Construction Zone Entitlement

Everyone knows Illinois has two seasons, winter and road construction. Loyal Illinois residents know the road construction season never truly ends. Thanks to improvements in construction methods and material technology, much road building can continue throughout the winter. Regardless of the time of year, the debate over weight laws in “construction zones” continues to rage. The article this week will put an end to it.

Before delving into this argument, a couple things must be understood. What might make practical sense is irrelevant. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you understand the letter of the law must first be exposed before discretion can be layered on top. For instance, it might seem better for the taxpayers if trucks run heavy in construction zones as the work will get done faster. Maybe so, but that’s not what the law says.

There’s an interesting argument when it comes to trucks servicing government jobs. If a general contractor is building a new city hall or police station, the regulation surrounding the building trades are highly and tightly regulated. Local, state and federal inspectors are on scene guarantying compliance and safety. Cutting corners is a no-no. The exact opposite occurs with trucking.

The problem is entitlement. It is all too common for truck officers to hear truckers say they do not need to follow weight laws or obtain appropriate oversize/overweight permits when working on government jobs. There is an erroneous belief of exemption, or local politics should restrain the police from enforcing the law equitably.

As a word of caution, every good truck officer should know the lay of the political landscape in their town before hammering away on trucks working directly or indirectly on a government job. To callously enforce the law without due respect to the administrative oversight may bring a premature end to the officers truck enforcement duties.

Road construction is a tricky twist to this tale. The only definition the Illinois Vehicle Code gives for a “construction zone” is under the banner of speeding and use of electronic devices. Never in Chapter 15 (weight and size) are construction zones ever mentioned. Never once are trucks exempted from complying with legal size/weight or relieved of the burden from permits in construction zones.

In the name of reasonableness, the real argument which needs to be had is what constitutes a “construction zone” for purposes of size and weight? Let’s create an imaginary scenario.

Bob’s Road Builders has been granted a $15M contract to rebuild and expand 10 miles of Route 66. The first phase of the job is to excavate the shoulders, remediate the soil and build a new fourth lane of the westernmost five miles. In order to accomplish this, jersey walls are brought in and the current three lanes are reduced to two.

Is the entire five miles a “construction zone”? Yes. Does that mean trucks servicing the job are exempt from the size and weight laws in any lane within this five-mile stretch? No.

The reality is the motoring public is still sharing the roadway which is open. The purpose of size and weight laws are not just about damage to infrastructure, but also public safety. Trucks traveling through this zone which are not part of the job are still under regulation, and so are trucks servicing the jobsite.

The difference is the construction zone behind the jersey wall. This part of the roadway is not open to the motoring public. There is no expectation of safe travel there or else it would not be exclusive to the vehicles working on the job itself.

Trucks traveling on the open highway prior to the segregated jobsite, or leaving the segregated jobsite onto the open highway are required to follow all size and weight laws. Behind that jersey wall or lines of pylons the story is different.

It’s understandable for local government officials to want a hands-off approach to the enforcement of privately owned trucks working for them under contract. However, you would be hard pressed to find a conscientious government official willing to put that in writing. Why? Because it’s against the law and foolishness to memorialize such a directive.

Police officers – please, please, please use good discretion.
Truckers – don’t be entitled. The liability will still be yours when you crash and kill someone.


Winter Rules Review

Sometimes the list of things to love about Illinois is so long people forget to include one of its biggest assets: winter. Well, maybe that is one of the reasons people flee Illinois, but truth be told, winter is a huge part of the state economy. Snow removal, automotive repair and summer roadwork are jobs provided for as a result of winter. As the cold begins to move in, it’s time to review truck laws as they apply to snow!

Rumor in Illinois meteorology is the winter of 2015-2016 is going to mild. This is because of the natural phenomenon called “El Nino”. Here’s what everyone already knows – winter in Illinois will always be cold. There will be snow. It will probably be miserable. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst!

Within the scope of trucking, there is a lot of variation based on vehicle configurations, purpose and commodity. This of course means there are unique winter rules which may apply to some trucks, but not all. Several of these have been discussed at length in previous articles, and links are provided in those paragraphs.

Flashing Lights – Click HERE
The ITEA would implore police officers to use good discretion before citing snow plow trucks for this offense. The ITEA would also implore snow plow drivers to be conscientious about this law so you do not get a ticket! Just because you have a snowplow does not mean you are licensed to run around on public highways with your flashing yellow lights on. You are more than welcome to run those lights while plowing private property parking lots as you may very well be required to under contract. However, when you are out on the roadway, the lights must go off, unless…

Plow Blades Greater than 102” – Click HERE
If you have a plow blade which is 102” (8’6”) or less, that is legal width. You cannot have a flashing light. However, if your plow blade is greater than 102”, you are REQUIRED to have a flashing yellow or amber light(s) visible for 500’ in all directions!

Remember, if your plow blade is greater than 102” you are exceeding legal width. The Illinois Vehicle Code provides an exception up to 144” (12’) in width, but you must meet the flashing light requirement, and you must have an 18” square flag on the driver’s side corner of the blade.

Axle & Gross Weights – Click HERE
Vehicles involved in snow & ice removal are not required to conform to gross, axle or bridge formula weight laws of Chapter 15. The question which begs answering is what qualifies as snow & ice removal? It’s pretty safe to say if the truck has a plow blade, spreader and/or a load of salt, it is safe to exceed to exceeds these weight limits. If the truck is just hauling salt from point A to point B, probably not.

Here are two weight laws not exempted. 1) As a truck owner, even if your entire gross weight (vehicle and load) are lawfully exceeding the Chapter 15 weight laws, you still must pay enough tax for registration to cover the gross weight. No breaks there. 2) If your driver is lawfully exceeding the same Chapter 15 weights, he still may not exceed the posted weights on a ton load or legal weight structure. Those are absolutes with no exceptions.

Inclement Weather – Click HERE
Obviously many trucks are built to operate in the worst of conditions. Trucks which may not operate in inclement weather or those operating on a special oversize/overweight permit. As with many things, there is no clear or objective standard as to what is considered “inclement weather”. Unfortunately, this will be subject to the opinion of the police officer and the courts. However, even if you are cited for this, it does not void the permit and knock you back to legal weight and size. It is only a violation of permit citation.

Tire Chains
A common misbelief is tire chains are illegal in Illinois. This is completely false. Reasonable size tire chains are legal on any vehicle (car or truck). The reality it is very rare to see vehicles in Illinois with tire chains. Tire chains are completely lawful as defined in the final paragraph of 625 ILCS 5/12-401:

“Nothing in this Section shall be deemed to prohibit the use of tire chains of reasonable proportion upon any vehicle when required for safety because of snow, ice or other conditions tending to cause a vehicle to skid.”

Be careful out there this winter!


Rollin’ Coal

If you are old enough to remember the glory days of trucking from the 1950s until deregulation in the early 1980s, many images come to mind. Cabover tractors, CB radios, multiple log books, a general lack of law enforcement and billowing black smoke churning from barebone diesel engines. They smelled, polluted the atmosphere and were glorious all at the same time. Forty years later, the environmental war on trucks continues with a new term: coal rolling.

Regardless where one sits on the political fence of the environment, no one can argue that trucks today are not more efficient and cleaner. Costly? Yes. Healthier? Yes. Totally, 100% necessary? Open for debate, but stewarding the environment should be a concern for all.

What is coal rolling? Coal rollers are typically larger diesel pickup trucks, not the big rigs of the commercial world. The owners add aftermarket equipment and/or disconnect standard emissions equipment so that the engine will produce black-as-night exhaust when the throttle is engaged.

Some roll coal because it looks cool and nostalgic. Others roll coal just to irritate people. Some roll coal as close as possible to hybrid and electric cars just to prove a point. Run a search through YouTube and watch the volumes of videos of vehicles rolling coal.

No matter what your stance is on coal rolling, it has attracted the attention of lawmakers. In February 2015, House Bill 3553 was introduced to outlaw the practice of coal rolling. Within a month, it was sent to committee to die. To think this is a dead legislative issue is foolishness. Other states are moving to prohibit coal rolling as well. As in all things, it’s just a matter of time.

The question which continually rears its ugly head is, “what authority do Illinois police officers have to enforce not only coal rolling vehicles, but any truck which is blowing black smoke?” Here’s the answer: nothing.

Many people hate trucks, and the sight of black smoke coming from the stacks adds insult to injury. They want justice! The police however, are not the authority who will administer it.

Whoa whoa whoa…what about the emissions laws in Chapter 13 of the Illinois Vehicle Code? Well, that again is the authority of the Illinois EPA. Not the police. Emissions testing is solely their responsibility with punishment being levied through the Secretary of State on vehicle registration. Only then may the police become involved, but it is indirectly through the enforcement of registration violations, not the emissions laws directly.

Whoa whoa whoa…what about the statute in Chapter 12 of the Illinois Vehicle Code regarding modified exhaust systems? Creative reading of the title of 625 ILCS 5/12-602 may lead one to believe it is illegal to tamper with the exhaust system to roll coal. Then again, if the same person actually reads the text, he will quickly see it has only to do with noise. Not black smoke. Ever.

Like many other issues discussed on this blog, many are not laws at all. They are rumors of laws. They are bills which have not become laws. They are topics which maybe should be laws. But at the end of the day, there is nothing the police can do because they are not laws.

Trailerless hitches. Barefoot driving. Now, rolling coal.


Prove Your Legal Presence

Who are you? Your identity is everything to you. It could be your career, your faith, your last name, your facial hair (it is Movember by the way) by which you place the most importance identifier. In business world, the cool buzzword is “branding”. Call it what you want, but if you are a CDL holder, your identity as an American is first and foremost. The article this week will tell you why.

Let’s take a walk memory lane. Go back to September 11th, 2001. Terrorists attacked our country, on our soil, in a big way. Fourteen years later we are still implementing new rules and regulations to help prevent another tragedy like that day. CDLs are no exception.

The earliest post 9/11 regulation for CDL holders was mandatory fingerprinting for those with the hazmat endorsement. Inconvenient? Yes. Costly? Yes. Necessary? Yes. Truck drivers are good people, but the risk of a driver living a double life as terrorist with a job hauling hazardous materials is probably worth the preventative efforts.

Now, effective July 1st 2015, if you are an American CDL holder, you have to prove your legal presence in the United States. The federal government has mandated it. You have no choice but to comply, or risk losing your CDL. It may seem counter-intuitive, because didn’t you already do this to obtain your driver’s license in the first place?

The answer is yes. Most law abiding Americans secured their driver’s licenses legally using legitimate documents. However, some did not. Remember the Illinois CDL scandal which landed former Governor George Ryan in prison? Who is to say there are not still some CDL holders out there who obtained their CDL feloniously? What if there are other “pay-to-play” schemes still in the works in other states which have yet to be detected?

This new proof of legal presence requirement for CDL holders is another attempt to weed out those CDL holders who are not supposed to have them. Realize not all people with legitimate licenses have had to prove this in the past. Go back 50 years, and the documentation burden was far less than what it was pre-9/11 or even now. Those drivers may or may not have had to prove the lawfully could be in the United States, but yet they are driving trucks with CDLs.

Another similar situation is Illinois (like many other states) allowing for temporary visitors to obtain limited scope driver’s licenses. Politically, it seems these standards will probably loosen before they are tightened up. While the vast majority of visitors with these licenses are decent, hard-working people, the opportunities for the devilish ones to slip through the cracks are increasing. This new proof will help limit the criminals from that population from graduating to CDLs from regular Class-D licenses.

A great misconception is this new proof is about citizenship status. Incorrect. The basis of this new program is only to show you are living in the United States legally. Your status as a citizen is irrelevant.

Here’s what the Illinois CDL holder needs to know before stepping foot into a CDL facility: bring your proof of legal presence.
Going to renew your CDL? Bring it. Adding an endorsement? Bring it. Changing addresses? Bring it. Re-certifying from intrastate to interstate? Bring it. Tendering your medical card? Bring it. Upgrading from a permit to a full CDL? Bring it.

It’s that simple – bring your proof with you the next time you visit an Illinois CDL facility for whatever reason. You will be asked to prove it, and if you don’t, you will be turned away. The Illinois Secretary of State CDL services has done an outstanding job of notifying CDL holders, yet time and time again people are walking into the facilities without the documentation and sent packing.

Good news! You only have to do this one time. For US citizens, a passport or raised seal birth certificate (no copies) is all your need. To learn more, click HERE.

Exemplary Police Work #10

Garbage stinks. Garbage cans stink. Garbage trucks stink. Garbage transfer stations stink. Garbage landfills stink. From the onset of humans creating waste to its final disposal underground for millennia to come, garbage stinks. You know what else stinks? The complexity of truck laws surrounding garbage weights. The article this week will tell the recent tale of an exemplary truck officer who made a mistake with garbage laws and how he cleaned up the mess.

Garbage is a political term. Like many parts of truck law, the waste industry has lobbyists who have fought for exemptions in the law to give them higher weight limits than other trucks of similar configuration. When there is deviation from the root law, errors occur, and it is not uncommon for this to happen in garbage law. In order for a garbage truck to receive higher weight limits, a four prong test must be met:

First, the term “garbage” is a generic word used to describe items which are bound for destruction as waste or recycling. This could be household garbage loaded in a compactor, commercial garbage in a dumpster or construction debris in a roll-off container. It could also be any material bound for recycling such as glass, paper, cardboard, etc.

Secondly, in order to receive the higher weights, the generator of the garbage must not be compensated. This has typically caused confusion in that people substitute compensation for commodity. You can read more about that HERE. If the homeowner (the generator) who put the garbage out at the curb is being paid by the garbage company for the garbage, then the truck does not receive higher weight limits.

Third, the garbage must be destined for a licensed waste or recycling facility by the State of Illinois. If the first two prongs match up, but the truck driver is taking the garbage to keep in his backyard, the truck does not receive garbage weights. The transfer station, landfill or recycling facility must be licensed as such.

Lastly, the vehicle must be of a configuration required by law. This means either a compactor or roll-off truck. If the garbage is tossed in the back of a hydraulic dump truck or a stakebed, the truck does not receive the higher weights.

Clear as mud? Well if you are a new truck officer, learn this concept plus dozens more similar situations concerning other commodities and vehicle configurations in the classroom. Then go out on the street and figure out how to apply this quagmire in real life with real trucks. To think the smartest guy out there won’t make a mistake is foolishness.

In the case at hand, a suburban town sent a new truck officer to the ITEA 40-hour basic truck enforcement class. Upon graduation, this officer hit the street running and was routinely finding overweight trucks. Then he stumbled across an interesting one.

The truck was a 3-axle roll-off, and the container was filled with broken concrete. On the scale, the truck weighed in at 59,600 pounds. The truck was registered with valid R-plates for 54,999 pounds which made it overweight on registration by 4,601 pounds. The drive axles weighed 45,840 pounds making in 11,840 pounds over the maximum 34,000 pounds for a tandem. Except it’s not quite that easy.

Soon after writing the overweight citations, the officer told some other truck officers the stop. A veteran truck officer talked the rookie truck officer through the 4-prong test to determine if the truck received garbage weights or regular truck weights.

  1. Was the broken concrete going to be recycled? Yes.
  2. Did the generator or the broken concrete receive compensation for the concrete? No.
  3. Was the broken concrete destined for a licensed recycling facility? Yes.
  4. Did the 3-axle roll-off meet the statutory configuration? Yes.

Turns out the truck should have received the higher “garbage” tandem weight of 40,000 pounds, not 34,000 pounds. Still overweight, but the fines was $2250 less!

So what did this officer do? Did he cover up his mistake and let the company pay it and move on? Nope. Did he argue and try to justify his mistake? Nope. Did he let the company go to court and fight to prove their innocence instead of him proving their guilt? Nope.

Instead he immediately picked up the phone and called the clerk’s office at the courthouse. He asked them to amend the ticket to the correct overweight fine so the company would only pay what they lawfully should have had to pay.

That’s integrity. That’s what the ITEA is all about.


Lawyering Part 4: Scruples

Every great artist gets their start somewhere. Some start out as gang members tagging walls and railroad cars. Others start out at the carnival drawing big head caricatures of visitors. When real people conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the stereotype of their profession, they are a caricature of what the good people in their career field represent. Just like there are bad apple police officers and truckers, there are unscrupulous trucking defense attorneys out there too.

In Illinois, the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission oversees all attorneys practicing law in Illinois. If lawyers are dirty, it’s the ARDC who will take action. Not all bad behaviors and complaints will be decided by the ARDC, but attorneys are required to conduct themselves according to their rules and regulations.

It’s the American dream and the right of every citizen to work as hard as they want to earn as much as they can. The problem is how people earn their success, not the mere fact they are successful. Many people take shortcuts to the top, and typically those are the people who fall the hardest. Some find a golden parachute without much effort, but the vast majority of successful people labor to the top.

Hats off to the lawyer who is out there pounding pavement each day drumming up work. Similar to how the public expects the police to work hard (according to the law), the public should expect the same from officers of the court. Unfortunately, some attorneys take shortcuts to find clients.

There’s nothing wrong with a defense attorney who wants to defend overweight citations. It’s perfectly okay for him to go to the courthouse, look up every overweight vehicle defendant cited and contact them reference their legal services. This is common practice is criminal defense world.

What the same defense attorney should be never do is solicit work in this manner using bold faced lies and fear mongering tactics. Below is the text of a solicitation letter by an attorney, sent to an ITEA trucking member, after they received an overweight citation:

“My name is (name deleted), and I am a local traffic violation defense attorney. A recent review of public traffic records indicates that you were recently charged with Overweight on Bridge which is a moving traffic violation. Depending on your prior offenses, this could be considered a Class C misdemeanor or petty violation under the laws of the State of Illinois and is a moving traffic violation. In addition to your fine, you could also receive five (5) to fifty (50) points on your driving record.”

This one paragraph is the handiwork of an unscrupulous defense attorney using fear, lies and blatant disregard for the plain language of law to solicit clientele. Who knows how many truckers he bamboozled to make a quick buck. It’s a disgrace and here’s why:

•   Overweight is a “moving traffic violation”: First of all, there is no legal definition of a “moving violation” which you can read about in previous articles by the ITEA by clicking HERE, HERE and HERE. In the case of Catom v Chicago, the Appellate Court ruled overweights are a moving violation, but that does not mean overweights have a negative impact on a driver’s CDL. Quite the contrary.

•   “…prior offenses could be considered a Class C misdemeanor”: This is a straight up lie. Only once in 625 ILCS 5/15-10, the size and weight section of the Illinois Vehicle Code, is the word misdemeanor ever mentioned. This is in reference to load securement for steel coils. That’s it. There is no such thing as a misdemeanor overweight for multiple violations.

•   Drivers could receive “five (5) to fifty (50) points” on their record: Again, flat out lie. Apparently this attorney has never read the Illinois Vehicle Code or the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. In both of those authoritative codes regulating CDL holders, overweights are never once mentioned as serious traffic violations which receive points. In the ACD (AAMVA Code Dictionary), which is used by every state licensing agency (Illinois Secretary of State), overweights are not assigned points.

If you are a lawyer reading this, the ITEA hopes you would never stoop to the disgusting level of this attorney. Don’t be the stereotype or caricature of your profession. There’s better ways to earn your living. If you are the trucker, don’t believe everything you read.


Lawyering Part 3: Prepaid Legal Services

If you are skilled and experienced professional, you can easily spot an impostor in your trade. A good carpenter can spot a hack from a mile away. A seasoned trucker can spot a novice from even further away. The carpenter may have a union card and the trucker may have a CDL, but that does not mean they are good at what they do. The same rings true for lawyers, and the article this week will discuss what happens when truckers routinely hire less than adequate representation through prepaid legal services.

Ask a police officer about the last time someone walked up to him on the street and started talking shop. Most off-duty police officers don’t purposefully beeline to unformed police personnel just to talk policing. However, those who want to be police officers or are involved in private security do it all the time. Any policeman with an ounce of discernment can see it coming from a mile away.

This is not to disparage people testing to be the police or working in security. It’s just police officers know their own by the way a person walks and talks. Just as police officers can subconsciously identify another police officer, they can also sniff out an attorney in court who knows nothing about truck laws.

Not all policemen are created equal. Some excel at criminal investigations. Some are fantastic community liaisons. Some are great truck officers. It takes all kinds of police officers to make a well-rounded, full service police department.

Similarly, there are a lot of attorney types out there. There are tax attorneys, real estate attorneys, divorce attorneys and criminal defense attorneys. Within the subset of criminal attorneys there are those who specialize in murder, DUI or traffic. Just because an attorney has passed the bar and can legally stand before the judge as an officer of the court does not mean he has a clue about truck law.

So what does this have to do with prepaid legal services? Well, if you are a trucker barely scraping by, one traffic ticket worth of fines can sink you. The temptation to pay a monthly rate to guarantee legal defense is attractive.

The problem is not the philosophy of the prepaid legal business model. The problem is the lack of guarantee you will be assigned an attorney who knows anything about truck laws. Yes, a speeding ticket for a CDL holder has far greater consequences than regular drivers. Yes, most criminal attorneys can probably find their way around court for a simple speeder.

But what about an oversize or overweight ticket? What about a CDL violation? These violations may carry significant CDL ramifications and financial penalties. The law regarding these violations are complicated and there are very few attorneys who have even a basic handle on them.

It takes a skilled truck officer all of five seconds to figure out if an attorney has the guts, knowledge or diplomacy skills to make sure you get the fair deal. Prepaid attorneys may show up and try to work out a plea deal. That’s okay provided the citation is legit and not incorrect, but a middle-of-the-road attorney probably doesn’t know. Not good for you, Mr. Trucker.

Or maybe you are assigned one of these obnoxious attorneys who likes to come to court, be loud and make a scene. Volume is a cover for a lack of ability. He hopes the police and prosecutors will cower and do whatever he wants just to make the case go away. Good chance they will probably dig in and call his bluff.  Not good for you, Mr. Trucker.

Or maybe you get the self-righteous attorney who shows up with a half-baked, asinine interpretation of a truck law and tries to bamboozle the far more knowledgeable police officer. Not good for you Mr. Trucker.

There is nothing inherently wrong with prepaid legal defense work for CDL holders. There is nothing wrong with an attorney subscribed to these services looking for work to pay their bills. Everyone needs to eat.

What a wise trucker needs to do is make sure the monthly fee he is paying will guarantee a real truck defense attorney. One who is local, has much previous experience and knows his way around the world of truck enforcement. Or maybe you should call the ITEA first and find out who the good attorneys are.


Lawyering Part 2: Let’s Make a Deal

Everyone wants a deal. Finding a bargain, a huge sale or an unbelievable coupon makes purchasing an item all the sweeter. Finding a great deal when you are shopping is one thing, receiving a deal when you are in trouble with the law is something completely different. The article this week will look at the role attorneys play in negotiating lower fines for overweights and other truck specific violations.

A man is charged with murder and he’s straight up guilty. He bought the gun, possessed it, lined up the sights and squeezed the trigger. Death penalty? Not in Illinois, but maybe the rest of his natural life in prison. The question which begs for an answer is whether or not there was mitigation.

Turns out the victim had threatened the defendant’s family beforehand. He was an ex-convict too. These could be mitigating circumstances which an attorney can use to encourage a reduction from murder to a lesser crime like manslaughter.

Mitigating circumstances are not legal reasons, or even valid excuses, to lessen charges. Instead, they are leverage to discourage an “all or nothing” trial. No policeman or prosecutor wants to build a rock-solid case only to lose at trial. The same goes for a defense attorney hired by the defendant.

When it comes to truck violations in Illinois, particularly overweight citations, the fines can be astronomical. In a cut-throat economy where every dollar counts, even smaller overweight fines (less than $1000) are bitter pills to swallow for a trucker or his company.

The job of a defense attorney is to seek out the mitigating circumstances to the violation and work with the prosecution or a reduced charge. While the end goal is a lesser monetary fine, picking a random dollar amount out of thin air is not proper.

Much like the murder charge example above, the calculated fine for the overweight is based on a statutory requirement. To reduce the fine, the overweight charge must be reduced as well. If 25,000 pounds overweight on gross yields a $10,000 fine, then the citation must be amended in open court to a lesser weight (say 15,000 pounds over) to reduce the fine to rough negotiated number.

Each jurisdiction handles the negotiation differently. Some will allow the police officer who wrote the citation to work out the deals. Some require the local prosecutor or the state’s attorney to work out the fines. Either way, any mitigation will be presented prior to the hearing through one of these people.

Every trucker knows the mitigating circumstances, and every experienced truck officer has heard them all! There were no signs posted. The boss told me to go that way. The shipper said take the load or I wouldn’t be paid. I’ve been over the state scale on interstate (insert number) hundreds of times with this same load and have never been stopped.

None of these are legal defenses under the law, but they are all mitigating circumstances. What a trucker needs to ask himself is whether or not he has the verbal skills to professionally convey the mitigation prior to the hearing to receive a negotiated reduction in the crime.

Unfortunately, most cannot. Understandably there is a lot of emotion and anger associated with a large fine for a glorified traffic violation. Too many times truckers who believe their mitigating circumstances are justification for dismissal come to court amped up only to learn they are wrong. They try to represent themselves, lose at trial and pay a stiff penalty.

This is not to say every overweight requires a defense attorney, but a trucker or truck owner needs to know his limitations. An experienced and knowledgeable trucking defense attorney knows the actual law (not the supposed law learned in the shop, local bar or anonymous internet forums). He probably knows the officers who wrote the ticket. He probably can stand in front of a prosecutor or judge with less venom and more diplomacy to achieve a “desirable” outcome.

If a defense attorney knows his stuff, he can mitigate effectively. The truth is overweight violations are fairly black and white and most not trial worthy. Truckers facing prosecution for expensive overweight violations need to choose their legal representation carefully, because not all attorneys are created equal. The next two weeks this blog will look at what is behind curtains number two and three in attorney world.


Lawyering Part 1

Once upon a time, the Family Feud surveyed 100 people for the top answers on who to call when you are in trouble. Number 1 on the board? The police, of course. Number 3? Lawyers. What has yet to be discovered is a Family Feud survey asking for the top 10 adjectives used to describe lawyers (or police officers for that matter!) Over the years, this article does a fine job holding the feet of policeman and truckers to the fire. Now it’s time to dig into our other member occupation – lawyers.

A previous ITEA article was written regarding the lack of knowledge by police supervisors and why it is important for the ITEA to serve as a point of external accountability for truck officers. As a defendant travels down the road of criminal justice from roadside to jail, the knowledge of truck laws does not improve from the police station to the courthouse.

Do local prosecutors or state’s attorneys have a solid understanding of truck laws? Rarely. Do the judges, who were once the attorneys standing on the floor prosecuting or defending truckers have any clue? Again, rarely.

Similar to the career trajectory of police officers, few attorneys can fully devote themselves to truck defense. They need to represent clients charged with other types of crimes or take on civil work to pay the bills. This is not to say police officers or attorneys with other responsibilities cannot be masters of their craft. However, becoming a subject matter expert is difficult if the workload is thin and stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.

The cultural view of attorneys is a love/hate relationship. While most Americans will typically demonize defense attorneys with the words coming out of their mouth, they will not hesitate to call the phone number on that little card in their wallet when they are in trouble. Americans may call lawyers “liars” and denigrate them at every turn, yet TV shows and movies about legal work is a massive genre which never grows old.

Just as all police are seen as the enemy to the criminal element of society, in the eyes of law enforcement defense attorneys have the reputation of being the low of the low. They tear policemen apart on the stand. They introduce arguments to distract from the case at hand. They conduct themselves in loud and boisterous ways to turn the courtroom into a circus.

The unfortunate reality is attorneys like that are the exception to the rule. The same police officers who are quick to cast a wide net of judgment over all lawyers are the same police officers who quickly condemn the citizenry beating them up on social media. It’s the “few bad apples” argument.

The problem for police officers is wrapping their justice-seeking minds around the fact people, even those who are bad and deserving of consequence, can be professionally represented to beat the charges. What is aggravating to law enforcement is uninformed attorneys taking credible police work to task. What is infuriating is a court system which buys into it.

The reason the ITEA membership is open to lawyers is to prevent bad lawyering. This association works tirelessly to bring wayward truck officers to the middle. Similarly, the ITEA spends an inordinate amount of time training and resourcing truckers to be complaint with the law.

Does it not make perfect sense to do the same for the profession which serves as the third arm of the criminal justice system? Would it not be better for all parties involved to have competent prosecutors and defense attorneys rather than foolish ones?

No truck officer likes a defense attorney who beats them in court. The quality truck officer will look deep and ask if he beat himself by doing sloppy police work, or did he lose to an attorney who exploited the system? If the later, welcome to the real world. If the former, do better next time.

ITEA truck officers recognize they need good defense attorneys out there to hold them accountable for doing their job with excellence. When police officers cross all their T’s and dot all their I’s, it’s a tough case to beat.

The next three weeks, this blog will look at three aspects of lawyering typically seen in truck enforcement world…and it is going to get interesting!


Restricted Endorsements

Sometimes you have to lose the battle to win the war. Sometimes you have to take two steps back to take one step forward. Sometimes to get an endorsement on a driver’s license you have to have a restriction first. Huh? Yes, that’s correct. Want to learn about one of the most convoluted laws in the Illinois Vehicle Code? If so, read on to learn about restricted endorsements.

When police officers stop drivers, they usually will perform a status check of the driver’s license through the Illinois Secretary of State. That’s just common police practice and how law enforcement finds suspended/revoked drivers. It’s also not uncommon for truck officers to find a driver with a CDL (or non-CDL) which lists a restriction for religious vehicles, senior citizen transports or ride-sharing agreements.

The big question is why would a CDL holder, who has a passenger endorsement, have a restriction saying he cannot drive a religious vehicle, a senior citizen transport vehicle or engage in ride-sharing? The reality is many people obtain CDLs to drive buses or vans for their church. Or they want to volunteer for the township getting elderly folks to the store and social events. Or they want to create an official ride-sharing agreement to carpool with others in a geographic region.

The ITEA has been asked this question several times, usually from police officers who are confused and looking for answers. A few times the ITEA has been alerted to enforcement action taken because the driver was operating a vehicle from which he appeared to be restricted.

While this enforcement action is wrong, it is understandable why there is a misconception. This is because the restriction is not a restriction at all. It’s an endorsement! However, it cannot be called an endorsement, so consider it a “qualification” instead.

The term “endorsement” is exclusive to CDLs. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has regulatory authority over CDLs and they decide what endorsements may be placed on a CDL. This includes passengers, doubles/triples, tankers, hazmat, school bus, charter bus, etc. Each endorsement is assigned a letter which appears on the CDL when appropriate tests have been passed.

While each state manages their own CDL process, they must comply with the regulations set forth by the FMCSA. When the FMCSA says there is a limited number of endorsements, that’s it. Final. Done. Nothing left to argue. So what happens when the General Assembly of Illinois wants to create their own version of endorsements?

The Secretary of State is not to blame for calling these endorsements “restrictions”. Many things the good citizens of Illinois are angry about is completely out of the hands of the SOS. The General Assembly creates laws, and the SOS (and other regulatory agencies) are mandated to follow them whether or not the legislature provides funding or infrastructure for implementation.

The same is true of religious vehicles, senior citizen transport vehicles and ride-sharing agreements. For legitimate reasons, the General Assembly has enacted three laws, 625 ILCS 5/6-106.2, 106.3 and 106.4. These statutes lay out minimum qualifications drivers must have to operate vehicles in these operations.

The qualifications say the driver must be 21 years of age, have a valid and properly classified driver’s license for at least three years, prove safe operation of the vehicle in question and not have convictions for a litany of serious crimes. Most people would agree driver’s transporting kids, senior citizens and strangers from nearby workplaces should probably be vetted. While not perfect, these laws prescribe a few things to try and maintain public safety for the vulnerable.

In turn, the SOS must do what the General Assembly says and add these “endorsements” to driver’s licenses. Because they cannot call them endorsements, the SOS lists them as restrictions instead. Depending on the class of driver’s license (A,B,C,D), there are a series of “J” restrictions listed on the face of the plastic license. The purpose behind each restriction is listed on the backside of the hard card.

The “J” restrictions for these three purposes range from J02 to J08. There are “J” restrictions for other things as well, but that’s for a later discussion.