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Now that Super Bowl XLIX (and the halftime show) is done, America can also get busy forgetting the buzzword of January 2015 “deflate-gate”. Was it intentional? Was it not? Does it matter either way? The jury is out. There are plenty of football blogs to read about on that topic, but what this blog will inflate this week is what the law says about tires in Illinois, and what that means for enforcement of trucks.

First things first. There are two sets of laws regarding tires. First being the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR). In Illinois, this set of laws is enforceable by the Illinois State Police only. The second is the Illinois Vehicle Code. The two codes are very similar in language about what makes a tire safe or unsafe, but they are not identical.

There are several reasons a tire could be considered “bad” or better yet, “unsafe”. Here are the common reasons why a tire could be found unfit to be on the roads of this great state:

  1. The ply or cord is exposed – this is not the same as a retread tire beginning to come apart.

  2. Cuts or cracks in the tread which exposes the ply or cord

  3. Cuts or cracks in the sidewall

  4. Insufficient tread depth within statutory intervals. 4/32” on the steer tires, 2/32” on everything else.

  5. Bulges or knots

  6. Deflated tires

While the regulations are very close in scope, how an officer stops and discovers the violations are an entirely different story.

When it comes to a motor carrier inspection by the Illinois State Police, troopers have the authority to stop any commercial vehicle (10,001 pounds or more) just to inspect it, which includes tires. If they find two bad tires next to each other, they have the authority to place the vehicle out of service.

Can local police officers do the same? No. Local police officers in Illinois do not have the authority to stop and detain trucks for the purpose of an inspection for any equipment violation. Local police officers must have probable cause to stop a truck. They are limited to enforcing the violation within the scope of the original reason for the stop, and then can only expand based on volumes of case law regarding search and seizure.

Is it possible for a police officer to see a worn out tire in plain view and use that as probable cause to stop a vehicle? Absolutely. If a police officer pulls alongside a truck at a red light, looks at the tires and sees it is totally bald, has bulges or knots or is deflated, that is probable cause. The law has been broken.

What that does not mean is the police officer then has cause to further his inquest into all other sorts of equipment violations. He can ask the driver for his driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance. He can check the tires which appeared to be bad. He can probably even make a quick walk around the truck and look at all the tires. That is within the scope of the stop and not unnecessarily detaining the driver for an unconstitutional amount of time.

He can’t check brakes, log books, medical cards, wheel lash, frame or suspension integrity, and so on. These are laws under the exclusive enforcement authority of the Illinois State Police.

So what does the local police officer do when he finds bad tires if he does not have the authority to put the vehicle out of service? The IVC, in 625 ILCS 5/12-405(f), provides a small remedy.

If a local police officer has “reasonable cause to believe” the vehicle is in violation of this section, he can order it off the road to inspect the tires. Just the tires, only the tires. Not anything else. Ordering it off the road is not the same as placing it out of service.

Conversely, a police officer who finds a truck with bad tires cannot lawfully tell a driver it is okay to continue driving with them. The job of law enforcement is never to enable further breaking of the law. Whether or not a police officer chooses to cite the driver or not is irrelevant.

The officer should advise the driver to get the problem fixed before traveling down the road. He should also admonish the driver that if he proceeds with unsafe tires and gets in a crash and kills someone, that is on him, not the officer. Or if he continues to drive, gets stopped in the next town and receives a ticket, that is his responsibility too.

Well maintained tires are paramount to safe trucking and good mileage. Proper enforcement is just as important.

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