No License Required

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Truck Divided

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Failure of the Illinois General Assembly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Up or Down?

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

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

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

That’s it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Christmas in July

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Misunderstood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The clearest understanding can fail without an abundance of council.

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

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

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

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The Cost of Breaking The Law

One of the most common questions drivers ask law enforcement is “how much would that violation cost?”  They are referring to the actual fine associated when a citation is issued for an infraction of the law.  While police departments have their own policies and procedures guiding officers on how to address violations, most leave the enforcement decision up to the discretion of the officer.  This article is not about justifying, explaining or even attempting to decipher all the various commercial vehicle enforcement done every day. Instead, is intended to offer the reader another “mindset” to consider when asking “how much would that violation cost?”

The commercial vehicle community is bound by the Illinois Vehicle Code (IVC), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR – as adopted by the IVC) and the Hazardous Materials Regulations. It’s a big, complicated law.

First, the initial question regarding the costs of violations must be addressed.  Uniform traffic citations in Illinois are $120.  This fine covers most all “basic” infractions from speeding, lane usage, log book violations, overlength and nearly all equipment violations.
Uniform traffic citations are handled through each county’s circuit court and are reported to the Secretary of State (SOS). Convictions reported to the SOS go on a driver’s record.

Some IVC violations carry much stiffer penalties, such as driving under the influence and improper/no commercial driver’s license (CDL).  If a specific violation is addressed in a local ordinance, then the ordinance fine will vary, depending on the municipality, but these are handled at the municipal level and do not go against a driver’s record.

Overweight citations vary per pound, and can become quite expensive. Being 5000 pounds overweight will warrant a citation with a fine over $1000. Written warnings and verbal warnings come free of charge. An overwhelming proportion of commercial vehicle enforcement comes by way of warnings, both written and verbal. If a person is of the gambling persuasion, there is a high probability he might drive away with a warning after being stopped.

When the probability of being stopped is low, and the probability of receiving a warning is high, why fuss about “how much would that violation cost?” The correct question to ponder is the a different “costs” of breaking the law.

Aside from the notion law enforcement is here to hand out tickets, consider a construction job where 40-60 trucks are hauling rock, sand, asphalt and various construction materials.  These trucks are divided among seven to ten trucking companies.  Now imagine one truck, with all the overhead expenses, trying to follow all the rules while making an honest living.

How would it feel to be pushed out by another trucking company, only to discover they were from another state, running inappropriate registration and perhaps not having a CDL when required?  The livelihood of the honest trucker is being challenged by an outfit breaking the law. Law enforcement helps even the economic playing field.  This scenario shows the “cost” of breaking the law is more than just a citation or written warning.

If concern over dishonest trucking, or a traffic citation or warning, has yet to catch your attention, then perhaps this scenario will.

Imagine it’s Friday afternoon after a long week and a trucker is ready to get home.  Maybe he’s an hour or two over on his log book. Maybe his medical card has expired. Maybe this was his last load is a little heavy, or overlength for the road he was on.

Meanwhile, some grandparents are taking their grandchild out for ice cream. While traveling down the road, “little Johnny” drops his ice cream in the backseat and Grandpa turns around to assist. Grandpa runs a stop sign and meets the front of the semi at full speed.

As if the tragedy of being involved in a fatal crash is significant enough, common sense tells the truck driver “it wasn’t my fault, grandpa ran the stop sign.”  True, but will little Johnny’s grandparents be held 100% at fault when it’s discovered the trucker was over on hours, had an expired medical card, overweight or overlength? Rest assured, the next several years will be spent dealing with a civil lawsuit or perhaps making lifetime settlement payments. Now what is the cost of breaking the law?

During the next pre-trip inspection or hours of service review, ask ”is the possibility of a warning or citation really worth worrying about, or is it the risk of civil liability when I break the law?”

Law enforcement does a tremendous amount of education through warnings, but it’s up to the driver to operate safely. The cost of
breaking the law could be far more severe than being issued a citation.

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The Burden of Technology

Twenty-five years ago, if you had to make an important phone call, take a picture, compute a computation or pay a bill, you would need a separate device for each task.  In the modern world, all the technology needed to achieve these tasks fits in the palm of your hand.  Cell phones have become so second nature, one fails to appreciate how far the technology has come, and how it serves people in their daily lives. In both the trucking and police professions, technology is in a constant state of flux as manufacturers are always looking to equip vehicles with the latest technology.

Although hands free cell phone technology and GPS navigation devices are now commonplace inside modern trucks, other technologies are progressively making their way into these vehicles too.  Other technology such as diesel particulate filters, lightweight framing systems and advanced aerodynamic additions have crept into the carrier industry.

Perhaps the biggest technology push in the trucking industry right now is truck electrification.  Although medium and heavy duty trucks represent only 4 percent of vehicles in the United States, they consume about 20 percent of the transportation fuel consumed.  While truck electrification or ‘hybrid-electric’ trucks were introduced in 2007, the technology behind them has evolved.  Technology introductions such as battery electric or fuel cell electric trucks have forged their way into truck factories.

In the law enforcement world, technology is a never ending race between competing companies soliciting their products to the law enforcement community.  One technology that has entrenched itself in the law enforcement community that monitors and polices the trucking industry is portable truck scales.

The concept of portable truck scales is nothing new.  The first recorded use of portable truck scales for the purposes of law enforcement took place in California and dates back to November of 1929!  You can read that article here.

There are dozens of manufacturers of portable scales, but in the Land of Lincoln, only portable scales that have been tested and approved at a frequency prescribed by the Illinois Department of Agriculture can be used for the purposes of enforcement.  Of course this rule is only binding in the State of Illinois.

But whether you are in the trucking industry or law enforcement community, using technology that drives your profession comes with responsibility.  Any Class-A CDL holder can operate a basic tractor trailer combination, but it does not mean he can operate the vehicles well.  Any certified Illinois police officer can enforce Chapter 15 of the Illinois Vehicle Code, which is the Chapter that regulates and governs weight laws in Illinois, but it doesn’t not mean he can enforce it well.

To effectively use specific technology within a vocation, the operator needs special training.  For the Class-A CDL holders who want to transport hazardous materials or drive a double or triple trailer, special training and certification are required.  (Be sure not to drive those triples in Illinois as they are illegal here!)

Police officers wanting to use evidence gained from the use of portable truck scales need specialized training as well.  While the training and requirements to have your CDL endorsed are federally governed, Illinois police officers wanting to use portable scales are bound to the laws of Illinois.  Public Act 91-0129 clearly says that all municipal and county police officers who set up and operate portable scales and issue citations based on the evidence gained from those portable scales shall attend and complete initial classroom and field training administered by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Standards Board.

Whether you’re behind the wheel of a big rig or a squad car, if you plan on using the technology which has been crafted for your trade, be sure to use it responsibly and within the scope of your authority.

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Leveling Portable Scales

Some things in life are common sense. Some things are not. Sometimes common sense prevails, other times it fails. In this conundrum of worldly imperfection, it is quite apparent the laws generated by the elected officials at all levels of governance do not always employ common sense. Some laws are in direct conflict with common sense, some laws simply leave common sense out of the equation. In Illinois truck enforcement world, the law forgets to include common sense in a very critical area: portable scales.

Here’s what any truck officer or trucking professional can tell you – the use of portable scales is a ceaseless debate. Truckers will tell you portable scales are unreliable, inaccurate and abused. Correct. Police officers will tell you portable are reliable, accurate and used appropriately. Also correct.

So in a world when two parties’ beliefs are diametrically opposed, who is correct? The answer? No one. Or wait, they both are.

The truth belongs in the hands of the operator. Police officers or other government agents who deploy portable scales have a burden to make sure they are using the instruments with common sense. And by common sense, this author actually means integrity.

It would seem integrity goes without saying, but much like common sense, it’s an imperfect world with imperfect people. There’s always “that one guy” who puts himself and his agenda ahead of the cause for his own personal gain. He can feel free to refrain from ITEA membership.

Here’s what Illinois law says (paraphrased): portable scales are lawful for enforcement by qualified personnel, and the scales must be certified annually by the Illinois Department of Agriculture. That’s it. Done.

Here’s what Illinois law does not say: the ground must be level. The temperature must be above or below a certain temperature. The officer must weigh all axles simultaneously. Portable scales can’t be used for tag axles. This list could go on forever, but it’s all words, ideas, rumors, speculations and innuendo.

However, this non-statutory list reflects common sense. Unfortunately, many truckers, police officers, attorneys and judges have spent a lot of time arguing and debating over things which do not exist in the law.

Should these things be in the statutes? Probably, but they are not, so quit trying to prove a point which is objectively false. The argument should be over the subjective integrity of the officer or highway worker using the portable scales for enforcement.

Should portable scales be used on reasonable level ground? Of course, but the law does not say so. (quick point – there is no such things as perfectly level ground).
Should the driver be able to release the brakes and the truck not roll off the scale? Of course, but the law does not say so.
Should one side of the truck be higher (or lower) than the other side on portable scales? Of course not, but the law does not say so.
Should the scale operator allow the driver to get out and see the weights on the portable scales? Sure, but the law does not require him to do so.

The police officer with integrity will take great care to make sure the ground where he chooses to weigh vehicles on portable scales is reasonably level. He will make sure the truck will not roll off the scales with the brakes released (static weight). He will allow the operator to get out of the vehicle to look at the weights provided it is safe to do and the delay in time is not creating a traffic problem.

There is a reason why the good book says unequal weights are an abomination and false scales are not good. Those who choose to cheat will be held accountable.

Veteran truck officers (with integrity and common sense) who have used portable scales for a long time know portable scales are accurate when used appropriately. Sorry truckers, it’s true.

The ITEA trains and certifies police officers to use portable scales with a code as if it was written into the law. This is something which must be kept on the level.

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Beach Towels & Tow Trucks

Imagine you are on the beach – taking in the sun, the breeze and the sound of the waves are only slightly drowned out by the cool rhythms of some classic Bob Marley. Now think about the colorful floral beach towel that you bought just for your trip to this sandy destination. It’s a comfy, large, soft towel, and you paid good money for it. It only seemed appropriate you would take a “beach towel” to the beach.

The next day, you decide to keep your toes out of the sand and instead head to the pool. You grab your expensive beach towel and head out for a quick dip. You jump in and feel the cool water rush against your skin before emerging to the top and eventually exiting and grabbing your beach towel to dry off. But now there is a problem.

You’re approached by a lifeguard who hands you a citation for improper use of a towel. He tells you the towel you are using is specifically designated for beach use and not for pool use. Astounded, you think back to your purchase of the towel.

You recall the towel costing the same as other similar towels. There were no specific directions telling you the towel could only be used for beach purposes, even though the price tag did specifically call it a “beach towel.”

This particular situation helps illustrate a past problem an ITEA member tow company had with law enforcement regarding their use of “tow truck” registration.

This particular law enforcement officer had stopped the company for a registration violation after seeing the company hauling a generator on a flat-bed tow truck. Since the vehicle was not being used to “tow” a disabled vehicle, the officer informed the driver his registration did not cover the move because the vehicle was being used to transports goods for commerce.

He also advised the driver making similar moves in the future would require the company to purchase flat weight or apportioned registration, thereby dual registering the vehicle as both a tow truck and commercial truck.

Thankfully no citations were issued. However, poor and inaccurate explanations of the law were given.

A more accurate explanation of the statute would show tow truck operators may register such vehicles with tow truck registration plates. Also, in section 625 ILCS 5/15-111, tow trucks need to meet a variety of requirements to be considered tow trucks and to qualify for special weight exemptions.

Nowhere in the statute does it specifically state tow trucks may not use those same vehicles to carry or tow loads other than disabled vehicles. This type of movement would only negate the weight exemptions afforded to tow trucks who are in fact towing disabled vehicles. It would not void the registered weight they paid for.

Also, in 625 ILCS 5/3-810.1 the legislature spells out the cost of tow truck plates in Illinois. The cost of these plates are concurrent with the cost of flat weight plates in Illinois. This mean that a tow truck plate for 50,000 lbs costs the exact same amount as a flat weight “Q” plate, which is also good for 50,000 lbs. Therefore, it makes sense if tow companies pay the same amount as regular trucking companies for registration, they can use vehicles plated with tow truck plates to haul other commodities.

The explanation to the company (requiring they purchase two types of registration for the same vehicle) is not only ridiculous, it is not supported in the Illinois Vehicle Code. The only time dual registration is ever covered as a requirement is when it addresses registration of semi-trailer plates on special hauling vehicles. This topic will be covered in a future article.

At the end of the day, the poor advice of the officer did not cause any financial harm to the member company, but it did serve as another example of some of the inconsistencies in commercial vehicle enforcement the ITEA works to remedy on a daily basis.

ITEA certified officers continuously work to educate themselves in order to provide the most accurate information available and disperse it to those they come in contact with. This is something those in both law enforcement and the trucking industry should not only expect, but demand.

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