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Cows, pigs and Kingpins

The political machine in Illinois is alive and well. The General Assembly has until March 9th to get bills out committee and into the chambers for debate, ratification, or death. Like Newton’s laws of motion, for every legislative opinion there is an equal and opposite legislative opinion. The idealistic hope (cough cough) is that the political pendulum will rest in balance and new laws will serve the citizens well.

We are going to spend the next three weeks analyzing three bills in the General Assembly. There will be no winning with these articles. The bulk of our readers are either law enforcement or trucking, and we’re going to talk about new legislation that affects both. The ITEA has not formally voted on whether or not to support any of these bills. therefore we are not taking a stance. These posts serve as an exercise for all parties think critically about the legislation. Each person has their perspective and level of angst. As you read, learn by arguing for the other team.

SB2579/HB4446 – Kingpin to rear axle limit for livestock trailers Once upon a time, Illinois passed a law limiting the length of trailers from the kingpin to the center of the rear axle. This was not without cause…as longer trailers became the industry standard, the aging infrastructure could not accommodate these trailers turning at intersections. The restrictions were meant to stop trailers from running over curbs, grass, planters and hitting signs and poles…or people! There are currently two different kingpin length restrictions depending on which classification of road the combination is operated, but each restriction only applies to trailers greater than 48′ in length.

One such vehicle is 53′ livestock semi-trailers with fixed axles. They have become commonplace in livestock hauling and are legal in several midwestern states. Most 53′ vans have sliding axles so drivers can be legal with the length law, but the livestock trailers are fixed…the belly of the trailer is low so more animals can fit. The cattle & pig farmers of Illinois are at an economic disadvantage compared to our neighboring states without kingpin restrictions. Compliance with the law means less head per trailer which drives up costs. Given most livestock farms are out rural areas, instances of livestock trailers having to navigate tight city intersections or suburban streets are the exception. Most of these combinations leave the farm on rural highways bound for the interstates.

These bills seek to remove all kingpin limits for livestock trailers. No one doubts this is good for the farmers, but is this not a slippery slope to more confusing and commodity specific laws? For all you city folk who don’t care about livestock trailers – think again. If the livestock haulers are granted an exemption, who’s next? Dry bulk? Intermodal? All trailers? Many of those commodities operate in populated and urban areas, and if the law of dominoes proves true, eventually they would be legal at some point as well. Proponents argue because these livestock trailers are already commonplace in Illinois, therefore they should be legal to operate. Not necessarily the best argument…name a crime and ask yourself if leveraging legality by quantifying violations is a good idea.

Both sides need to be careful what they wish for. The industry needs to realize that repeal of kingpin restrictions may yield enforcement of lane use violations which have a negative effects on CDL’s…maybe the points free overlength ticket is better. The local governments need to realize status quo is driving business and tax dollars out of our state and local coffers, which may in turn be more costly than repairing damage from longer trailers. At the end of the day we’re all paying more at the grocery store. Maybe local governments should lobby for lifting kingpin restrictions on the Class I and Class II highways while still having authority to restrict length on city streets.

There is a middle ground that can be reached…lets hope our elected officials find it.

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