Calculated Fines

Okay, the secret is out. When it comes to overweight vehicle enforcement in Illinois, there is money in it for local government. What is not very well understood is where the fine money actually goes. Lots of rumor and speculation, so the article this week will delve into the quagmire of statutory fines for overweights. You may very well be surprised that it is not as lucrative for local government as you once believed.

When discussing Chapter 15 overweights, there is a garden variety of offenses which could be cited. Overweight on gross weight. Overweight on axle. Overweight on bridge formula. Overweight on elevated structure. Either way, all four of these share the fine chart found in 625 ILCS 5/15-113(a).

The fine however is not the bottom line for the money paid on an overweight fine. When the police officer weighs a truck and tells the driver the bail is a “$XXXXX.XX”, there are really three different parts to the calculation. So here goes…

Part 1 – Statutory Fine
This figure is set by the state legislature, your elected representatives. You can argue (ill-advised) with motive, discretion and attitude of a police officer all day long, but you can’t blame him for is the fine schedule. The politicians created it.

Until 2010, these figures were based on $75 for every 500 pounds. As part of a quid pro quo agreement between the legislature and the trucking industry, the fines were doubled to $150 for every 500 pounds in exchange for uniform weight laws.

Here’s what you probably did not know: the doubled portion of the fine does not go to the locals. It goes to the State of Illinois. The locals still only get $75 for every 500 pounds overweight (but they don’t…see below), and the State Capital Fund gets $75 for doing none of the work. That’s why everyone loves Illinois.

The rub here is when fines are finalized in court, the Supreme Court Rules kick in. The Circuit Clerks can only distribute funds as set by the high justices of Illinois. Guess what? Of that $75, the local authority only receives 44.5% of their $75, or $33.38. The remaining 55.5% goes to the State Treasurer (16.825%) and the county’s general corporate fund (38.675%), both of whom did none of the work.

Part 2 – Surcharge
What fee would not be complete it there was not a surcharge tax? Oddly, this is not found in the Vehicle Code, but in the Corrections Code, 730 ILCS 5/5-9-1. For all traffic charges (not registration offenses), the surcharge is calculated at $10 for every $40 of fine.

This revenue is sent by the Circuit Clerk to the State Treasurer (who did none of the work), and is deposited into a host of sub-funds to promote state level public safety programs. How much of the surcharge goes to the local town who issued the citation? That’s right…zero.

Part 3 – Court Fees
There’s a 102 counties in Illinois, so theoretically there are 102 different court fee calculations. The Supreme Court has authorized several categories for fees, and maximum limits for each fee. There is the clerk fee, the automation fee, the document storage fee, the court finance fee, the “other” fee, the E-ticket fee, and the Illinois State Police vehicle fund fee.

The counties do not have to collect all these or part of them. Regardless of the amount collected, how much goes to the local town who issued the citation? That’s right…zero.

So let’s look at a truck found to be 5350 overweight on an axle in Cook County, with a total bail of $2229:

Statutory Fine: $1650
– State of Illinois Capital Fund: $825
– Illinois State Treasurer: $138.81
– County Corporate Fund: $319.06
– Local town who wrote the ticket: $367.13

Surcharge: $420
– Various State of Illinois funds: $420
– Local town who wrote the ticket: $0

Court Fees: $159
– Various County funds: $159
– Local town who wrote the ticket: $0

So for that initial bail of $2229 cash the driver had to pay, that local town only reaped $367.13, or 16.5%, of the total haul. The rest went to fund broken state and county revenue machines.

The other point to consider is this only represents the initial fines. Most police officers are willing to negotiate a lower fine in court, typically giving back one-third (33%) to one-half (50%) of the fine. This means even less for the local jurisdiction, who did all the work.

Hey – $367 is better than a stick in the eye for local coffers, but it’s not the pot of gold that most truckers and local leaders believe. The ITEA does not advocate the use of local administrative adjudication for overweight violations because it is illegal. However, if anyone wonders why a town would attempt this, now you know.

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Doubles Troubles

There’s old expression called “getting the cart ahead of the horse”. In the modern world, the horse represents the truck, and the cart is the trailer. It’s always a bad situation when a non-motor vehicle leads the power unit. Legislation can be like that too. In Washington DC, legislators are crafting a new truck length bill which exceeds industry standards, while back home in Illinois legislators are just trying to get truck length law out of the 1950s!

At the federal level, a small group of the biggest national carriers are pushing for controversial new federal legislation which would allow the maximum trailer length for double trailers to be extended from the industry standard 28’6” to 33’. The Illinois Truck Enforcement Association is not supporting or opposing the idea, but instead critically thinking through how this affects Illinois.

Truck-tractors towing double semi-trailers is a national standard. Semi-tractors towing triple semi-trailers is not. Triples are not allowed in Illinois. Many times police officers ask “why then does Illinois have a “T” endorsement for CDLs?” The reason is because CDLs are federally mandated and an Illinois driver may legally operate triples outside of Illinois.

When double semi-trailers (or double bottoms) are being towed in Illinois, the maximum length for each trailer is 28’6”. As previously mentioned, this is the industry standard for this configuration. Several states allow “western doubles”, “turnpike doubles” or “rocky mountain doubles” which allow double semi-trailers with individual lengths as long as 53’.

The key thing to understand about nearly sixty years of federal truck legislation is that the law only applies to federal highways known as the National Network (NN). This highways may be owned and maintained by the individual states, but dedicated funding from the Federal Highway Administration means they have jurisdiction over size and weights.

Study this timeline for the common theme:

  • In 1956, Illinois instituted the “State Bridge Formula” for weight. In 1974, the federal government implemented the “Federal Bridge Formula” for weight on the NN, to which Illinois did not comply until 1986! It took until 2010 for Illinois (the last state in the Union) to allow the same weights on local roads.
  • In 1976, the federal government authorized 102” for width on the NN. Illinois did not mandate the 102” width on local roads until 2010.
  • By 1982, the federal government forced each state to lock in the maximum length of semi-trailers using the Surface Transportation Assistance Act. Illinois chose 53’, but still has not allowed the overall length of truck-tractor semi-trailers to exceed 55’ on local roads (only 2′ long tractors may lawfully tow these trailers on local roads).

Is this repeating cycle of “industry standard yields change in federal regulation but not state regulation” not plainly obvious?

The difference with double semi-trailers is that 33’ footers are not the industry standard. The sect of industry leading this push is attempting to redefine the loose meaning of “industry standard” as it applies to doubles. That is the cart being put ahead of the horse.

While Illinois has managed to play catch-up in regards to width and weight, Illinois length laws are almost old enough to collect social security. The federal government may very well mandate 33’ semi-trailers for doubles on the NN, and Illinois may very well comply – for the NN. That does not mean Illinois will comply for local roads. It’s probably a safe bet, based on the legislative history of Illinois, it will take a minimum 20 years before uniformity would be mandated.

Under current Illinois law, if a combination of doubles travels on a local road (barring any reasonable access provisions), the maximum overall length is 60’ from bumper-to-bumper. Do the estimated math:

Tractor (bumper to kingpin) = 15”
Semi-trailer #1 = 28.5”
Space between trailers = 4’
Semi-trailer #2 = 28.5”
Total = 76’

The truth is industry standard doubles cannot be legal on local roads in Illinois under current law, yet there is a federal push to increase the limits. Progress is good, and legislation which helps industry be more profitable is good too. However, at what point should the focus be on retroactive modernization and not trailblazing?

The bigger priority for making Illinois less business repellent and more inviting would be to increase the overall truck-tractor semi-trailer length from the 1956 standard of 55’ to at least 65’. This would allow the very 53’ trailers declared by Illinois as “standard” in 1982 to be legally hauled with a day-cab.

That’s right, Illinois’ SB 1390 does just that. Yes, Illinois needs to be more proactive, but Washington DC could afford to slow down a little too.

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Milkshakes

When a young person studies mathematics, he will invariably learn about the law of mutual exclusivity. You cannot turn left and turn right at the same time. A coin cannot land heads and tails simultaneously. As the same person begins to study truck law (who wants to study math?), he must learn that most parts of truck law are mutually exclusive too. When he fails to understand this concept, bad things happen.

The Illinois Vehicle Code is like a bunch of buckets representing each Chapter. Fill each bucket with water and you have generic law. Now add a different species of fish to each bucket and you have the legal topic for that Chapter.

Students who attend the ITEA 40-hour Basic Truck Enforcement course quickly learn that there are many different buckets in truck law. Weight, size, registration, CDLs, fuel tax, safety tests – all similar under the umbrella of “trucks”, but sections of laws which are mutually exclusive of each other.

For instance, there are many definitions of the term “commercial motor vehicle”. How one defines a CMV is in direct correlation to the Chapter of law they are referring to. A CMV defined under CDL law may have some similarities to the definition of a CMV under fuel tax law, but they are not the same. A universal application a CMV definition may be desirable, but it is not the reality.

Vehicle registration (Chapter 3) and driver’s license classification (Chapter 6) are 100% mutually exclusive. Registration never determines driver’s license classification. Never. Registered weight (Chapter 3) and vehicle weights (Chapter 15) have some similarities, but are mutually exclusive as well.

Except when they’re not.

Forget the bucket illustration for a minute, and picture the two weight chapters of the IVC as two milkshakes. Let’s say the police officer enforcing the vehicle weight milkshake (Ch 15) has a straw. His straw may reach across the IVC into the registered weight (Ch 3) milkshake, but can he drink up the whole milkshake? No. Can he take a few sips? Yes.

So what are these few limited connections between the two? Here is the list:

Grace Weights
Generally speaking, trucks receive a 2,000 pound “grace” weight before an overweight citation may be issued. You can read more about that in the ITEA article called Mercy Weights. However, a vehicle registered for more than 77,000 pounds only receives 1,000 pounds of grace weight on gross (not axle or bridge formula).

Special Hauling Vehicles
There are many ITEA articles about the complexities of the SHVs. The simple thing to remember is this: if the vehicle is going to receive higher than legal vehicle weights (Ch 15), it must register (Ch 3) as an SHV. Two identically configured trucks and with the same load may receive different vehicle weights because one truck did not register the same as the other.

Tow Trucks
Picture two, 3-axle rotator wreckers, each weighing 52,000 pounds. One truck is registered with an Illinois R-plate for 54,999 pounds. The second truck is registered with Illinois tow truck (TW) plates for 54,999 pounds. The fees for both trucks are identical, $1942.

However, when the same trucks are towing an identical load on the wheel lift, the truck registered as a tow truck will receive 44,000 pounds on the drive tandem, whereas the truck registered with the R-plate will only receive 34,000 pounds.

Exempt Vehicles
The Secretary of State cannot register (Ch 3) vehicles which do not conform to vehicle weight law (Ch15). If a truck is manufactured so heavy it cannot be legal weight, it cannot be registered. It will however, require overweight permits.

The SOS will issue “Exempt Vehicle” (EV) registration for these vehicles though. The EV plates are red and cost $13. If the owner of the truck elects (not required) to buy EV plates, he must submit weights and axle spacings to the SOS for review. If the SOS determines the vehicle is non-conforming, it will issue the EV plates. This means the vehicle is not required to have registered weight. The plates are meant for identification.

Understanding the limited relationship between the two weight chapters is imperative for both the truck enforcement officer and the truck owner. There may be blood otherwise.

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Exemplary Police Work #8

Everyone loves to pay income tax and here’s why: In America, you can pay as much or as little tax as you want. Right? Wrong. No one likes to pay income tax, but you are free to select how much you pay. It’s just at some point the IRS is going to hold you accountable. Truck and trailer registration is a tax and the police are the ones holding vehicle owners accountable. Like the tax code, registration is complicated, and sometimes mistakes are made. Thankfully, the ITEA is full of great police officers who own their mistakes when they are made.

To understand registered weight, one must understand the division of vehicles. First division vehicles are those which are designed to carry 10 or less people. Second division vehicles are those which are designed to carry more than 10 people, or freight/cargo.

Only second division vehicles are required to purchase registered weight. This is the tax. Whether the vehicle displays flat weight tax plates, mileage tax plates or apportioned plates, it’s a tax. The more tax the owner pays, the more weight the vehicle can carry.

If a second division vehicle does not have any registration (or tax) paid, or the registration is expired, it is overweight on registration. The enforcement part of this law has always been clear: the police officer must weigh the vehicle on the scale and the fine is calculated based on the flat weight tax which covers the vehicle’s gross weight.

For instance, a truck with expired plates weighs 22,500 pounds. The fine is calculated using the cost of a 26,000 pound “H” truck plate, or $561.

Conversely, if the truck has valid registration, and on the scale the vehicle weighs more than the tax paid, the vehicle is overweight on registration as well.

The question here is how to calculate the fine. Prior to 2011, the law said if the vehicles gross weight exceeds the maximum registered weight, the overweight fine schedule found in Chapter 15 of the Illinois Vehicle Code.

By that statute, if a truck with a 12,000 pound “D” truck plate was found to weigh 22,000 pounds, the fine for 10,000 pounds overweight would be $3000! What? If the owner had simply bought the $561 “H” truck plate, it would be legal.

Due to this anomaly in the law, the ITEA co-authored a legislative bill with the Illinois State Police, IDOT, the Secretary of State and the Mid-west Truckers Association to make it a true comparison between the fine schedule for “overweight” or the cost of the appropriate registration tax. The police officer must use the fine which is lowest.

However, sometimes police officers misunderstand this law to mean that no matter what, whenever a second division vehicle is found to be overweight on valid registration, the cost of the appropriate registration must be used. This is incorrect.

Generally speaking, the cost of appropriate registration for smaller trucks is usually less than the overweight fine. With larger commercial vehicles, the overweight fine is usually less than the cost of appropriate registration.

At a recent 8-hour ITEA certification course, an ITEA member police officer realized he had improperly calculated the fine using this erroneous methodology. In this case, the officer had found a truck with a valid “R” truck plate (54,999 pounds) weighing 58,299 pounds. Not enough tax was paid.

As there an overweight violation? Absolutely, and the fine should have been $520. However the officer fined him according to the cost of the appropriate registration to cover the weight, which was $2093 for an “S” truck plate (59,500 pounds).

After the course, the officer contacted the ITEA to confirm he did indeed make a mistake. The defense had demanded a trial and the local prosecutor was preparing the case. There was going to be an unnecessary battle in the courtroom.

Instead of allowing this to happen, the new ITEA certified police officer put on a coat of humility. He contacted the prosecutor to let him know of his error. He even contacted the trucking company to do the same. In the end, the owner still paid a fine, but it was far less than the original amount.

The officer could have allowed both the prosecutor and the defendant be bamboozled by the law, and an unjust trial would  have taken place. Instead, this ITEA officer proved his integrity and worth and settled the matter honorably.

We are proud to call him one of our best.

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PS, I Love/Hate You

Unless you are new, you are well aware the ITEA is just as much about trucking industry advocacy as it is about training and resourcing for law enforcement. For many years (and for many reasons) the two professions have been on opposite side of the battlefield. Great healing has occurred since the ITEA first launched, but there is one topic that is a quiet, brewing storm in the background: portable scales.

Here’s the reality – there will never will be consensus on the use of portable scales by law enforcement. Love them or hate them, they probably are never going away. Does that mean the use of portable scales is never abused by law enforcement? No. Does that mean trucking should just accept status quo? No.

There are two kinds of portable scales, axle load and wheel load weighers. Axle loads are large and heavy scales which are towed around on a trailer. Very few local units of government use these because of the cost and time it takes to set them up.

Local police do not have the authority to lay axle load scales on the highway and make all trucks weigh. This is why these scales are more commonly employed during a joint effort between the Illinois State Police, the Illinois Department of Transportation and some local police departments.

Because local police officers stop trucks one-at-a-time under the “reason to believe” doctrine, wheel load weighers are more practical for that type of activity. They are relatively light and portable compared to their axle load cousins, and one officer can quickly set them up by himself.

To understand portable scales and how Illinois has come to a loggerhead on their use, step back take an objective look at the law. The truth is the law does not have a heck of a whole lot to say about them.

Regardless of type, the law only has three main points about portable scale use:

1.   Training
Any police officer who writes overweight tickets based on the evidence gained from portable scale use must have been trained and certified in a course accredited by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board. This does not apply to Illinois State Police troopers.

2.   Annual certification
The Illinois Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Weights and Measures, has regulatory authority over the annual certification of portable scales. There is no end run around this regulation. Each year, IDOA must put a sticker on it.

3.   Exemption
The National Institute of Standards and Technology has a handbook (#44) which governs how commercial vehicles are weighed. In commerce, CMVs are required to be weighed “full draft” only. However, the Illinois Vehicle Code exempts law enforcement from this, thereby allowing police officers to weigh axle-by-axle.

That’s it. The end. No more regulation. There are a lot of rumors about how portable scales should be deployed and operated, but it’s not in the law. Here are some of them:

1.   Portable scales must be used on level ground…not true.
2.   Trucks have to release their brakes on portable scales…not true.
3.   Police officers cannot use portable scales during excessive cold and heat…not true.
4.   Police officers must use dummy pads for all axles not being weighed…not true.
5.   Police officers cannot use portable scales on tag/drop axles…not true.
6.   Police officers must photograph or print the portable scale reading…not true.

Having said all that, any police officer weighing trucks in the manners described above, and thinks it to be okay, is very wrong. Conversely, anyone from the trucking industry who universally believes all portable scales are inaccurate is just as mistaken.

Even though Illinois law does not give any hard and fast rules for portable scale operation, there are many things a quality truck officer will do to ensure the weighing is accurate and reasonable. Here is a list of common sense practices a truck officer should follow:

1.   Make sure the ground you are weighing on is level and have the driver release his brakes to prove it.
2.   Don’t use portable scales when the temperature is above or below the manufacturer’s ratings.
3.   Use dummy pads on all adjacent axles not being weighed within a group or tandem.
4.   Use dummy pads on all axles if the vehicle has any amount of pressure adjusting axles.
5.   Either let the driver see the scale reading, or take pictures of the display.
6.   Always weigh both wheels on an axle simultaneously, never one at a time.

Using these recommendations may not change industry opinion on the use of portable scales, but it will go a long ways to prove the case in court. It will also help prevent defensive legislation which could further erode the ability of law enforcement to weigh trucks.

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The 36′ Rule

Have you ever looked at an optical illusion on paper, and no matter how long you stared, it became more and more confusing? The key to solving these visual riddles is to back off, relax your eyes and look at it from a distance. Optical illusions are quite simple, they just mess with your brain. Amazingly, truck law can be like that too! The article this week discusses the most complicated paragraph in all the Illinois Vehicle Code to legislate something incredibly easy.

Definitions to Understand

Federal Bridge Formula (FBF)

The FBF is federal law adopted by all 50 states. It has nothing to do with bridges which cross over waterways or railroad tracks. It’s the “bridge” measurement between two or more consecutive axles. In the simplest terms, the more axles spread over a greater distance increases the amount of weight a vehicle can carry.

What consecutive does not mean is “adjacent”. As a matter of fact, the word “adjacent” is not used once in Chapter 15 of the Illinois Vehicle Code. Many times police officers and truckers alike try to interpret what consecutive means by inserting “adjacent”, as if somehow the FBF cannot be used if the axles are not right next to each other. Consecutive simply means axles which are in sequence, regardless how far apart they are from each other.

Tandem Axle

A tandem axle means two consecutive axles, however not all sets of two axles are tandems. To be a tandem, the two axles must be a minimum 40” on-center from each other, but not more than 96” on-center.

A small landscape trailer may have two physical axles next to each other, but if the on-center measurement is 34”, then it is not a tandem. It is a single axle. A typical semi-trailer hauling steel usually has two axles at the end, but they may be spaced at 9’ (108”). Guess what? Not a tandem.

What is the 36’ Rule?

This rule is found in 625 ILCS 5/15-111(a)(5):

“Two consecutive sets of tandem axles may carry a total weight of 34,000 pounds each if the overall distance between the first and last axles of the consecutive sets of tandem axles is 36 feet or more, notwithstanding the lower limit resulting from the application of the above formula.”

In truth, the 36’ Rule is an exception to law. Legal weight for a tandem is 34,000 pounds. This rule describes when there are two consecutive sets of tandems for a total of four axles. Note that it must be two tandems…not any set of four axles.

For instance, a police officer stops a vehicle with two consecutive sets of tandems. He measures from the center of the first axle (in the first tandem) to the center of the fourth axle (last axle in the second tandem) and the total distance is 36’ exactly. He then pulls out his handy-dandy FBF chart and the total bridge formula weight for the series of 4-axles is 66,000 pounds.

What? Who did that math? So if a driver loads each individual tandem exactly to its legal weight of 34,000 pounds (for a total of 68,000 pounds), that group of four axles receives 2,000 pounds less? Correct.

Except the 36’ Rule covers this anomaly. If the police officer takes the measurement of two consecutive tandems, and it is 36’, 37’ or 38’, this group of four axles always gets 68,000 pounds on the FBF. That’s it. It is truly that simple. So what’s all the fuss about?

Two Misconceptions about the 36’ Rule

#1 – If the measurement for two consecutive sets of tandems is less than 36’, the tandem only gets 32,000 pounds.

This is entirely false. Once upon a time, there were two sets of weight laws in Illinois, and one of the sets only allowed for 32,000 pounds on a tandem. However, those non-designated roads were not entitled to the FBF anyhow. On designated roads, tandems always received 34,000 pounds because the FBF applied. Today, all highways in Illinois are subject to the FBF.

A police officer cannot assume just because something does not add up quite right, that somehow he is justified take away weight granted by the legislature. This theory was wrong prior to the uniform weight law of 2010, and it is wrong afterwards.

#2 – The maximum gross weight for two consecutive tandems is limited to 68,000 pounds.

This is an inverted interpretation of the previous misconception. Just because a series of four axles (in a very limited circumstance) receives a higher weight (68,000 pounds), should that ever be construed to mean there is a 68,000 pound ceiling for all sets of two consecutive tandems.

Technically, the FBF is an infinite weight formula. The legislature chose to cap the four axle weight at 74,000 pounds with an on-center measurement of 48’. If they had desired to cap it at a lower weight, they would have.

Sometimes the law is most understandable when it is read without bias. Adding words to it, or inferring things which do not exist, leads to misunderstandings, poor enforcement, and lost time/revenue.

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QC Mobile

One day the internet will crash, and the world will turn to complete chaos. Today the phone network, the mail system and automobiles all rely on the internet to function. These old school methods of doing business have a modern infrastructure. This article does not critique the use of web-based technology, but the content it delivers. It’s a real problem affecting both trucking and law enforcement, and a mobile app released in March is proof positive.

Reports are coming in all over trucking world about the Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS) that was held in Louisville, KY at the end of March. There is one common denominator: technology.

This mammoth trucking expo was dominated by new startups offering mobile computing for routing, vehicle performance, truck parking and electronic logs. All of which require the internet.

A couple years ago this blog featured an article call “G.P.(B)S” about how truck GPS systems, as beneficial as they are, can just as easily lead truckers into peril. Not just peril with enforcement, but routing on roads which don’t exist or into bridges with low clearances. It’s a nightmare.

The common ground with current internet solutions flooding the carrier industry is that they are owned, developed and marketed by vendors from private industry. The American free-market dream rests on who can make the best product.

If a truck GPS vendor has a marginal product with bad routing data, the industry will shun it and find a better one. There’s plenty of competition. What happens though when an innovative piece of technology is offered by the federal government, yet it delivers inaccurate information? Who has the alternative?

In March, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released its new (and free) mobile app for iPhone and Droid devices called “QC Mobile”. This app is a window to carrier CSA scores on a mobile device.

The app itself is not the problem. It is very user friendly. It navigates intuitively. It provides the public a ton of investigative information about every carrier with a census number.

The purpose of the app is not wrong either. Whether or not the general public needs to know about carrier safety ratings is up for debate, but there is little doubt police officers, insurers and logistics firms benefit greatly from the data.

The problem is the quality of the data behind the app. Even before the CSA program went live in 2010, there was great concern about how data would be gathered. There are infinite numbers of variables to be considered when assigning a score to a carrier.

Only an unreasonable person would believe that such an undertaking by FMCSA would be without flaws. Rightfully so, grace has been extended as they have honed the system the last five years.

However, the data is still apparently erroneous. With this app, inaccurate scores are now readily available to those who can do damage to the carrier.
Insurance companies can choose to deny carriers with bad scores. Logistical firms can choose to not use carriers with bad scores. Police officers can choose to use less discretion with carriers who have bad scores. All at the fingertips of a smartphone.

Is the data really that flawed? This depends on who you talk to. Of course the data on the app is an accurate reflection of the CSA scores, but the data behind the CSA scores is what is at issue.

What has proven to be damning to the app release is a statement from a representative of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a federal agency whose job it is to police their own.

When Susan Fleming, the GAO Director or Physical Infrastructure went on record calling the data “unreliable” after an audit, trucking leadership across the nation exploded.

The American Trucking Association (ATA) called the release of the mobile app “reckless” based on her statement. Similar comments were heard from an unlikely bedfellow to the ATA, the Owner Operators Independent Drivers Association.

So what does this mean for police officers on the street? Well, hopefully police officers will see that QC Mobile, as convenient as it is, probably should not be taken as gospel.

There’s an old adage that police officers should take enforcement based on the action, not the actor. Citations should be issued when good judgment meets the seriousness of the violation itself, not on a safety history which may be tragically flawed.

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Electrically Surging Brakes

If you were more than an infant in 1980s or earlier, the year 2000 seemed like an age away. The average American thought people would be traveling in flying cars and have robot maids. Humans have advanced technologically since then, but driverless cars are still a good decade or two away. What will never change, however, is the need for brakes on vehicles. Trailers need brakes sometimes, and the article this week will look at what the law says about them.

When an average truck officer or trucking industry professional looks at a 53’semi-trailer, no one stops and wonders if the trailer needs brakes. Of course it does. It’s big. It’s heavy. Friction will be required to stop it.

The confusion about when brakes are required occurs with trailers of the smaller variety. Big rig drivers ought not to stop reading at this point, and truck cops who only go after “the big fish” should not either. Why? Because it’s the small trailer the average Joe uses to haul a boat to the lake, an ATV to the trail, or a little dumper with yard waste.

However, it’s these little trailers and their braking requirements which lands driver’s in trouble with the police. Whether enforcement is right or wrong, it’s better to operate with the authoritative knowledge than that of your buddy at the bar.

What the Law Says
In 625 ILCS 5/12-301(a)(4), the statute reads all trailers (except boat trailers), with a gross weight over 3,000 pounds (which means 3,001 pounds or more) must have brakes which can be controlled by the driver. This is accomplished by using the independent trailer brake control within the truck.

Boat trailers are discussed in paragraph 4.1. It is almost identical to paragraph 4, except the law does not require the boat trailer brakes to be controlled by the driver. This is why boat trailers typically have “surge brakes”. When the driver engages the service brakes on the power unit and the vehicle decelerates, the trailer “surges” forward, using that energy to activate the brakes.

The law also requires any trailer (boat or non-boat) with a gross weight over 5,000 pounds (which means 5,001 pounds or more) to have an emergency breakaway system in the event the two vehicles become uncoupled. This is normally accomplished with an aircraft cable, attached to the power unit (not the hitch or the safety chains) which ties into the braking system of the trailer.

In the unfortunate instance the two vehicles separate, the aircraft cable either pulls a pin to release the electric battery power to set the brakes on dry trailers, or pulls a lever forward which sets the surge brakes on boat trailers. Hopefully, the trailer will stop soon and without disaster.

What the Law Does Not Say
Notice the law does not say “gross vehicle weight rating” (GVWR) or registered weight. What the trailer manufacturer rates as the maximum loaded weight of the vehicle, or what the Secretary of State assigns as the maximum registered weight, means jack squat when it comes to brake requirements. All that matters is how much the vehicle, with load, weighs on the scale.

The law does not give police officers the authority to stop vehicles for the purpose of inspecting brakes (except for Illinois State Police troopers). All other police officers must first lawfully stop the vehicle. The law also does not give the police officer the authority to lawfully stop a vehicle and then begin a fishing expedition, or unconstitutional search, for brake violations. This is fruit of the poisonous tree.

If a police officer wishes to enforce the laws governing brakes in the Illinois Vehicle Code, he must follow an appropriate investigative path:
•   He can ask the driver if he would be willing to independently engage the trailer brakes.
•   He can ask the driver to open the battery compartment on the trailer to see if there is a battery.
•   He can ask the driver if he can weigh the trailer to see if it is even heavy enough to meet certain brake requirements.

A driver can at any time tell the officer “no” to the questions above and the investigation stops. An officer cannot use “reason to believe” a trailer’s weight is exceeding braking requirements. That burden of proof is reserved for overweight violations only.

Just because a police officer believes a trailer weighs in excess of 3,000 pounds does not mean he can order it to the scale. Similarly, just because an officer believes a vehicle weighs in excess of 5,000 pounds does he have the right to declare the trailer must have an emergency breakaway system.  The driver of a truck is entitled to the same civil liberties as the driver of a car, and police officers do not make a practice of stopping cars to check brakes.

Safety is paramount, but a mere suspicion of safety violations does not justify poor enforcement methodologies.

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Full Reciprocity Plan

If you live in Illinois and pay any attention to the news media, there is a battle brewing between promoting private industry and reducing the size of government. Regardless of where you stand politically, government does get things right sometimes! Beginning April 1st, a revolution in the world of apportioned registration takes place which has been thirty years in the making. Read on to see what the fuss is all about!

Interstate truckers domiciled in Illinois – the shadow of April 1st is darkening your doorway. If you have not renewed your IRP, you are running out of time. There are only two business days left to get it done. The early bird gets the worm, and the late bird, well, gets an expensive overweight on registration ticket.

The irony of truck enforcement officers being out in force on April 1st looking for expired apportioned plates isn’t a joke at all. There’s no April fool’s day laugh here. If your vehicles are not properly registered and you are stopped by police officer, the vehicle is overweight from pound zero.

The officer has full authority to take you to the scale for weighing. The entire gross weight for the vehicle or combination of vehicles will be measured, and the fine is based on the full annual cost of the registration which covers the weight. The maximum possible fine is $3191.00 plus court costs…it can get expensive.

New this year is the FRP, which is an acronym for the “Full Reciprocity Plan”. In 2014, the International Registration Plan members voted to incorporate this for all member jurisdictions in 2015. This means all the lower 48 states and all Canadian provinces.

Prior to the FRP, a carrier would individually select which jurisdiction they wished to register weight, and how much weight they wished to carry in each jurisdiction. For instance, the carrier could choose to carry 80,000 pounds in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, but only 77,000 in Wisconsin and Iowa.

This caused a few problems. First, it made mileage calculations much more complex for both the carriers and the base jurisdiction.

Second, some honest carriers may not have realized they had registered for lower weights in one jurisdiction and then sent a truck into it heavy. Or maybe they forgot to register in that state at all!

Third, unscrupulous carriers would exploit the system to pay lower mileage rates hoping to not get caught roadside.

Well, those days are a distant memory. When police officers see new cab cards from all member jurisdictions, including the 2016 Illinois version, the maximum weight requested by the carrier will be assigned across all jurisdictions.

If the carrier wants 80,000 pounds in Illinois, he will also be receiving 80,000 pounds in Washington, Maine and Florida even if he never travels there. What hasn’t changed is the carrier must still track the miles traveled in each state or province and report them to the base jurisdiction.

Things have come a long ways since the days of regulated trucking when trucks had dozens of license plates stuck all over the grill. This gave way to the pro-rate bingo plates, then single state IRP plates, and now the FRP.

Government may move slow, but a landmark in interstate trucking has finally been reached.2013-Avatars-insert

 

Village of Moneylust

The article this week will showcase a real Illinois town affectionately renamed as the “Village of Moneylust”. Even by its real name, most people have probably never heard of this Chicago suburb. It’s a bedroom community with no industry or retail tax base. Just a sleepy little hamlet with a state highway cutting through it. However, the nightmare of truck enforcement is haunting the diesel dreams of anyone passing through.

Quality truck enforcement is like a two-lane highway with a cliff on either side. The Illinois Truck Enforcement Association strives to see local law enforcement walk the center line…the perfect balance between protecting the public/infrastructure and protecting the industry. Ninety-nine point nine percent of towns stay between the guardrails, but every once in a while a town gets catawampus and plummets over the ledge.

What’s not quality? Truck enforcement performed unlawfully, with zero accountability, solely in the name of revenue enhancement. It’s embarrassing to the profession. It mocks civil liberty. It spits in the face of justice. It’s moneylust.

The best (and most truthful) truck cops in Illinois will tell you plenty of fine revenue can be generated simply by doing the job right. A police officer can make nothing but legitimate stops of trucks, use reasonable enforcement methodologies and best practices, and more than cover the manpower expense.

Corners do not need to be cut. Laws do not need to creatively interpreted or twisted out of all logical context. Unfortunately, only a very few desperate police departments trying to justify their own existence choose the low road, under the color of law, to soak the trucking industry for fines. It’s disgusting.

What is an example of moneylust? Here is a sampling (from the town mentioned in the first paragraph) which the ITEA had the sickening displeasure of reviewing this past fall.

Creating ordinances with excessive penalties not concurrent with the Illinois Vehicle Code, when the municipality does not have home rule authority, is moneylust.

Prosecuting traffic offenses through administrative adjudication, when clearly prohibited to do so by state law and binding opinions of the Illinois Appellate and Supreme Court, is moneylust.

Issuing adjudication/ordinance citations with no language on how to contest the citation or obtain a hearing date violates due process, is moneylust. Doing so in contradiction to the very ordinance (which ironically does not authorize truck citations) is egregious.

Arresting truckers for CDL violations when they clearly do not need a CDL, is moneylust.

Improperly classifying bogus misdemeanor CDL arrests as “no valid driver’s license” in an effort to assess $500 administrative tow fees, is moneylust.

Stopping trucks for “reason to believe” they exceed a local weight restriction is one thing. Fining them $500 when the statute clearly says a maximum fine of $50, is moneylust. Making it a $1000 fine after 10 days is perversion.

Requiring oversize or overweight permits for local weight restrictions (when the law clearly only authorizes locals to do so for weights exceeding the state law), is moneylust.

Failing to combine registered weights of a combination of vehicles, and citing only one of the vehicles for overweight on registration, is moneylust.

Weighing trucks on scales which are not certified by the Illinois Department of Agriculture, is moneylust.

Writing a sworn report saying the same scale is certified by the IDOA, when in fact it is not, is moneylust.

Prosecuting a trucker under misdemeanor state law for one charge, and under an (unlawful) ordinance for a second charge (to locally collect hundreds of dollars), when both charges arise from the same traffic stop, is moneylust.

Stopping a truck not displaying a company name (because it may be personally owned), and then asking questions in an attempt to classify the driver as a “commercial truck” (which has no definition…read HERE) is fruit of the poisonous tree. Fining them $200, or $400 after 10 days, is moneylust.

Writing overweight on gross weight citations in 2014 for exceeding the “non-designated” gross weight limits repealed in 2010, is moneylust.

It goes on. And on. And on. Dozens and dozens of drivers, sucked into a ruse with no way to fight back. Citations issued with the assumption the defendants do not know well enough to fight back.

Who’s training these officers? Who’s holding them accountable? The answer is “not the ITEA”.

The question which begs to be answered is this: if the enforcement of this town is so heinous, why are they not being mentioned by their real name?

The reason is because these are police officers. The ITEA will gladly welcome with them with open arms if they choose to humble themselves, acknowledge their wrongs, stop the racket and be accountable for their actions.

Otherwise they are just actors facing a certain judgment.

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