The question is not the necessity for quality training, the question is how to fund it.

Fast forward to June 30, 2016, and HB3126 was not called to the floor to fix this problem. This bill, initiated by the Mid-west Truckers Association (MTA), seeks to establish a $15 flat surcharge increase added to overweight citations for the first 3000 pounds overweight. This means the truckers would only have had to pay $15 per overweight, just like the speeders and stop sign violators with their $120 fine. The old $10 multiplier would still be calculated for all excess weight north of 3000 pounds.

Not surprisingly, those on the police training side of the coin (pun intended) are fighting back.

Why? Because they realize if this bill was successful, the cash cow of money collected on the backs of the truckers would be put out to pasture. Don’t forget, this is the same cash cow they said a year ago did not exist.

Prior to the June 30th failure of the elected leadership of Illinois, a large state-funded police training organization blasted an email to all of its members asking for support in their opposition to the bill. This email included a template letter for correspondence to high ranking politicians.

The content of this template letter sent on June 17th, and its incendiary language, is what drives this commentary.

First, it stated the MTA is campaigning on a “special exemption for the truckers at the expense of public safety”. This could not be further from the truth. What MTA is campaigning against is paying a disproportionate amount of money collected from their members and industry at large. Why isn’t the railroad, taxi/limo/Uber/bus, boating and airline industries being taxed for their wrongs to support police body cameras? Are they not transportation also? Do they not break laws?

On the contrary, MTA has been nothing but supportive of police training, particularly truck enforcement training taught by the ITEA. That’s right – they fully support training which teaches police officers how to write tickets in the tens of thousands of dollars and holds their members accountable for doing so lawfully.

Why? Because MTA understands the necessity of quality police, and more importantly, police training which teaches fair and reasonable enforcement methods which balances the need for public safety and a profitable trucking industry.

Second, the letter states MTA is undermining the work of the General Assembly before an “impact analysis can be performed”?

Really? Was there an impact analysis done on the destructive effects to trucking industry before the new surcharge law was passed in 2015? During the political jousting last year, the ILETSB released the aforementioned study which showed it would have minimal effect on the trucking industry. Yet here they are now saying the overweight surcharge funds are vital. Which is it?

Is the political process taken by MTA “undermining” or is that just politics? Love it or hate it, that is how the game is played in Springfield. It seems everyone who has something to lose with any given piece of legislation fights back using the twists and turns of the political landscape. It’s deceiving to call it “undermining”.

Where did this viewpoint, which believes the trucking industry has unlimited deep pockets, originate? No one is saying trucks should be allowed to run willy-nilly, without enforcement or penalties. Trucking is not a crime, yet when truckers do break the law, they are penalized higher than any other transportation industry.

Are the revenues created by statutory overweight fines not enough for this industry to pay? When does the taxation end for carriers? The ITEA challenges any “anti-truck” person to prove the industry is not already paying more than their fair share of regulatory fees for authority, registration, fuel tax, permits and the commercial distribution fee. It’s a mind-boggling quagmire unique only to the trucking side of the transportation industry.

Police departments today are using asset forfeiture and property seizure laws to generate mass amounts of money from those who deal and use narcotics illegally. The illicit drug industry, unlike trucking, is illegal. Why aren’t dollars seized by police departments being taxed by the ILETSB to fund police body cameras?

The truckers aren’t destroying Illinois, the politicians are. There’s other ways for the ILETSB to generate revenue during this governance failure of our elected officials. It’s a shame to see a state agency like the ILETSB, which was designed to bring credibility to Illinois law enforcement, so focused on increasing costs to an industry vital to what’s left of the ragged economy of Illinois.

They can do better, and if they cannot, hopefully the fall veto session will set the record straight.

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Up or Down?

The introduction to this article serves as a reminder that all Illinois truck & trailer flat weight base plates were due for renewal on Thursday, June 30th.  Luckily, the Secretary of State is also open on Saturdays!  While the topic of remembering important things is flowing, let this article provide a second reminder; drop your axles.

Call it what you will.  Drop, tag, cheater, booster, lift, etc.  This article sends a reminder to engage adjustable axles as required.  Not vertically, but horizontally.  Tandem axles on trailers slide back and forth, a fifth wheel slides front to rear and adjustable axles move up and down.  The ITEA has discussed lift axles in previous articles, and even has a Standard of Practice explaining lift axles.  The SOP is openly available to all ITEA members.  While the purpose of lift axles is obvious, some of the rules surrounding them are not.

The Illinois Vehicle Code (IVC) is silent as to rules and regulations regarding the use of adjustable axles. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) mentions adjustable axles only once in its thousands of pages of rules and regulation.  The FMSCR states under 393.207(b): “Adjustable axles. Adjustable axle assemblies shall not have locking pins missing or disengaged.”

That’s it.

However, adjustable axles are mentioned and covered in the International Registration Plan.  The rules of IRP dictate, for purposes of registration under the IRP plan, “an axle is any such assembly whether or not it is load bearing only part of the time.”

This means 3-axle vehicles, weighing less than 26,000 pounds, which only have two axles engaged can be considered apportioned.  It also means 3-axle trucks coming into Illinois bearing foreign base plates are required to have apportioned registration whether the lift axle is engaged or not.

Ask any experienced truck officer how often they encounter loaded vehicles having a lift axle disengaged and they will say it happens all the time.  Most truckers tell officers they didn’t think they needed it, they don’t like how it makes the truck start/stop on wet pavement or it makes cornering turns difficult.

Earlier this year on a rainy day in the western suburbs of Chicago, a certified ITEA truck officer was following an 8-axle permit load traveling on a state highway.  The officer was able to locate a valid permit for the truck, but noticed when the vehicle turned left onto another continuous state highway, the driver lifted an adjustable drive axle just before it made its turn.

Once the truck finished its turn, the driver lowed the axle back to the ground.  Since the Illinois Vehicle Code and the Illinois Department of Transportation (the permit issuing authority) grants no special provision or authority for truckers to raise adjustable axles while turning, the officer stopped the truck.

The officer told the driver that he was in violation of his permit when raising his axle to turn.  The driver told the officer that the adjustable axle also serves as a steering axle and when the roads are slippery, the axle tends to push the truck while turning making it difficult to maneuver the truck in tight turns.

The officer weighed the truck, and found the drive tandem was overweight on its permit by more than ten thousand pounds because the axle was lifted.  In his discretion, the certified ITEA officer decided against writing the trucker a ticket for several thousand dollars.

Could the officer have issued a citation?  Yes.  Would the trucker have had any recourse other than a court battle?  No.
Hopefully this situation strengthened and protected the bond between the trucking industry and the law enforcement community who serves them, the decision was binding only to this one incident.

In the end, trucks must have as many axles on the ground as the permit stipulates.  There are no exceptions provided.  While a driver may have a rational and articulable reason for raising an adjustable axle, the letter of the law governing an overweight permit says they cannot lift it at all.

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Christmas in July

Like children gathered around an advent calendar, truck enforcement officers throughout the state will be gathered around their duty schedules waiting for that one magical day to roll around. The one day when they will go on patrol to find an abundance of violations to which they are specially trained to enforce. The single day where it is actually “easy” to be a truck officer. The day being referred to is July 1st, and it’s known in the truck enforcement world as “Christmas in July.”

As all truck officers know, and what those in the industry should know, is July 1st represents the day all flat weight Illinois registration plates expire. All intrastate carriers should be checking right now to ensure the process of registering second division vehicles has at least been started, if not been completed.

Consider this article the friendly reminder that the Illinois Secretary of State (SOS) will no longer sends reminders. Please remember, the SOS has suspended the issuance of mailed expiration reminders for vehicles registered in Illinois. Many people operating their personal passenger cars have suffered the consequences of relying on the State of Illinois for a reminder to update their registration. The difference is a citation for a passenger car bearing expired registration is $120, while a citation for expired registration on a second division vehicle (truck or trailer) could reach over $3,000.
Here is the information for owners or operators of vehicles bearing Illinois flat weight truck plates:

1) While all truck officers in Illinois aren’t actually shaking in anticipation of this date, agencies are aware of the expiration of these plates and will allocate manpower to enforce expired registration offenses. Even officers who do not specialize in commercial vehicle enforcement will be looking for expired registration plate stickers on July 1st.

Commercial motor vehicle drivers with expired registration should expect to be stopped by the police, weighed and cited. The overweight citation fine will be the cost of the plate required to cover the weight of the vehicle and load, plus court costs. The financial burden does not end there as the driver is still be required to pay the appropriate fee to properly register the vehicle once the plates are renewed.

2) Carry all the appropriate paperwork and proof of registration renewal in the vehicle. Keep in mind if a vehicle is still displaying an expired registration sticker (or no sticker at all) the driver will likely be stopped by police. Keeping the paperwork in the cab of the truck showing renewed registration is important.

Providing this information to the officer may be the difference between an expensive citation and a warning. Keep in mind an officer may not honor the paperwork provided if the registration still comes up as expired in the SOS database. While this may seem ridiculous, people lie, cheat and attempt to deceive the police ALL THE TIME.

A simple piece of paperwork or receipt from a currency exchange is not hard to fabricate, and is not an uncommon method for dishonest truck owners to attempt to bypass paying for registration on time.

3) If a citation for expired registration is received, and it can be proven the renewal was purchased prior to the time
stopped by the police, bring the information to court.
The time to argue the issue is not at roadside, and chances are the driver is not going to win the argument with the officer anyways. Be cordial, polite and courteous and the officer will most likely reciprocate that demeanor.

Most officers understand mistakes are made and sometime the SOS system does not update immediately upon purchase of registration. Both the prosecutor and officer will most likely be open to dismissing the charges if appropriate.

4) If the renewal was late, do not operate the vehicle. Officers who have been around truck enforcement for any amount of time have seen almost every attempt to fake, hide or cheat renewing registration. The fact of the matter is that doing so will almost guarantee significantly more serious offenses being cited.

It’s simply not worth risking fines, arrest or possibly seizure of equipment to operate on expired registration. The revenue lost from a single day of down time will pale in comparison of fines, court and attorney fees if you attempt to cheat the system.

Finally, please be courteous of the Secretary of State and renew your registration is a timely manner. The SOS Commercial and Farm Truck Division works very hard throughout the year to provide the best possible service, but become very overwhelmed leading up to July 1st.

The best thing to do is submit renewals early to prevent any issues. Focus on celebrating this great country’s independence over the 4th of July weekend as opposed to being concerning with citations, fines and court.

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Misunderstood

No one can discount the fact truck drivers and company owners have a tough job.  Balancing local, state and federal regulations with the media’s understanding of those same regulations can make one’s head spin.  Often times these regulations are at odds, but what’s more difficult is conflicting sources of information.  Unless authors specialize in the trucking industry, cutting through the noise and understanding the true intent of legislation is a challenge. The consequence of the misunderstanding for the owner or operator are citations, fines and court dates, but could it result in arrest and jail time?  It has.

Federal regulations guide all Commercial Driver’s License statutes within Illinois and nationwide, though it can be years before state legislation catches up and aligns with the regulations. This results in confusion on not only within trucking but also enforcement.

Articles written by even well-known trucking journals who target wide audiences often write to align with their nationwide readership. This results in oversimplification and confusion on local issues.

Owners, operators and some law enforcement depend on state-run websites and state agency customer service for clarification but their writings and knowledge are often watered down versions of true vehicle code, criminal code and administrative code. These shortcuts result in mistakes by everyone.

The final straw where all conflicts can be broken is the truck stop or local breakfast diner. All walks of the industry reflect on the latest new regulations or applications of statute they swear were true or were completely false. This reliance results in shortsightedness.
Where does this lead us?

Years ago a local truck enforcement officer and member of the Illinois Truck Enforcement Association stopped a vehicle for a minor violation. Had the officer not discovered the driver was not licensed to operate the Class-A non-CDL combination, the driver likely would have been on his way with a warning for the initial minor infraction.

The driver was perfectly cooperative and listened as the officer explained why the driver was not required to possess a CDL, but was still required to obtain the proper license class. It was not until the company owner arrived with a properly licensed driver when the problems began.

The company owner had regularly disagreed with the enforcement practices of the local police authority and saw the officer’s supposed missteps as an opportunity to voice his displeasure. With reference material in hand, the owner screamed back at the officer the regulations as he saw them which would have permitted the driver to operate on the license he already had. To the officer’s credit, he never raised his voice and calmly explained his thorough understanding of the licensing statutes.

Finally, after the owner refused to leave and then made an obscene suggestive recommendation to the officer, the owner was arrested for obstructing that officer’s investigation. The owner was so stuck on his misinformed understanding of the statutes that he was willing to go to jail over them.

The clearest understanding can fail without an abundance of council.

The greatest benefit owners and operators have over law enforcement is the need for a mastery of only the vehicles they operate. Police officers on the other hand have to understand how the law applies to all vehicles through all operations.

Seek out the counsel of local and statewide law enforcement. Educate yourselves through trade journals and state websites. Read vehicle and administrative code. Become a member of a local trucking association.

Most of all, be willing to learn and question inconsistencies from any one source.

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