Legal Illegalities

In 1989, James Bond received a License to Kill. What? Where does one obtain such credentials? The truth is no one has a license to kill, or to commit any other crimes for that matter. There are times when the law affords law enforcement, the military or even a private citizen the right to use justifiable force which could result in death or great bodily harm, but no one has a license for such. Illegal behavior is illegal, but as in all things truck law, there is an instance when trucks can legally be illegal.

Trucks which are oversize and overweight are illegal. To be oversize or overweight means the vehicle and/or its load are exceeding the maximums established by the legislature. In Illinois, the General Assembly has said there are absolute limits to weight, width, length and height. No more. End of story.

There are other absolute limits to vehicle legality in Illinois. How about speed limits? The sign says the maximum speed limit is 35 mph. Going 36 mph is illegal. One would hope a police officer uses some good discretion here, but strictly speaking (to the letter of the law), a driver cannot exceed 35 mph.

What about blood alcohol levels? This association would strongly encourage and ask people to never drive with any amount of alcohol in their system, but that does not make it illegal. It’s only illegal when the driver is impaired or the blood alcohol concentration exceeds .080. There’s a line in the sand.

Now decide for yourself if this makes any sense. A driver who can never make it to work on time walks into the police department and asks to purchase a permit to exceed the speed limit. Employment is important and losing a job due to tardiness is not good. Would anyone expect a local government to actually sell such a document to make illegal speed legal again? Not a chance.

The unfortunate truth is some people function better when they have a certain amount of alcohol in their system. Just ask your friendly neighborhood policeman. Would it serve the public interest to allow a drunkard the ability to purchase a permit to exceed the legal blood alcohol level? Asinine.

This is exactly what oversize/overweight (OS/OW) permitting is though. A permit is a legal document which makes what was illegal, legal. It is very unique to trucks.

It’s not illegal to build a fence around your yard or install a new deck, yet those jobs need permits as well. The difference is those permits are designed to ensure compliance with the law, safety and aesthetic measures. Very different than OS/OW permits.

Because it is illegal for a vehicle to be OS/OW, there is no guaranteed right to a permit. The Illinois Vehicle Code is very clear on this topic. In 625 ILCS 5/15-301(a), it states the Department (IDOT) and local authorities (everyone else) “may, in their discretion” issue a permit to exceed legal size and weight. It does not compel, mandate or require any unit of government to issue OS/OW permits.

Are there good reasons why some vehicles need to be OS/OW? Absolutely. Is it good for economic growth to allow trucks to obtain OS/OW permits? Most definitely.

However, there is no entitlement. A local community has the absolute right to say “no, we are not going to issue any permits to be oversize or overweight”. This refusal does not give the carrier the right to move OS/OW without a permit either simply because they have an important and legitimate need.

Conversely, a local authority does not have the right to say, “we don’t issue OS/OW permits, so go ahead and move without one”. This is poor governance because the law specifically states if a truck is exceeding lawful weight and size, it requires a permit, and this permit must be in written form.

No verbal permission. No taking someone’s word for it. That is setting the carrier up for failure and liability when a crash occurs, a low bridge is struck or a long vehicle gets hung up on a turn.

Local governments – do the right thing and issue OS/OW permits up to certain size/weight limitations which will protect your roads and communities. There are solutions out there to do this fast, quick and easy in a business friendly way.

Carriers – encourage local towns who issue permits to do so in an expeditious manner. Demand nothing less than permissions issued in some sort of writing.

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Tax On Tax On Tax

Those who live, work or own a business in Illinois are well aware of the astronomical amount of taxes paid out on a yearly basis. While some of these taxes are absolutely necessary to provide security, education and infrastructure, others can leave the Illinois tax payer scratching their head as to the actual benefit to society. The bottom line is taxes are necessary to keep this state and country running and providing those essential services often take for granted. The one obligation of the State of Illinois which is a hot topic is infrastructure, specifically how to maintain it and fund said maintenance. This is where the controversial SB3267 has recently come into play.

It should be noted earlier this week, the Senate President who introduced SB3267 said he will not move it forward. However, if you understand Illinois politics at all, you understand no bill is ever truly dead. This particular bill would create the Illinois Road Improvement and Driver Enhancement Act. It will require all owners or lessees of vehicles required to be registered in Illinois to pay a tax for each mile traveled on Illinois roads. This tax would not be imposed on commercial vehicles in Illinois (this will be revisited in a moment). The cost of this tax would be $0.015 per mile traveled.

The bill provides a timeline of when this fee can be raised, stating the legislature will adjust the fee on June 1st of every fifth year beginning June 1st, 2022. Illinois drivers would have three options as to how the mileage fee is monitored and calculated. The first is the option would be what is called the I-RIDE Smart Plan. This plan would report the miles traveled on public, non-tolled Illinois roads using personally identifiable information and location data to calculate the miles traveled monthly. The best guess is this would require a device to be placed in vehicles which would monitor every road traveled and how many miles you traveled on each roadway.

The second option would be called The I-RIDE Convenient Plan. This would include the reporting of miles traveled monthly using the vehicle’s odometer reading. This plan doesn’t involve the use of personally identifiable information but would still likely include a monitoring device in the vehicle.

The third option is the I-RIDE Flat Rate Plan. This would be a flat monthly rate based on 30,000 driving miles a year for passenger cars and single unit (non-commercial) trucks. This fee ends up being approximately $450.00.  There is also a provision in the bill which allows an undetermined convenience fee to be collected under this option.

The fees paid would be directed to roadway improvement. The bill was introduced due to less taxes being collected at the fuel pumps as more fuel efficient vehicles are being purchased and driven on roadways. The fuel taxes collected are supposed to be used to fund infrastructure improvement and maintenance, however with more cars consuming less fuel the revenue stream has dissipated. The “silver lining” to this bill is that drivers would receive a break on some fuel taxes paid throughout the year.

The most important part of this bill, and why it’s being covered in this article, is that it would repeal the Commercial Distribution Fee (CDF). This is a fee paid by all vehicles registered in Illinois for over 8,000 lbs. The fee is currently a 14.35% increase to registration fees paid annually. This fee was also supposed to be used “for the use of the public highways, State infrastructure, and State services”. However, the money collected for the CDF is currently dumped into the General Revenue Fund for the state. Who’s to say the same wouldn’t happen with the new mileage tax?

At this point, those in the trucking industry may be torn. On its face, the bill seems to fully benefit the trucking industry while providing a minor financial strain on the rest of the motoring public. While one may not disagree with this fact, skeptical skeptic may believe this bill will come back to haunt the industry in the future.

As has been done with attempts at pension reform, it would not be the first time the State of Illinois has gone back on its word. Tough
economic times may result in desperate measures which may require re-establishment of the CDF. For those who were in the industry just a decade ago, the CDF was an astronomical 36% increase of registration fees! A number which took a great deal of blood, sweat and tears from industry lobbyists to get lowered to the more reasonable number it is today.

The last thing that anyone in the industry would want is a new battle to develop when the economy is in the state of distress it is currently in. Illinois is only one public windstorm away from the “silver lining” to become a funnel cloud which could tear through the pockets of those in the trucking industry.

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Driver’s Ed

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase: “It’s better to be judged by 12 then carried by 6.”  This refers to the hope the decisions you make may save your life, but could put you in legal jeopardy.  The vast majority would agree with the idea.  But what about those CDL drivers whose poor safety record reflects their poor driving ability?  Or those survivors that have been impacted by inexperienced CDL drivers?  Newly proposed FMCSA regulations are attempting to rein in the inexperienced.

In March the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published a proposed rule that would require mandatory training for new CDL drivers or those CDL drivers seeking an upgrade in license class.

The rule would require Class A applicants to have taken 30 hours of behind-the-wheel training while Class B applicants would need 15 hours.  All training must be through a FMCSA approved vendor listed on the Training Provider Registry.  The estimated implementation cost: $5.55 billion. So what’s the big deal?

Whether it was your father sitting next to you teaching you how to shift, or the “Behind the Wheel” component of your high school’s driver’s education classes, driver’s education has been around for decades.  Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t until 1973 that driver’s education was implemented for the sole purpose of roadway safety.

Many studies have followed evaluating the effectiveness of formal driver’s education.  A few will tout the outlier study which suggests those having attended formal driver’s education were more prone to crashes, but the vast majority of data suggests exactly the opposite: Educated and practiced drivers are safer drivers.

This isn’t an unreasonable conclusion to draw.  Look back to the second or third day following your first operation of the most complicated vehicle you currently operate; whether it be car, motorcycle, or commercial vehicle.  You were likely able to operate that vehicle just well enough to pass the Secretary of State’s tests.  You’re then handed a license to drive and off you go.

Many of you are saying, “but I’ve been perfectly fine since that time.”  The problem is: many are not.

An 80,000 lb commercial motor vehicle traveling on the roadway carries 20 times more the propensity for damage than a 4,000 lb car traveling the same speed.  Simply put, an unsafe Commercial Motor Vehicle driver is putting everyone else at risk, not just themselves.

In a day in age where billions and trillions are thrown around like dollars and cents, 5.55 billion dollars is still a tough pill to swallow.

That comes out to $17 for every man, woman and child throughout these United States.  Instead, consider the enormity of the cost society bears due to inexperienced drivers: vehicle damage, personal injuries, medical care, rehabilitation, policing and fire resources. Even litigation.

It may be undetermined how much of a difference a 15 or 30-hour course will make and whether taxpayers and consumers are willing to bear the cost.  Given the research, it certainly seems like a step in the right direction.  Is your jury still out?

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Permit Jumping

Have you ever been to a sporting event and seen people move up to better seats than they paid for? Maybe you are that person! Usually the usher approaches them and makes the person return to their rightful seats. Rarely does the person get kicked out of the event. Trucking companies who move oversize or overweight items sometimes have to move up to a larger permit depending on the load. So what happens when a truck with a limited continuous operation permit has their single trip permit voided?

When a company regularly transports large pieces of equipment, they will purchase a limited continuous operation (LCO) permit from the Illinois Department of Transportation. This permit allows them to move a piece of equipment on almost any state route almost anytime they need to. The maximum weight an LCO permit allows is 120,000 pounds.

A company who has an LCO but has a piece of equipment larger than 120,000 pounds will need to purchase a single or round trip permit. The single or round trip permit tells a company where they may drive, and what the load consists of.

When a truck is stopped by a police officer, and that officer finds the permit to be void, that officer should use the valid LCO permit for the overweight ticket. For instance, if a truck has a permit for 140,000 pounds, and the load is more than a mile off its route on a state highway, the permit becomes void.

The truck driver produces a valid LCO permit which allows for 120,000 pounds and meets the criteria for that permit, except for the weight. A police officer takes the truck to the scale and finds it to be 132,000 pounds. Instead of dropping the allowed weight to 80,000 pounds and writing a 52,000-pound overweight, the officer must drop the allowed weight to 120,000 pounds and only write a 12,000-pound overweight.

Mistakes happen, and a trucking company that has paid for a permit, and then purchased another permit for additional weight should not be punished excessively for that mistake. Had the trucking company not made the effort to purchase the additional permit, the officer would use the LCO permit to issue the overweight ticket anyway. So why punish someone for trying to do the right thing?

This is not an opening for someone to try and get away with not obtaining a permit. The fines for being overweight on permit can still be high, even if they start at 120,000 pounds. Any attempt to cheat could end up with the state not issuing a permit to you in the future.

The ultimate goal in law enforcement is voluntary compliance. A police officer should recognize an error and only enforce the law as is reasonable. A truck driver should make sure they are following the rules and not cutting corners. By doing these things, everyone can enjoy the game from the seats they rightfully paid for.

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Creating a Crisis

You know you are in the midst of an election season when your apathy for government is at an all-time high. Forget which candidate you will endorse or despise the most, and realize a truth of every future master of the universe: they create a crisis to generate votes. There’s always a kernel of truth sewn into a big bag of rhetoric and exaggeration. Of course, this happens in trucking world too. The article this week will look at one trucking law in Illinois created by a “crisis” and a second “crisis” which is being developed.

Illinois has always lagged in successfully creating new laws to keep up with industry standards for the world of legal weight trucking. One such law is kingpin length for semi-tractor trailers. The goal of this article is not to opine regarding the merits of the kingpin law, but to look at how a recent change came to be when the livestock industry created a crisis.

In short, semi-tractor trailer combinations have a length restriction, depending on which road they are operating, from the kingpin of the semi-trailer to the center of the last trailer axle. Some roads it is 45’6”, on other roads it is 42’6”. In fairness, Illinois is one of the last states with kingpin regulations.

In 2012, the livestock industry created a crisis. They had been manufacturing trailers with fixed axles which exceeded the kingpin limitation in Illinois. Livestock farmers around the state purchased these trailers and began receiving citations for exceeding the length law. It’s no surprise legislation was quickly introduced to exempt livestock trailers from this regulation.

This isn’t a discussion regarding the merits ofwhether or not the General Assembly should or should not have passed a law exempting livestock trailers. The question is whether or not breaking an existing law is the proper way to effect change. The counter-argument is this: don’t buy trailers which are illegal to operate.

Should the speed limit be raised to 90mph because people drive that fast? Should the blood alcohol level be increased to .15 because people will drink that much before driving? Drastic comparisons? Yes, but analogically sound.

In the end, politics ran its course and the livestock exemption passed.

Since you are reading this blog on the internet, you are well aware of the exponential strides computer technologies have made the last ten years. One such market which has seen rapid growth is crash avoidance technology. It’s truly amazing stuff, but most realists see the futility of totally autonomous driving vehicles. A good balance between new technologies assisting attentive human drivers will surely reduce injuries and fatalities on the highway.

However, a crisis is being created to change rules and regulations to benefit the crash avoidance technology industry. There is no doubt these technologies can mitigate crashes, but does that mean these technologies should pre-empt other safety regulations?

The technology industry has lobbied the federal government to mandate their product in new trucks. Truck manufacturers have been offering these as options. One more log on the fire of increasing truck purchase prices.

Crash avoidance technologies rely on cameras and radars to see what is happening around the vehicle. These devices are rendered useless when big, yellow, oversize load signs cover the lenses. Legal size/weight trucking will benefit from crash avoidance technologies, but will the oversize/overweight trucking industry? The tech industry is working hard to get states to change their oversize load sign regulations to accommodate their product. They are creating a crisis.

Here’s some questions for states to ask before they start changing their rules to accommodate profiteering:
1.   Are vehicles operating oversize/overweight really moving at speeds so fast this technology is truly necessary?
2.   Do the safety benefits of crash avoidance technologies exceed the benefits oversize load signs provide by altering other drivers who share the road?
3.   Does moving the yellow oversize load signs higher, lower or removing them altogether actually create a more dangerous environment?
4.   How many serious crashes involving oversize vehicles could have been prevented by this technology?

Through the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the states have been working to harmonize many of their regulations, including content, placement and display of oversize load signs. This artificial “crisis” throws a monkey-wrench into the progress which has been made. Progress on harmonization which has long been desired by the specialized transportation industry.

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It’s Only One Day

At the end of their shift on April 1st, ask any truck enforcement officer in Illinois the most common line heard from truck drivers throughout the day. Chances are most, if not all, will answer with the same redundant phrase: “It’s only one day.” One day is the amount of time that has lapsed between when the Illinois apportioned plate displayed on the driver’s truck went from valid to expired.

This is an indisputable fact many drivers will attempt to use in mitigation of the offense. In some cases it may only be a matter of hours or even minutes. Nonetheless, those caught without valid registration will be staring down the barrel of some hefty fines regardless of the amount of time from when the used to have valid registration.

Every April 1st the sun rises and truck enforcement officers across the state take to the streets with a primary focus on expired Illinois apportioned plates. Subsequently, ever year, these same officers come across thousands of violations and issue hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. Whether you agree or disagree with the enforcement tactics or lack of a grace period, there is nothing you can do to escape the realities of April 1st. What can be done, however, is to take some extra steps to prevent your trucks and drivers from finding themselves stopped on the side of the road or at the scale instead of their planned destination.

Renew Your Registration
It may seem like common sense, but the reality is that many times those in charge of registration simply forget to renew it. Unlike regular Illinois passenger vehicle plates, Illinois apportioned plates all expire at the same time every year. Knowing this, you should give yourself ample time to complete the proper documentation and submit it to the Secretary of State Division of Commercial Farm and Truck.

Please realize that this is one of the busiest times of year for the Secretary of State, and they too need time to process the paperwork. Getting your paperwork to the SOS on time is only one part of the battle, the more important part is the processing and validation of your truck’s registration.

Simply having the paperwork saying you submitted your registration documentation is not enough to avoid being cited for no registration. Until the SOS has given your truck its blessing to be on the road (in the form of valid registration) you are rolling the dice by operating.

Carry Your CAB Card
Having your CAB card inside of the vehicle and ready to be displayed upon the request of law enforcement is not only a good idea, it is required by law. Having this documentation with you is as good as gold if you are stopped by the police. Even if your apportioned plates come back in the system as expired or “No Record” there is information listed on the CAB card which law enforcement can confirm through a simple call to the SOS.

Display Your 45-day Permit
For those who are either new applicants to the Full Reciprocity Plan (FRP) or who have otherwise obtained a 45-day Registration Permit, display it in the front windshield of your vehicle. In addition to this, have an extra copy available for law enforcement to review.

Having to peel one copy of the permit from the windshield is not only time consuming, it may end in that document being inadvertently torn or damaged. Understand simply displaying the permit in the window will not necessarily prevent an officer from stopping you for further investigation of the document. It is impossible for any officer to know what that 8×10 piece of paper says without seeing it up close. In most counties across Illinois, States Attorneys have supported the investigatory stop of a truck for purposes of checking registration permits displayed in this manner.

Owners, Keep Your Driver Informed
An informed driver who has been educated on the appropriate documentation needed is a driver who will most likely leave a traffic stop without a citation. Set your drivers up for success by giving them organized paperwork and ensure that they know what the paperwork is for.

If you recently switched from Illinois apportioned plates to another jurisdiction in the FRP, make sure your drivers are aware and have the documentation to back it up. You and your drivers know more about the vehicle being operated than the officers who are investigating a possible violation.

The officer will be able to obtain as much information as they feel necessary to either release the truck or cite it. You can absolutely help speed the process along by carrying the proper documents and being able to articulate the status of your registration. While the above tips will not necessarily prevent the issuance of a citation, they are good practice and more likely to result in a favorable outcome if followed. Remember, “It’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove.”

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“L” is for Airbrakes?

Air-brakes.  One of the most confusing words for some truck drivers.  All drivers are expected to conduct a pre-trip inspection.  Many are even expected to know how to adjust their own slack adjusters.  But how many can tell another what the definitive criteria is when an air-brake restriction is permitted?  Wait… restriction? Isn’t it an air-brake endorsement?  Read on if you’re confused already.

Everyone who has passed the CDL test, and even some of those who’ve failed, have encountered the reference to 60, 100 and 125 psi, maximum push stroke, brake lag, etc.  The ITEA and its certified officers constantly receive questions regarding which drivers are in need of an air-brake endorsement, but here’s the truth: Illinois does not issue an air-brake endorsement.

Endorsements to CDLs are limited to those the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration allows, which does not include air-brakes.  Hence Illinois’ air-brake restriction.

If a driver chooses not to take or pass the air-brake portion of the Illinois CDL written and skills tests, they are issued a “L” restriction on their license.  The confusing portion of the Administrative Code which governs this restriction is that it permits drivers with an “L” restriction to still drive some vehicles with air-brakes.  Here’s how:

Suppose a driver is operating a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) which requires a Commercial Driver’s License.  If the CMV had air-brakes the driver would not be permitted to operate it if their CDL had an “L” restriction.  However, if a driver held an “L” restricted CDL, and was operating a vehicle which had air-brakes but which did not meet the criteria to be considered a CMV, there would be no violation.  This is because the “L” restriction applies only to Commercial Motor Vehicles.

Similarly, the Secretary of State will not apply an “L” restriction to any non-commercial license.  This may confuse some because this leads to a shared misconception.  It is commonly believed that if a truck has air-brakes it is then a CMV.  Not so.

While, often times a truck is of such a size it is manufactured with an air-brake system, it likely fits the weight requirements for CMVs. However, there are certainly exceptions.  If a driver with a non-CDL license is found operating a truck with air-brakes, and the truck does not meet the criteria for being considered a CMV, there is no violation.

Despite a violation for operating a CMV with a “L” restricted CDL being a petty offense,  do not be surprised if you get parked by an officer for this violation.  Even though you cannot be taken into custody, officers are permitted to restrict further operation of the truck for this violation.

The letter “L” can just as equally represent “liability”. Liability to the driver if he chooses to operate the truck. Liability to the officer who enables a driver to continue driving when Illinois has deemed he should not be operating the vehicle.

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Bring The Noise, Or Don’t

Several years back, a stereo company produced a commercial to advertise the audible power of their stereo systems.  It featured what appeared to be two business men dressed in black suits driving a luxury vehicle.  The driver put a CD in the stereo and ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ by Queen came on.  The commercial goes on to show the superior sounds the speakers are producing.  The camera eventually pans out so the audience can see the men are driving the lead hearse in a funeral procession!  As entertaining as the commercial was, it turned out that the excessive noise was not a good idea.  Sometimes in the trucking industry, excessive noise can also carry consequences.

Last month the ITEA published an article about engine braking.  Part of that article covered how the ‘excessive noise’ from engine
braking can get truck drivers into trouble.  The article this week will mention how Illinois feels about other excessive noises coming from vehicles upon their highways.

Exhausts
Every internal combustion engine produces a byproduct generically referred to as exhaust.  In a petrol engine, the exhaust coming out of the pipes is nothing more than nitrogen, water vapor, and carbon dioxide.  While carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, none of these compounds are toxic.  In a diesel engine, the exhaust is a source of atmospheric soot, which is a component of the air pollution implicated in human cancer.  While these facts are important, they are for another discussion.

As exhaust gases travel through the exhaust pipes, they begin to expand and create noise.  This process is inevitable, as all internal combustion engines in commercial vehicles need to expel their exhaust gases.  It is clearly spelled out in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) under 393.83.  What’s not spelled out is the noise the exhaust is allowed to make.  The FMCSR does clearly explain how much noise a commercial vehicle can make, but only when measured from inside the vehicle.  However, Illinois says something different, and possibly more confusing.  Illinois law reads:

(625 ILCS 5/12-602) Mufflers, prevention of noise.
“Every motor vehicle driven or operated upon the highways of this State shall at all times be equipped with an adequate muffler or exhaust system in constant operation and properly maintained to prevent any excessive or unusual noise. No person shall modify the exhaust system of a motor vehicle in a manner which will amplify or increase the noise of such vehicle above that emitted by the muffler originally installed on the vehicle, and such original muffler shall comply with all the requirements of this Section.”

According to the last sentence of the law, it is illegal to modify the exhaust of any commercial vehicle that will cause an increase in noise.

How many trucks are driving though Illinois right now with aftermarket custom chromed out six inch pipes?  Thousands…  Does this mean that thousands of trucks in Illinois are breaking the law?  The letter of the law says “yes”.  The spirit of the law will hopefully mean something different to those charged with enforcing it.

Horns
Every commercial motor vehicle needs a horn.  This is common sense and is clearly spelled out in the FMCSR under section 393.81.  This section is very vague and simply states that every truck and truck tractor shall be equipped with a horn.  To no surprise,

Illinois law is more complicated on the matter.  Illinois law reads:

(625 ILCS 5/12-601) Horns and warning devices.
“Every motor vehicle when operated upon a highway shall be equipped with a horn in good working order and capable of emitting sound audible under normal conditions from a distance of not less than 200 feet, but no horn or other warning device shall emit an unreasonable loud or harsh sound or a whistle. The driver of a motor vehicle shall when reasonably necessary to insure safe operation give audible warning with his horn but shall not otherwise use such horn when upon a highway.”

Perhaps easy reading, but Illinois yet again fails to define what an unreasonable loud or harsh sound is.  Is it a loud electronic horn?  It is an air horn?  This is another situation where we all hope that common sense and good discretion comes to the rescue.

Truckers – What does your exhaust sound like?  Are you able to control the noise it emits when engine braking or downshifting?  Do your surroundings dictate you should keep the noise to a minimum? Is your need to use the horn for the safety and well being of the motoring public, or to remind a driver to get off the phone and pay attention?  Should you go electric or air?

Police Officers – Remember, for truck drivers, especially owner operators, their truck is not only their office, but their home as well.  Most drivers take pride in their mobile offices and customize them as they see fit.  That may often include smoke stacks which stand tall and scream American pride.  Ask yourself if an electric horn is adequate to let the motoring public know that there is a problem with an eighty-thousand pound mobile office barreling down the highway.

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If It’s Weird, It’s Wrong?

Ok, the title of this article is a total lie. Weird things are not always wrong, they are just different. If you use social media, your news feed is filled with the bizzare. Marketers use whacked out images and ludicrous stories to get you in front of their advertisers. What is odd intrigues the human mind. Some trucks are weird too, but they are not mere click-bait for police officers. The article this week will look at an out-of-the-ordinary truck and the incorrect police responses to it.

When rookie police officers first enter field training, they hit the street with a head full of knowledge their training officer just told them to forget. They believe everyone is going to kill them. Each driver or pedestrian they encounter is a threat and is treated as such.

After a few hundred traffic stops when nothing has gone really bad, they forget they represent the government and are under the color of law. Each and every traffic stop deprives the driver of his constitutional right to liberty. The right to not have government stop us as citizens is what separates America from the heathen nations of the world.

In Illinois truck enforcement world, local police officers learn the burden to stop trucks suspected of being overweight is far less than that of all other traffic law. It is a unique authority provided only for the investigation of weight, and cannot complacently be used “just to stop trucks”. You can read more about that HERE.

The complacency comes in when, after stopping and weighing many trucks, it seems okay to “stop trucks”. Veteran police officers are fully aware of the higher level of burdens of probable cause and reasonable suspicion to stop cars, but trucks?

Here’s a scenario: a small Ford Ranger pickup truck passes by a truck officer. In the bed of the truck is a stack of 20 wooden pallets, tied down by a nylon strap or two. The truck has Illinois B-truck plates good for 8,000 pounds.

Most truck officers have seen this setup. It looks absolutely ridiculous. It’s weird. But is it wrong? Does the evidence presented provide enough legal justification to make a traffic stop, thereby depriving the driver of his constitutional right to liberty?

“But, but, but, it’s overweight!” screams the truck officer with his 40-hour truck school diploma. If he generously gives the truck 4,000 pounds of empty weight and 1,300 pounds for the load, it’s not exceeding the registered weight of 8,000 pounds. It’s definitely not exceeding the gross weight of 40,000 pounds for a 2-axle vehicle or 20,000 pounds for a single axle. Therefore, using the doctrine of “reasonable to believe the vehicle is overweight” to justify the traffic stop is out the window. It’s still weird though.

“But, but, but it’s overheight!” exclaims the officer. The load may very well be towering over the top the truck, but that does not mean it’s not legal height. The bed height on a Ford Ranger is approximately 30” and 20 pallets at 5” high each brings the total to 10’10”, well short of the legal height of 13’6”. Oh, and by the way, a police officer cannot use the “reason to believe” burden to investigate size violations.

“But, but, but it’s exceeding the GVWR of the truck!” the same officer retorts. Maybe, but seeing as how the officer does not know what the GVWR is until the truck is lawfully stopped and the GVWR is inspected (which is a search requiring consent), he can’t make a stop predicated on this suspicion. Secondly, exceeding the GVWR is a pretty flimsy citation to issue and definitely cannot be shoe-horned into “reason to believe”.

“But, but, but, the load is unsecure!” Maybe, but under Illinois state law, the load has to actually be escaping. If the pallet falls off the truck, now that citation may be issued. It may very well be unsecure under federal law, but that is the prerogative of the Illinois State Police only. Local police officers have no authority to stop the truck based on a suspected federal regulation violation. Read more about that in a 10-part series HERE.

Examples like this can go on. And on. And on. Truck officers have a complicated job to do, but sometimes good old fashioned police methodology trumps the weird.

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An Unnecessary Necessity

Remember when Stella Liebeck spilled that hot cup of McDonald’s coffee all over her lap, burned herself and then sued for an exorbitant amount of money? Some may argue this lawsuit was the beginning of the obvious, common sense warnings we see in the world around us today. From the coffee cups with a written warning the contents are hot, to tags of dress shirts warning you not to iron while wearing it, we are surrounded by seemingly unnecessary warnings.

Believe it or not, this concept is extended into the world of second division vehicle registration. In a state which offers over 100 different types of registration plates, it may not surprise you the Illinois Secretary of State offers a license plate for certain vehicles which do not actually require license plates. Yes, you read that correctly, owners of certain vehicles exempt from registration may purchase “Exempt Vehicle” license plates to display. These plates carry a one-time cost of $13 and are not transferrable to any other vehicle. Now, before you go thinking this is just another way for the state to attempt and squeeze money out of the pockets of its tax paying citizens, allow an explanation of how these plates are actually an unnecessary necessity.

The warning on the styrofoam coffee cup actually serves a similar purpose as an exempt vehicle plate. Both are displayed to prevent the mishandling of each item and reduce liability and inconvenience. The coffee cup warning informs the consumer the contents are hot and will probably hurt you if spilled. The exempt vehicle plates inform law enforcement officers the vehicle is not subject to registration and therefore should not be considered in a registration overweight investigation. Both serve a simple purpose which would not be required for those who know how to properly handle both the cup and the vehicle displaying exempt vehicle plates.

The need for these plates arose after law enforcement began having difficulty determining what types of vehicles are actually exempt from registration. Generally speaking, special mobile equipment (SME), which is defined in the Illinois Vehicle Code as “every vehicle not designed for the transportation of persons or property and only incidentally operated or moved over a highway.” The IVC then goes on to provide a non-inclusive list of equipment which meets the definition. A simplified definition would be any equipment which was built primarily to perform a function but just happens to be on wheels so it can get from point A to point B.

To help with this definition, picture a wood chipper or a mobile generator being pulled by a truck. Both of these items were designed to perform a task and just happen to have wheels attached so it can be moved around. The same applies to self-propelled cranes and other vehicles which do not conform to weight laws due to their construction and not as the result of commodities carried on it.

For quite some time, poor instruction was to blame for law enforcement officers mistaking this equipment for a vehicle which is subject to registration. To add fuel to the fire is the aforementioned, non-inclusive list of SME. The bottom line is the ultimate determination of what is and is not SME is left up to the Illinois Secretary of State. Once the SOS decides the equipment qualifies, it keeps a picture and some general information on file. A file which is kept in Springfield and not easily available to law enforcement officers on the streets of the numerous jurisdictions in the state. These two issues created the perfect storm for improper enforcement of registration requirements on SME. This is how the exempt vehicle registration plate became an unnecessary necessity.

Many of you may now be thinking “If it’s been such a problem, then why not just require exempt vehicle plates for SME?” That would seem like a simple solution except for the fact the Secretary of State cannot require a vehicle which is not required to have registration to purchase or display registration.

This is proven in vehicles such as bicycles, golf carts and other vehicles which do not require registration. The best the SOS can do is to offer these plates to those who qualify and feel the need to display them. What the Illinois Truck Enforcement Association can do is better educate our officers and industry members as we do at both our 8-hour ITEA Certification and 40hour Basic Truck Enforcement Officer courses.

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