Nearly two years ago, the Illinois Department of Transportation Division of Traffic Safety approached the ITEA about promoting a grant opportunity for truck enforcement. For several years IDOT had offered a speed enforcement grant for commercial motor vehicles, but response from local police departments was almost non-existent. In the initial conversations, IDOT felt making this an overweight enforcement grant would attract more agencies. The ITEA had a different idea.
Overweight enforcement is important. There is no argument that overweight vehicles cause damage to the road. For years a study has been floating around about how 900 cars does the same damage to the road as a single 80,000 pound truck. The authenticity of that study and the measurement methods are unknown, but any reasonable person can draw a correlation between weight and road/bridge failure. The same person can also draw a reliable conclusion that a heavy vehicle takes longer to stop causing greater destruction upon impact. There is a legitimate public safety and infrastructure protection element built into overweight enforcement.
However, there is also no argument that some police departments around the State use overweight statutes solely as revenue enhancement. The fines that accompany overweight tickets are high for deterrence purposes. The mere fact that local units of government reap a percentage of these fines should not be the catalyst for angst in the trucking industry. What should fuel angst is the disproportionate amount of truck enforcement at the local level which focuses only on weight enforcement.
When IDOT proposed this new grant idea, the ITEA immediately responded that any tax dollars going to fund truck enforcement should be part of a comprehensive enforcement program, not just weight enforcement. A major goal of the ITEA is to educate and train local police officers on a variety of issues of truck enforcement such as CDL’s, size, industry education, fuel tax, permits, routing, and safety. Weight enforcement is definitely a piece of the truck enforcement puzzle, but it should not be the whole puzzle. Balanced enforcement serves the greater good.
IDOT asked the ITEA to rewrite the grant. A much broader list of violations was suggested, with a diversity of performance standards. The ITEA also recommended that only a small number of agencies be allowed to participate and use this as a trial program. If the grant can be executed in a fair and accountable manner, then no one should have a problem. On the other hand, if the grant is too one-sided and allows local police officers to just line their pockets with cash, then the mission of quality truck enforcement has been missed.
In the end, IDOT was unable to make the grant about anything other than what it was intended for. The federal guidelines specifically stated the funds could only be used for speed enforcement, seat belt violations, alcohol violations, and other serious moving violations. Seasoned truck enforcement officers know that contrary to public perception, trucks for the most part are not speeding. The vast majority of truckers out there are law abiding professional drivers who deserve our respect.
Of course there are times when the minority amount of truckers speed excessively, run red lights, don’t wear seat belts, and unbelievably drive commercial motor vehicles after consuming alcohol. Ten police agencies in northeast Illinois, all with some officers carrying membership in the ITEA, have been awarded grant money to seek out those bad apples. The hope is police officers will stay true to the tenants of the grant…not use the time to supplement their regular duty overweight enforcement.
At the end of the day, if all the grant proves is that most truckers abide by the law, then it was a success. Between April 1 and June 30, throttle down truckers…speeding tickets are expensive too.