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A Mile of Trouble

“Walk a mile in their shoes.” “Mile after magnificent mile.” “Give ‘em an inch, they take a mile.” “Always go the extra mile.” “My mind is racing a mile a minute.” Is there are common thread developing? Every truck officer in Illinois worth his salt has heard a trucker say “but don’t I get a mile off the state highway?”. Well, sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. The problem isn’t whether the driver is entitled to a mile of reasonable access, the problem is why he thinks he is entitled. An even bigger and more expensive problem is when a driver is hauling an oversize/overweight permit load, and his 1-mile entitlement is based on poor advice from someone he beleives is an authority on the issue.

The mile of access being discussed in this article revolves around a special provision for vehicles travelling on state highways under the authority of an oversize/overweight (OSOW) issued by the Illinois Department of Transportation. In this instance, the OPER 993 provision sheet allows the permit load to go off the assigned permit route for one mile onto “another contiguous state highway”. The provision then states four reasons when this is acceptable.

This word study focuses on the phrase “contiguous state highway”. What this phrase means is that if the permit load is operating on state highway “X” (assigned) and turns onto state highway “Y” (unassigned), the driver is legal as long as he only drives one mile for one of the four reasons. The “state highway” language is what is at stake. This provision does not allow the driver to go one mile onto a county, township, village or city highway.

In August 2011, a trucking magazine published by a national trucking association ran a legal piece on this Illinois provision. The magazine contracts with a law firm to answer truck law questions in a special section each issue. Here is their interpretation of this provision:

Let me read that provision to you again. “The assigned permit route includes a distance of one (1) mile onto another contiguous state jurisdiction highway …” Your permit only allows you to go up to 1 mile off route into a different state [emphasis added]. Your permit does not allow you to travel any distance off route in the same state where your permit was issued.

Really? This is sound legal advice? Per statute in 625 ILCS 5/15-301(a), IDOT cannot even give authority to operate OSOW onto a local road within Illinois! Yet somehow they can authorize a trucker to move OSOW for one mile into a “different state” because an uniformed attorney says so? I sure hope that law firm is paying the fine for the trucker who confidently crossed the border into another state from Illinois thinking he was on the level.

This is serious business. It presumed that Illinois probably has some of the highest fines for overweight vehicles, but that does not mean overweight fines are necessarily cheap in other states. And forget the fines. What a tragedy if the driver got stuck under an overpass, damaged a structure or was involved in a fatal crash. His best defense is “I was relying on legal advice promoted by a professional organization to which I am a member”. He will be eaten alive. And that article was read by thousands of truck drivers. Who knows how many relays of this information has been passed along via email or word of mouth. The bad advice horse is out of the bad advice barn and it ain’t coming back.

The goal here is not to pick on the authors for misinterpreting the law. They are probably a fine legal firm and do a lot of good for the industry, just as the association they write for is doing some pretty awesome work. The goal of the article is to expose the potential catastrophe deriving from an uninformed singular opinion.

By the time you have read this, this article has been vetted by a select group of police officers, trucker industry leaders, attorneys, and state regulatory officials. A plurality of leadership prevents topical issues from being taken out of context. Content may derive from a singular person, but without peer review and input from others, a singular opinion serves no purpose other than promote and expose bias on the part of the author.

Truck law is hard, complex, and voluminous. Be wary of those “leaders” who act and opine alone. While their good intentions and motives are commendable, there is a good chance they could very well be a mile off base.

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