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When a person conveys an intended meaning from one to another through the use of mutually understood signs and semiotic rules, they are communicating effectively. Communication uses words, sounds and behaviors to express or exchange information to successfully share an idea, thought or feeling. As the communication process of human beings continuously evolves, so does the efficiency. Sometimes communication methods break down, and the article this week will address one issue which generates much confusion in both the police and trucking communities.

One way to streamline communication and make it more efficient is to use acronyms. Acronyms are nothing new to the English language. Although the use of acronyms did not become commonplace until the beginning of the 20th century, some literature suggests acronyms were used in ancient Rome. While there are no universal standards for the structure of acronyms and their orthographic stylings, they are littered across the law enforcement and trucking communities.

The ITEA (an acronym, by the way) has written many articles about topics which are an acronym themselves. A reader may recognize some of them as IFTA, SHV, ITEA, COP, OTR, LTL and so on. The article this week will discuss an acronym used less frequently, but is quite important.

HVUT. This is an acronym for “Heavy Vehicle Usage Tax”. Most truckers and those responsible for renewing the registration of fleets have seen this acronym before. The HVUT is a fee assessed annually on heavy vehicles operating on public highways at registered gross weights equal to or exceeding 55,000 pounds.

A common misconception about HVUT in Illinois needs to be clarified. When carriers register vehicles with Illinois flat weight plates, the physical registration card lists HVUT status on the same line as Special Hauling Vehicle status. Sometimes the word “suspended” is printed next to HVUT/SHV. This does NOT mean the vehicle’s SHV is suspended. Police officers must contact the Illinois Secretary of State, Commercial and Farm Truck Division to obtain the legitimacy of an SHV before taking enforcement action. The term “suspended” means the IRS is exempting the carrier from having to pay the HVUT.

In short, any vehicle with a registered weight of 55,000 pounds or more is subject to this federal tax. And the tax is different depending on your registered weight category. Vehicles registering up to 75,000 pounds pay a flat fee of $100.00, then $22.00 for each increment of one-thousand pounds above 55,000 pounds. Vehicles registering for 75,000 pounds or more pay a flat fee of $550.00.

Like all things truck law, there are exceptions and exemptions to the rules. Groups like federal, state and local government, the American Red Cross, fire departments, mass transportation authorities and so on do not pay this tax. Certain vehicle types such as agricultural vehicles traveling less than 7,500 miles a year, any commercial vehicle traveling less than 5,000 miles a year and qualified blood collection vehicles also do not pay this tax.

So why is HVUT important? HVUT helps to level the playing field for those who pay taxes to help fund road maintenance projects. The US Department of Transportation, in its most recent highway cost allocation study, estimated light single unit trucks, operating at 25,000 pounds or less, pay 150 percent of their road costs while the heaviest tractor-trailer combinations only pay 50 percent.

The HVUT also levels the playing field by ensuring that operators of heavy trucks pay a little more for the highway network relative to the motorists and light trucks who also meet their responsibility through other forms of taxes (e.g., registration fees, motor fuel taxes), but do less damage to the highway infrastructure.

The highways of this nation need funding. The HVUT is a significant source of transportation funding. HVUT generates more than one-billion dollars every year. While that may seem like a lot, it represents less than five percent of the total funds generated annually for highway maintenance by the USDOT.

Like all things truck law, a question which comes up routinely is whether or not local police officers have authority to enforce HVUT. The answer is no, but the secondary effects of failing to pay HVUT fees does create an enforcement scenario for all Illinois police officers.

The Illinois Secretary of State will not register any vehicle until the HVUT tax has been paid. Failure to obtain valid registration to carry weight on Illinois highways can result in an overweight on registration citation.

Like all things taxes, the IRS expects their HVUT payments. Be sure to fill out IRS Form 2290 when renewing and applying for new plates!

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