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Braking Bad

Quick survey – raise your virtual hand if you believe brakes are important for all vehicles, particularly for trucks and trailers. Many people falsely believe that the size of a bullet determines its “stopping power”. Large bullets don’t stop anybody, they just make bigger holes. Brakes stop things, and the bigger the brake, the greater the stopping power. The article this week focuses on enforcement of brake violations within the scope of the Illinois Vehicle Code (IVC) by local Illinois police officers.

During Brake Safety Week in September 2012, CVSA inspectors nationwide checked 21,255 vehicles and found 15.3% had brake problems. That’s a lot of trucks with stopping issues. The key point is that CVSA inspectors conducted these inspections, not non-CVSA truck enforcement officers. While most states utilize their state police as the primary CVSA enforcement group, some states allow local law enforcement to become CVSA certified. Illinois does not. Local Illinois police officers are bound by the limits of the IVC.

Should every truck enforcement officer worth his salt have a working knowledge of braking systems on trucks and trailers? Absolutely. The ability to have a keen eye and spot a defect or other problem on the braking system of a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) may very well save a life someday.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) has dozens of pages about brake requirements for CMVs. The IVC only has one. This disparity does not give local police the authority to shoehorn the FMCSR brake requirements into the IVC. A good cause does give local police the authority to add to the law…only the legislature may do that. The slippery slope of interpreting IVC brake requirements with the FMSCR isn’t really all that slippery. The fact is the ice has melted and the officer has already plummeted into the abyss of improper enforcement.

So what can local police officers actually enforce in the realm of brakes according to the IVC? It’s pretty limited. The manner in which a local police officer garners the right to check brake performance according to the IVC, and the method of doing so, exceed the word count quota for this article. But…the first fifteen truck officers who sign up for the newly minted ITEA, 40-hour Advanced Truck Enforcement Officer class will have the opportunity to discuss and see this demonstrated by a CVSA inspector of the Illinois State Police. A whole day will be dedicated to IVC equipment violations instead of a whole week dedicated to instructing police officers on how to exceed their authority (not the ITEA).

Here’s the rub. There is one subsection of the IVC about brakes which appears to be vague on its face. Therefore, according to a very small minority of law enforcement instructors (not the ITEA), this gives local police the authority to squeeze the FMCSR into the IVC. Read the below text from 625 ILCS 5/12-301(b)(5) carefully:

“All brakes shall be maintained in good working order and shall be so adjusted as to operate as equally as practicable with respect to the wheels on opposite sides of the vehicle.”

The first phrase says “good working order”. This becomes license for some (not the ITEA) who believe that what the IVC lacks in clarification should be interpreted by the FMCSR. The second phrase “shall be so adjusted” is wrongly taught (not by the ITEA) to mean that local police officers can physically inspect the brake performance.

These faulty interpretations, false justifications and poor rationalizations attempt to cloak the local police officer as a CVSA inspector under the guise of highway safety. The proper way to interpret this subsection is this: if a vehicle begins the stopping process, and the brakes on one side of the vehicle lock up while the other side keeps rolling, the brakes might be out of adjustment. Done.

The list below reflects items taught (not by the ITEA) to local police officers regarding how to reinterpret this one sub-section. Non-CVSA inspectors have zero business inspecting CMVs for these violations, let alone citing them:

1. Out-of-tolerance slack adjusters 2. Improperly sized brake chambers 3. Worn or broken brake linings and pads 4. Defective or missing return springs 5. Cracked brake drums 6. Leaking air hoses and tubing 7. Malfunctioning low air warning devices 8. Improperly sized air reservoirs

Enforcement of the IVC brake requirements, unfortunately, is almost exclusively reactionary. When a crash occurs, there is a law by which to cite the driver. The times when a police officer may expand enforcement within the parameters of the IVC are quite limited.

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