If something is available, it is ready for immediate use. The mere presence of something does not make it available. Tomorrow you need to go to the bank to make a deposit. The building is there. The sign says “BANK”. You look in the window and see an ATM and teller windows. All the context clues are there to confirm you are in the right place. However, if the doors are locked, the bank is no more available to serve you than if you walked into a hardware store. The Illinois Vehicle Code mandates that police officers shall weigh trucks they have reason to believe are overweight at the “nearest available scale”. The question that begs an answer is what makes a scale “available”?
Experienced truck enforcement officers most likely have had a truck driver or company owner question them about this statute. The typical misreading eliminates the word “available” leaving only “nearest scale”. A police officer who has elected to have a truck follow him to a scale for an investigatory weigh may drive past a scale. Or maybe there was a scale in an adjacent town which is closer than the one the officer is en route too. “Nearest” is easy…it is geographically pinning a location on a map. But that is only one-half of the commandment from the General Assembly. Availability is more complex.
AVAILABLE BY CAPACITY Not all scales are created equal. There are in-ground, platform, wheel load, axle load, and full draft scales. Now couple the wide variety of scales an even wider variety of truck and trailer configurations. Once you are done doing that, now consider the purpose for the weighing. Is the officer weighing for gross weight? Axle weight? Registered weight? Bridge formula? All these moving parts must been taken into consideration when deciding which scale is “available” for the purpose of weighing trucks and trailers.
Each scale has a certified maximum weight limit. A scale with a maximum certified weight of 100,000 pounds is not necessarily available for a 175,000 pound mobile crane. Some axle-load platform scales have the required 10’ apron on both sides of the scale, but quickly drop off on either end. This disparity in elevation makes the scale unavailable for the weighing of long combinations. Some scales have marker poles, are close to a building, or only 8’ wide. These scales do not have the capacity to handle wide loads or trucks with wide wheelbases. Not available.
AVAILABLE BY AUTHORITY If a police officer needs a pen to write a report, can he just walk into a private residence and rifle through the kitchen junk drawer? A private scale is no different. Some scale owners welcome law enforcement with open arms. Others would prefer not to have the police around. Police officers do not have the authority to demand a private scale owner open the gate for police weighing. This closed scale may be near, but it is not available.
The IVC also requires the scale to be certified by the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Some scale owners only use their scale to obtain rough weights to make sure they are compliant with the law. The scale is not being used for commerce and they have elected to not pay the annual certification fee. Police officers have no authority to use this scale. It is unavailable.
In 1990, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled in the case of People v White. A trooper had stopped an off-route 200,000 pound permit load on the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend. There were no portable or fixed scales available. The trooper parked the truck until Monday. On Monday he tried to weigh the truck on two fixed scales, but the truck was too wide…unavailable. An IDOT crew eventually came out with portable scales and the truck was weighed. As big an inconvenience as this was for the trucking company, the Court upheld the officers’ actions.
Three simple words, one complex issue.