Exemplary Police Work #7

Do you want a refund from the IRS this year? As you patiently wait for your W-2 form to get the process going, you have to ask yourself the annual question: do I save some money and try to do my taxes alone, or do I hire an accountant? The tax code is quagmire of laws, rules and regulations, and one wrong move, intentional or not, spells trouble. Truck laws are similar in the vehicle code. They’re complicated, and sometimes police officers make mistakes. The best truck officers, however, own their mistakes.

This week the article will look at a recent incident involving a mistake made by a certified member of the Illinois Truck Enforcement Association. Next week, the article will show the stark contrast of a mistake made by a non-member, non-certified member of the ITEA. You choose which model of truck enforcement officer should be working the street.

There are three ways a truck enforcement officer can be certified by the ITEA:
1.   Attend the ITEA 40-hour Basic Truck Enforcement Officer course
2.   Attend the ITEA 40-hour Advanced Truck Enforcement Officer course
3.   Attend the ITEA 8-hour Certification Course, designed especially for those not originally trained by the ITEA.

An ITEA certified truck officer is not an “expert”. Where there are humans involved, there are mistakes. Police officers need not apologize for doing their jobs, but a humble spirit will take responsibility for an error…especially errors with pricetags in the thousands of dollars.

There is the law, and then there are exceptions to the law. With each exception comes more exceptions with limitations and qualifications. One such set of exceptions are those known as “Special Hauling Vehicles”, or “SHVs”. This blog has discussed SHVs many times before.

The trucking industry uses politics to lobby for exceptions to weight law. This article is not making a qualitative argument for or against SHVs, but as more exceptions are added to the law, the more complicated it gets. The more complicated it gets, the more mistakes will be made.

Currently there are five vehicle configurations of vehicles with SHV status, and there are several other configurations of vehicles with exceptions to the law which are not SHVs. Most of these configurations, SHV or not, do not receive their exemptions of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. These are the interstates and tollroads of Illinois.

However, there is one configuration that does receive the exemption on the defense highways: certain 5-axle combinations called “shorty dumps”, or “bombers” in days gone by. These vehicles are the exception to the exception.

Given all these rabbit trails, it is reasonable to believe a police officer may make a mistake? Absolutely. It happened just recently when a certified ITEA officer failed to honor the SHV exception for a 5-axle shorty dump which was operating on a defense highway.

After issuing an overweight citation with a fine north of $3,000, the trucking company contacted the ITEA. As it turns out, the trucking company was an ITEA member as well. Within a matter of hours, the issue was settled.

The officer acknowledged the error. He did not take offense to being asked what happened. He was open to correction. He immediately corrected the problem so there would be no prosecution. He even contacted the trucking company directly to explain himself. He humbly owned it. He protected the industry.

In a day when police officers are taking a beating in the media and social networks, it is encouraging to see professionals like this officer defeating the stereotype. He was not originally trained by the ITEA, but he joined and elected to be held to a higher standard. His exceptional authority (the ability to levy enormous fines) was voluntarily kept in check because he chose to have exceptional accountability (ITEA certification).

This system of checks and balances has worked every single time in the four years the ITEA has being certifying truck officers. Unfortunately, there are just as many times when police officers, who were not trained or certified by the ITEA, do the exact opposite. Read more about that next week.


Tall, Wide & Long

If you have email, at some point a friend of yours undoubtedly has sent you an invitation to join the social network LinkedIn. Or maybe 500 invitations, in one day. If you are on LinkedIn and interested in the heavy haul side of trucking, there is a group called “High, Wide and Heavy” moderated by Pete Lynch, a great friend of the ITEA. Towards the end of December 2014, the Illinois Department of Transportation expanded the days and dimensions certain permits can operate. In essence, IDOT made their permits higher, wider and longer!

In the specialized transportation world, there are three buzz words or phrases commonly uttered. “Harmonization” (read more about that HERE), what is “customary” and “industry standards”.

Harmonization deals with bringing uniformity between jurisdictions. Customary describes common practices which set precedent for future legislative or administrative rulemaking. The phrase which is important to the topic of IDOT expanding days and dimensions rules reflects the ever changing industry standards.

Here’s a little history lesson. For an uncountable number of years, vehicles which were overweight only (legal size) have been able to operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in Illinois. Vehicles which were oversize were limited to daylight hours only, which really means 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset.

Until 2010, oversize vehicles were only allowed to operate during daylight hours, Monday to Friday, and until noon on Saturday. After that, the people of Illinois needed not worry about oversize load on Saturday afternoon or on Sundays. In 2010 IDOT allowed travel during daylight hours seven days per week, provided  the vehicles were within (the now old) practical maximum dimensions: 12’ wide, 115’ long and legal height (13’6”).

The thinking was this: a lot of people traveling on the weekends, therefore the roads should be free of vehicles which would impede or slow things down. However, industry standards changed.

Hours of service regulations have consistently become more restrictive, requiring greater flexibility of travel times. Certain commodities like cranes, precast concrete and industrial equipment have found more cost effective means to move bigger and heavier objects. The industry standards started to evolve.

As states more progressive than Illinois slowly start to expand hours, days and dimensions, other states are soon to follow. New industry standards requires harmonization. It is for this reason IDOT made these changes in December.

Much like the philosophy behind the article last week (regarding the extra ton of weight for vehicles powered by LNG/CNG), Illinois needs to keep up with industry standards. As other states have begun allowing bigger and heavier loads at more liberal times, Illinois has become a roadblock to efficient transportation.

That is unacceptable for a state in the heart of the Midwest which is already floundering economically. In response, IDOT has done what they believe needed to be done to accommodate new industry standards in specialized transportation.

A key point to remember is that these new rules are only applicable on state highways operating under the permit authority of IDOT. Just because IDOT allows something on their highways, it should never be assumed the same benefits are granted on tollways, county, township or city/village highways.

On a similar note, the ITEA encourages local permit jurisdictions to comply and harmonize their permit rules with those of IDOT. Again, there is no mandate to conform.

Here’s the meat of the new rule. Effective immediately, vehicles operating on IDOT highways with a valid IDOT permit may operate during daylight hours, seven days per week, provided the vehicles do not exceed these dimensions: 14’6” wide, 15’ high and 145’ long. These dimensions are the new practical maximums. This has been made possible due to the massive engineering database contained within IDOTs automated permit system (ITAP). It should be noted that those vehicles operating on LCO (limited continuous permits) for overweight, are still limited to the size limitations listed on the permit (12′ wide, 115′ long, legal height).

So what happens if a police officer catches a load exceeding these limitations during daylight hours? Is the permit rendered void, knocking all weights and sizes back to legal? Can the police officer just cite the vehicle and allow it to continue on its way?

The answer to both questions is a resounding “no”. If vehicle has a valid permit, the excess dimension does not void the permit. It is a violation of permit citation only, written under 625 ILCS 5/15-301(j). This citation requires a court appearance and carries a maximum fine of $200 for the first offense. Even if the violation is cited, a police officer cannot allow a vehicle to continue on illegally. A new or revised permit must be obtained first.

Having an account on Linkedin? Optional. Knowing and understanding this new rule? Mandatory.


A Ton of Gas

Want to mess with the mind of a small child? Ask them this simple question: “which is heavier…a ton of feathers, or a ton of bricks?” Invariably the child will say the bricks. The mental illusion exploits a child’s inability to differentiate between volume and density. A ton is a ton, even if it takes one-hundred 53’ semi-trailers full of feathers to equal 2,000 pounds! Effective 01 January 2015, Illinois has enacted a new law giving certain trucks an extra ton of weight for fuel. Read on to learn more!

Soooo…have you heard the economy is Illinois is not so good? Or even close to good? Part of the reason is because business is fleeing Illinois. There are many attributable reasons for this epidemic, but at the end of the day, Illinois is not a business friendly state.

The irony of the new law allowing extra weight for trucks powered by a certain types of fuel is a 180-degree turn for Illinois policy. The purpose behind the law is to be business friendly. Sure, Illinois could scrap all regulations pertaining to vehicle weight and business would love it. Except when roads and bridges collapse, the individual taxpayer foots the bill.

As always, the answer is in the balance. For the first time in a long time, Illinois was not the last state in the union to pass a transportation bill which helps grow business. Illinois joined Colorado, Indiana, Ohio and Virginia to allow extra weight for vehicles powered by compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). This is green technology which is becoming a serious competitor for typical diesel fuel.

The political divide over alternative fuels and the methods to obtain said fuels is astonishing. The ITEA is not going to enter a debate of the merits of fracking, but one cannot deny that exploratory domestic fuels are helping drive down the cost of OPEC oil. Because diesel has not fallen in price at the same rate of gasoline, alternative fuels like CNG/LPG are even more attractive.

The jury is out on the performance of trucks powered by CNG/LPG. The frontline drivers are usually critical while the back office loves it. Regardless, it is here to stay and will only continue to grow.

In response, Illinois recognized the trend and got out in front by passing Public Act 98-1029. This bill allows any vehicle powered by CNG/LPG technology to operate at an extra 2,000 pounds. Are their critics to this bill? Of course…two of them:

First, the police officer who thinks this law gives those trucks an extra ton of free weight just for being green. Second, the trucker or company owner who does not have CNG/LPG powered trucks and believes he is at a competitive disadvantage because similar carriers can carry more cargo than him.

Both critics are incorrect. Yes, those trucks with CNG/LPG capabilities do get extra weight, but it is not a true bonus. The reality is the technology needed to power these vehicles comes not only with a higher front-end price tag, but heavier weight as well. It’s not a perfect science and depends on the equipment used, but it’s not unreasonable for the extra 2,000 pounds to be eaten up by the very equipment employed.

So how does the weight get added? It’s actually quite simple. If a truck is powered by CNG/LPG technology, it will receive an extra 2,000 pounds of gross weight, axle weight or bridge formula weight. This is not a grace weight. It actually adds to the legal weight of the vehicle, just like the 400 pounds for a functioning auxiliary power unit (APU).

If a CNG/LPG powered garbage truck was entitled to 54,000 pounds gross weight, it now receives 56,000 pounds gross weight. If the maximum tandem axle weight on a shorty-dump was 34,000 pounds, it is now 36,000 pounds. If a series of 4-axles spaced at 22’ on center receives 56,500 pounds, it now receives 58,500 pounds.

And if the vehicle has a functioning APU, add another 400 pounds and then start the grace weight calculation.

However, this law does not give the CNG/LPG powered trucks carte blanche to run an extra ton all the time. There are some limitations:
1.   Interstates – the extra weight does not apply on interstate highways.
2.   Posted elevated structures – if there is an elevated structure posted with an IDOT approved weight limit, the vehicle only receives the posted weights.
3.   Registration – if the truck needs more registration to cover the extra weight, then the owner needs to purchase it.
4.   Overweight permits – the permit applicant needs to take into account the extra weight and buy a permit large enough to cover the weight.

It’s a progressive law for sure. One can only hope it is another brick to help rebuild Illinois.


Bring on 2015!

It’s a new year and the ITEA is stoked to begin year number six as a professional organization designed to serve law enforcement, truckers and attorneys! Many times news reports and magazines like to issue lists of highlights from the previous year. The ITEA works hard to leave a footprint using this blog and social media, so it’s not hard to go back and see what all happened in 2014. Instead, the article this week look ahead into 2015 and see what is to come for the ITEA and truck enforcement in Illinois.

ITEA Annual Conference | 07 JAN 2015
It’s not too late to sign up for this event! New and diverse speakers from the Illinois State Police, the Illinois Department of Transportation, Illinois Secretary of State, Jason’s Law, World’s Largest Truck Convoy and Diamondback Specialized CMV Training will be presenting. The ITEA will also be presenting the first Glenn Strebel Award…our version of the truck officer of the year. Not to mention there will be multiple raffle prizes (including a pistol).

IDOT Customer Conferences | 06 JAN 2015 (Schaumburg), 08 JAN 2015 (Springfield)
If you are in the permit business for oversize/overweight loads in Illinois, you probably have had to pull permits from the Illinois Department of Transportation. The ITEA will be on-hand to answer questions of IDOT permit customers to help resolve questions and concerns about local permitting. Sign up now (it’s free!)

Industry Expos / Conferences
Mid-west Truck & Trailer Show, Peoria IL | 06-07 FEB 2015
iLandscape, Schaumburg IL | 25-27 FEB 2015
National Transportation Symposium, Atlanta GA | 03-06 MAR 2015

40-hour Basic Truck Enforcement |The dates are still tentative, but the ITEA plans to offer its basic 40-hour Truck Enforcement course two times in the spring…one week in the suburban area and one week in Springfield. This course is all about hands-on training. Half the time in the classroom, half the time with real trucks.

40-hour Advanced Truck Enforcement Officer | Much like the basic course, the ITEA plans to conduct this training twice in the fall, once in the suburbs and once downstate. Built to dig into the finer and most confusing parts of truck law, this course is for the truck officer who has been through a basic class and spent time on the road already doing truck enforcement.

8-hour Certification | The ITEA believes that police officers performing truck enforcement duties need to operate at an exceptional level of accountability given the exceptional authority  they possess. Police officers who have successfully completed an ITEA 40-hour or 8-hour course in the past can recertify each year via an online test. Those who have been through a basic school not conducted by the ITEA may elect to take this course to become certified by the ITEA. Coming this Spring!

Interactive Flowcharts | If you are a member of the ITEA, you have access to several paper flowcharts to explain when a driver needs a CDL, and IFTA sticker or vehicle safety test. In the modern world of portable electronic devices, these documents are easy to download. To take it up a notch, the ITEA will be releasing new interactive flowcharts throughout the year. You punch in the information you have and it will automatically tell you what the answer is! Plus, you will have the option to have the finding emailed to you in a report. The first flowchart regarding CDLs will be live mid-January.

Portable Scale Recertification Program | Yes, the truckers hate portable scales. However, they are a tool, which when used properly, greatly expedite the weighing of trucks. Each year the Illinois Department of Agriculture must certify the scales. In an effort to cut down on costs (passed along to the taxpayers), the ITEA transports trailer loads of portable scales free of charge to local government. In 2015, the IDOA is providing the ITEA with three weeks! Sign up now for one of the runs in January, May or September.

The ITEA is excited about another great year resourcing and advocating for both law enforcement and industry. As always, please let us know your ideas, suggestions and comments. We’re here to serve you!


Shovels, Brooms & Buckets

Think back to a time earlier in the year when the sun was out, the air was warming, the trees were turning green. As you walked past the pear tree in your backyard, you took a piece of the fruit, ate it and instantly died. Why? Because the fruit was poison, that’s why. When it comes to enforcing laws, police officers have to be aware of the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine. There are a host of laws specific to tow-trucks, but they are easily poisonous fruit, and the article this week explains why.

Before traveling down this road, it’s time to pause and remember what is coming in just a few days: tow-truck registration enforcement. At the stroke of midnight on January 1st, all Illinois base tow-truck plates which have not been renewed, will expire. You can read more about that topic by clicking HERE.

And because tow-truck registration is at the forefront of a truck enforcement officer’s mind this time of year, it’s not uncommon for all things tow-trucks to be considered. The ideology of the law is irrelevant. The proper enforcement methods, however, is paramount.

In 2003, Illinois made a violation of the seatbelt law primary probable cause to stop a vehicle. Before that time, police officers had to find other lawful reasons to stop vehicles in order to cite drivers who were unbuckled. To have made a seatbelt violation the primary reason for the traffic stop was unlawful. If the stop (or the analogous “tree”) was bad, everything after (the analogous “fruit”) was poison. Get it?

This is the same principle that applies to suspended driver’s license violations, DUI, searches etc. Just because there is a law on the books does not mean a police officer can automatically enforce it. It’s a ramp. A police officer starts with one thing, and based on his abilities to ask questions and be a good investigative police officer, he may be able to find additional violations of the law.

Another example of this (and a future blog article of its own) is the difference between “inspection” and “investigation”. There are many times the Supreme Court has given police officers or other agents of the government the authority to conduct warrantless searches. While a search typically has the connotation of drugs, weapons or other contraband, it really is a quest to find other violations of the law.

Health code inspectors can enter a dwelling without a warrant or probable cause and inspect for violations of a law. The Illinois State Police troopers can stop any commercial vehicle without a warrant or probable cause and inspect for violations of the FMCSR.

Local police officers are never given any authority under the Illinois Vehicle Code to inspect trucks suspected of breaking the law. They are vested under the color of law to investigate violations. This means building a case and not eating the fruit of the poisonous tree.

Chapter 12 of the Illinois Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/12-606) speaks to certain equipment which must be carried on a tow-truck. When talking about registration and higher axle weights afforded to tow-trucks, the tow-truck definition is limited to those vehicles which are actually towing another vehicle during a towing operation. When it comes to the equipment specific to all tow-trucks, it can be either a vehicle towing or carrying another (625 ILCS 5/1-205.1).

All tow-trucks (towing or carrying) are required to have the following equipment:
•   One or more brooms and shovels
•   One or more 5 gallon trash cans
•   One fire extinguisher

Failure to carry these items is against the law, and may be cited by any police officer in Illinois. Discovery of these violations is another issue.
Illinois police officers have no/none/zero/zilch/nada authority to stop a tow-truck solely to inspect for these violations. Police officers must find lawful reasons to stop a tow-truck and then ask the driver questions as to his compliance, aka investigate.

On the scale of severity, drugs and weapons are in a different class of crime compared to a tow-truck driver not having a shovel. But they are both violations of the law nonetheless. A police officer may not stop or search tow-trucks for shovels and brooms any more lawfully than he can stop cars and search for drugs and weapons.


Sign & Drive

There’s comes a day when all seems right with the world. Okay, maybe not, but in the midst of national turmoil, political unrest and ambiguity regarding Taylor Swift as a pop diva or country music darling, Illinois has something good going for it. Yeah, that’s right, Illinois has done something GOOD. It’s called Sign & Drive, and it has been a long time coming. But guess what else? It might not be as great for truckers as one may think.

Here’s some background. Every time someone breaks the law in Illinois, they have committed a crime, even if it’s just a traffic violations. On a human scale of severity, most traffic crime pales in comparison to other crimes against persons or property. Since most traffic violations do not require custodial arrest, it’s easy to pile them in the closet of forgotten offenses.

When crimes are committed in Illinois, bail must be posted. Some call it bond, some call it bail. Find a couple lawyers with no clientele and let them argue the merits of the two words. For all practical purposes, they are 99% interchangeable.

In the Land of Lincoln, the Illinois Supreme Court has jurisdiction over all things bail. Available on the internet is a series of documents called the Supreme Court Rules. Article V of the rules spells out bail procedures for traffic and misdemeanor offenses. This is the proverbial who, what, when, where, how of bail procedure. It is not without purpose, but reading Article V is not for the faint of heart either. It is a complex, rabbit trail document.

Unfortunately, the General Assembly sometimes trespasses upon the separation of powers between the judicial and legislative branches of government. In this case, the vast majority of Illinois motorists will appreciate the conflict setup by Public Act 98-0870. A student of the Illinois Vehicle Code and Article V will quickly see that legislative mandate is not always answered by the judiciary.

This leaves police departments, circuit clerks and the Secretary of State in limbo over how to process violations. Whose word takes precedence? It’s not unreasonable to say “it shouldn’t be this hard”, but the reality is, it is.

Per the General Assembly, when this new law goes into effect on January 1st, 2015, Illinois drivers cited for certain petty offenses will no longer have to post their driver’s licenses, a bond card or $120 cash as bail. This archaic procedure is almost entirely unique to Illinois for basic traffic violations like speeding, seatbelts, red lights and stop signs.

The real consternation for Illinois drivers is that 44 of the other 50 states in the Union (including Illinois) are part of an interstate compact. This compact allows a speeding driver from Iowa to not have to post bail for his crime…he can leave after signing the ticket. However, our own Illinois residents has to cough up money or their driver’s license.

There is a catch in this law though. While it may seem that all tickets which do not require a custodial arrest are eligible for Sign & Drive, this is not true. The General Assembly, in a less than easily understandable way, deferred some authority back to the Supreme Court.

First, the law says that when the Illinois Supreme Court requires an Illinois driver to sign the citation, he may sign it and go. The Rules, however, never provide an Illinois driver to sign and drive! The Rules require all Illinois drivers to post bail.

Second, the law says that whenever the Supreme Court has an assigned bail, the Supreme Court Rule takes precedent. What this means is, generally speaking, everything which is not the typical $120 bail for a petty offense, such as no insurance ($2000/10% or driver’s license), misdemeanor traffic violations ($1500/10%) or overweights have to post bail in the traditional manner.

As it pertains to trucks, if a driver receives an overweight on either a Chapter 15 violation (gross/axle/bridge formula/elevated structure/permit) or a Chapter 3 overweight (registration), the full fine must be posted as bail. Not having a CDL when required is a misdemeanor, so the bail still remains $1500/10%. This is because the Supreme Court has deferred authority from the legislature.

Some truck violations by Illinois truckers like oversize (length/width/height) violations, violation of classification, a violation of permit, or IFTA violations would qualify for Sign & Drive. A court date, or a higher fine than $120 may be required, but the signature is all that is needed for bail.

The devil is always in the details, and many details still need to be fixed. To make this law clear requires a statutory amendment by the legislature and a rule change by the Article V committee of the Supreme Court. Rest assured, the ITEA is already working on both.


What’s So Gross About Ratings?

Let’s play a game of word association. We’ll say a word that has to do with trucks, you respond with the first word that comes to your mind. Ready? Driver’s, LICENSE. Good work! Let’s try another: semi, TRAILER. Excellent. One more: Gross Vehicle, WEIGHT? WEIGHT RATING? That’s right. Gross vehicle weight and gross vehicle weight rating may only differ by one word, but the two totally separate things. When they are misinterpreted by policemen and truckers alike, expensive enforcement happens.

To make reading this article easier, the terms GVW and GVWR will be used. That “R” makes all the difference in the world. GVWR exclusively stands for what the vehicle manufacturer says the maximum loaded weight of the vehicle is. This definition is found in 625 ILCS 5/1-124.5 of the Illinois Vehicle Code (IVC). When it comes to truck enforcement in Illinois, GVWR has only a couple useful purposes.

First, it is the primary criteria for driver’s license classification, which is enforceable by all sworn police officers in the State. Second, it is a qualification standard for the Illinois State Police to use in determining which vehicles are subject to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Lastly, the article last week discussed a new law where in a very limited situation, GVWR can be used for weight enforcement.

That’s it. Done. The cousin term GVW is used in many places in the law. Sometimes it is under the acronym, other times it is spelled out as “gross vehicle weight”. Its official definition is found in 625 ILCS 5/1-125. Gross vehicle weight is the actual weight of the vehicle(s) and the load when it’s on the scale.

That’s it. Done. No crossing the streams. Two terms. Similar in text, completely different in definition and application. However, there are a couple myths out there which need to be clarified.

Myth #1: The law, and the Secretary of State, require a vehicle’s registered weight to cover the GVWR.

This is entirely false. Anyone who believes the contrary is welcome to produce a single shred of authoritative evidence. Oh wait, the ITEA has in its possession a document from the SOS dispelling this hogwash. You can read it HERE. It is handed out at the SOS registration facilities solely to combat this rumor.

Could an SOS worker be misinformed about this topic? Of course! Everyone makes mistakes. That is a far cry different than taking costly enforcement action against a driver with an overweight on registration citation. Using the error of a regulatory official as grounds to continue abrogating the law never acceptable.

Registration is a tax. It’s a free country, and you are welcome to pay as much or as little tax as you want. Buy too little? You pay the overweight fine. Buy too much? Thanks for the donation to State coffers.

Myth #2: A police officer can issue an overweight citation when the manufacturers GVWR exceeds the maximum registered weight.

Rubbish. The law NEVER says this. While it is advisable that an owner purchase enough registration to cover the GVWR, it is not required. The sister myth to this one is that when this scenario occurs, the police officer does not have to even weigh the truck!

The rationale is this: if the truck has a manufacturers GVWR of 11,500, and it is registered with an 8,000 pound B-truck plate, it is 3,500 pounds overweight on registration. Why would a police officer need to weigh that? Why? Because any overweight ticket, lawful or unlawful, statutorily requires the police officer to put the vehicle on a scale. Read more about that topic HERE.

These myths occur primarily because of selective reading. In 625 ILCS 5/3-815, the legislature demands that flat weight registration be based on “gross weight” in pounds. It never says gross vehicle weight “rating”. Unfortunately, many police officers have chosen to play the “it seems to me” interpretation game and extrapolate the very clear intent of the General Assembly.

Every time a police officer takes this wrong enforcement method, the myth spreads. The intent of the officer is irrelevant. It could be moneylust. It could be poor training. It could be a senior officer or supervisor who has believed the hype.

Any which way, it needs to stop.


False Security

In simpler times, before the dawn of cable TV, high resolution video games and the internet, children around the nation were entertained by the Peanuts cartoon. Simple story lines, simple animation. One of the more peculiar characters was Linus. Although he was a boy genius, he still walked around with a security blanket. Sometimes laws are like security blankets, but there is nothing fun about learning the hard way how a law really didn’t protect you the way it was intended. On January 1st, 2015, one such law goes into effect for the trucking industry.

Public Act 98-0942 was signed into law by Governor Quinn on 15 August 2014. The intent was clear: give trucks who are doing emergency sewer repair work for a municipality higher weight limits. Not a bad idea, as the more trucks it takes to haul for a job, the bigger the bill is to the taxpayers.

What actually became the law, however, is legal swiss cheese. Intent? Noble. Execution? Poor. The article this week will show why. The hope is that the law will soon be amended to fix the problems, Until that the time, we encourage police officers to use great discretion when enforcing it after it goes into effect. Now for a systematic dissection of the law.

Not all underground utility work involving pipes is sewer work. Many times it is broken water mains. This law exclusively exempts sewer repair work only.

By reading the law, it gives the appearance that sewers belong only to municipalities. This is not true. Depending on the system, the underground utility may belong to a county, township or even park district. These are all units of local government, and trucks servicing them are not covered by the exemptions. Unfortunately, people sometimes only like to hear the part of the law they want to hear. Truckers will invariably believe that there is an exemption for ALL municipal work, which is obviously not the case.

The weight exemptions only apply to “emergency” sewer work. There is no definition of what constitutes an emergency. While a reasonable police officer should be using great discretion before writing overweight tickets to trucks servicing a municipality during any emergency, the interpretations door is wide open. Many times “urgency” and “emergency” are confused. Vague words yield interpretive enforcement which yields big problems.

For the first time in Illinois legislation, the manufacturers GVWR may be used to enforce an actual overweight violation. While GVWR has been rumored as an overweight criteria amongst industry for years, this was never the case. Unfortunately, some police officers even enforced it as such. Under this law, a small window of GVWR enforcement has been opened.  Much like the selective reading by truckers in the paragraph above regarding the municipal scope of this law, police officers will begin to unlawfully apply GVWR in other areas of weight enforcement.

Gross Weight
Under this law, qualifying trucks (of the 3 or 4 axle variety) are allowed 66,000 pounds gross weight (on the scale), or the GVWR, whichever is LESS. That’s easy enough to understand, but the law does not specify what the maximum axle weights should be. In the many other exemptions to 625 ILCS 5/15-111(a), both maximum gross and axle weights are listed. It is safe to say that a 3-axle truck, loaded to the legal 66,000 lbs, will exceed single axle (20,000 lbs) and tandem axle (34,000 lbs) weights. Yikes.

County Lines
The extra weight exemption only applies to Cook, Lake, McHenry, Kane, DuPage and Will counties. Does this mean if a truck expecting the exempted weight drives through a non-listed county, whether inbound or outbound, it does not receive the extra gross weight? Materials for the emergency work may have to be purchased outside the geographic region and hauled in. Spoils may have to be hauled to a location outside the geographic region for disposal.

Protected Roads
Like many other weight exceptions to the Federal Bridge Formula (garbage trucks, cement mixers), the extra weight is not allowed on the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Fair enough. But the law goes on to prohibit trucks operating under this exemption from crossing other “bridges or elevated structures”. Does this mean all bridges or elevated structures, or only those defined in 15-111(e) and (f) which are posted? If a qualifying vehicle crosses an unmarked box culvert with a creek running through it, does that knock the truck back to legal weights?

The unfortunate consequence is there are going to be truckers loading heavy under the security of this law, only to be stopped, weighed and cited for some pretty hefty overweight fines. Valuable work time will be spent at roadside when police officers will be calling to verify “emergency” work. Valuable time and finances will be spent challenging the cases in court, with no certainty of outcome.

Even Linus could have seen this coming.


Cluck Cluck Turkey Truck

There’s two invariable truths to which a person must acquiesce when studying the trucking industry. First, the industry has an unprecedented obsession with fowl. Chicken trucks, chicken lights, chicken coops, rooster cruisers…it goes on and on. Secondly, around Thanksgiving, the trucking industry lights up social media with pictures of trucks hauling live turkeys, just to prove they make the holiday happen! The ITEA agrees. As the ITEA passes the5th anniversary milestone this holiday season, it is important to look back on reflect on the impetus for the ITEA. We are thankful for a lot of things.

To get a true appreciation of our gratefulness, dial the clock back to November 18th, 2009. Although the ITEA was officially launched to the public on January 1st, 2010, this date in November was the first official meeting of the original ten members. It was here the foundation was poured.

At that time, Illinois truck enforcement was in chaos. An 11th hour legislative change drastically changed truck weight laws in Illinois. While the intent was noble and long-deserved to bring Illinois into compliance with the other 47 lower states, the delivery was awful.

Local government was blindsided. An unfunded mandate of heavier trucks was thrust upon the roads they are responsible for maintaining, without compensation. The rewrite (later rewritten) was less than comprehensive as gaping holes and contradictions were legislated. So-called truck enforcement “trainers” were teaching local police officers incorrect application of the new law leading up to the effective date on New Year’s Day. The disparity among police officers in correct interpretation and enforcement methodology was at an all-time high.

Enough. Many other specialty areas of law enforcement had associations representing their craft, and the time was ripe to do this for truck enforcement world. We needed uniformity among our own. We needed to work together with industry and the legal community.

The group came up with the six foundational statements. First version by-laws were scratched out. Everyone threw in $25 (for a grand total of $250) to buy domain names, launch a very basic website and hire a local attorney to file organizational documents.

Would anyone join? Would industry welcome our efforts? Would the state regulatory agencies acknowledge our existence? Could we really walk the delicate fine line of representing enforcement, industry and the legal community at the same time? It was a gamble, but it’s worked.

We are thankful for the 400+ police officer members representing nearly 175 agencies across Illinois. It is not an easy thing to police the police. The humble and professional demeanor of our officers, especially the ITEA certified ones, is incredible.

We are thankful for the 100+ trucking company and carrier members who have joined our ranks. The further we walk with the industry the greater our knowledge and compassion grows. We have seen strong anti-enforcement truckers/owners become some of the biggest truck enforcement supporters.

We are thankful for the dozen attorneys and law firms who are ITEA members. Without informed legal counsel, bad enforcement prospers. Without proper education, uninformed attorneys make unnecessary trouble for enforcement.

We are thankful for the leadership of the State regulatory agencies who oversee their world of trucking authority. The Illinois State Police, the Illinois Department of Transportation, Secretary of State and others have graciously welcomed the ITEA. They have resourced our every move. In a culture where the public casts a suspicious eye on all things Illinois state government, the ITEA has had the privilege to work with quality leaders. Leaders who do their duty to protect the public and infrastructure, yet have a heart to see the trucking industry proper as well.

We are thankful for our partner industry associations who have shown the ITEA unparalleled support. There is no doubt, and with great reason, for them to have looked at the ITEA with trepidation in the beginning. They now invite the ITEA to speak and participate at their events. They defer local enforcement issues to the ITEA. They have welcomed the ITEA into their ranks. Here’s a special shout-out to Mid-west Truckers, the Professional Towing & Recovery Operators of Illinois, Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association, Illinois Trucking Association, Illinois Landscape Contractors Association and the Illinois Farm Bureau…thank you.

In January, the ITEA will begin distributing special 5-year challenge coins to those members who have crossed that milestone. We are thankful, and look forward to big things in 2015 and another five years serving you.


Electronic Display of Permits

It’s a small world, right? What a person who travels quickly learns is that its pretty much the same everywhere you go…just little differences here and there. There’s a local flavor to everything. Even though truck laws are uniform throughout Illinois, sometimes how they are applied varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and that does not make them wrong. Just different. The article this week will look at what the term “written form” means when it comes to oversize/overweight permits, because interpretations vary.

Oversize/overweight (OS/OW) permits are crucial to lawful operation of big loads. When a carrier wishes to exceed maximum size and weight limits, as set by statute, a special permit must be obtained. In reality, an OS/OW permit is a legal document which authorizes a vehicle to lawfully break the law.

It’s a big deal, because when a vehicle has  not obtained a permit when required, the fines can be astonishing. The authority for the State and local government to issue a permit is found in 625 ILCS 5/15-301(a) of the Illinois Vehicle Code. In 15-301(f), it states:

“Every permit shall be in written form…”

First, notice the term “shall”. It does not say “may”, “could” or “should”. It is a command. The ITEA wrote an article about this a couple years ago…you can read it HERE.

Secondly, notice the term “written form”. It does not say “verbal permission”. No unit of local government has the authority to authorize an OS/OW vehicle to operate on a public highway with verbal permission. It is unlawful and it sets the carrier up for failure. Verbal permission does not protect the industry.

As difficult as it may be to obtain local permits, no carrier should ever move OS/OW on verbal permission. At the end of the day, there will be a policeman, a set of scales and a ticket book because the verbal permission granted by an uneducated city worker will be forgotten. It is not worth it.

The debate occurs when interpreting what “written form” means. In days gone by, before the dawn of portable electronic devices, written form unanimously meant “paper”. However, in today’s world, electronic copy is readily accepted as a valid form of documentation in most arenas.

In 2012, the Illinois Department of Transportation reissued its Policy Manual which specifically included electronic display of permits as legitimate. There was one condition though: whatever device displaying the electronic permit must be able to be inspected by law enforcement. Why? Because the law says so in 625 ILCS 5/15-301(f):

“…shall be open to inspection by any police officer…”

Notice that the rule allowing for electronic display of permits is in the IDOT permit manual and the OPER 993 form. What this means is that the rule is only valid on State highways which are permitted under the authority of IDOT. Therefore, the rule does not apply on highways under the permit authority of a local government.

While the ITEA encourages all local government to model the permit policies of IDOT, they are not required to. As a matter of fact, the ITEA has a Standard of Practice requiring member police officers to honor the IDOT permit rules, on IDOT highways, every time. While it may seem like a simple request for local towns to allow electronic display of their local permits, there is more to the issue which must be considered.

Compare electronic display of OS/OW permits to electronic display of insurance cards. In 2013, the Illinois General Assembly authorized electronic display of insurance cards in PA 98-0521, but with a caveat. If a motorist hands a cellular phone, tablet or electronic device to the police officer, and the police officer drops said device, he is not liable for the damage.

As the law stands today, it provides no such protection for police officers inspecting an OS/OW permit. If you are a naysayer who thinks a broken smartphone or tablet dropped by a police officer isn’t a big deal, you don’t understand local government.

It’s a broken iPhone, dropped by a well-meaning police officer, which results in angry phone calls, meetings and eventually payment. The little things always make the most waves. No policeman wants to be sitting in the Chief’s office explaining why he has to now pay out $500-$600 he has butterfingers. The law does not authorize or protect the officer in this regard.

Maybe the time has come for Illinois to change the law. It would be good for industry, and with the right protections, good for law enforcement too.