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Dumb Laws

“Hey! You wanna hear the most annoying sound in the world?”  The answer is “no”…no you don’t.  That would be dumb. You may very well consider the person who asked you the question to be dumb. You could even pose the question in a movie, and call the movie Dumb & Dumber.  You might even think this blog is dumb.  A day probably does not go by when you don’t have the opportunity to witness someone else doing something dumb.  Sometimes laws are dumb too.  They may have been passed with noble intent and good reason, but in the end they are just dumb.  The article this week looks at one such law.

In the fall of 2010, the ITEA sat down with representatives from the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Illinois State Police, the Secretary of State, and Mid-west Truckers Association.  The goal was to change some laws.  In the end, several laws were re-written and signed into law by Gov. Quinn.  The same group met again in 2011 with a few more groups like the Illinois Trucking Association and the Illinois Municipal League.  A new bill never evolved from that meeting, but several so-called “dumb” laws were addressed, including the one at hand in this article.

Are safety lane inspections dumb?  Absolutely not.  Is enforcement of safety stickers dumb?  Hardly.  Are the penalties for being in violation of safety test laws dumb?  Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. How dumb the penalty mandated for not having a safety test as required might be open to some debate as well.

Per 625 ILCS 5/13-111, if a person is convicted for not having a safety test as required, the penalty is a Class-C Misdemeanor.  What does a Class-C misdemeanor actually mean?  Great question!  According to 625 ILCS 5/5-4.5-65, a person convicted of a Class-C misdemeanor may be incarcerated for up to 30 days in jail and fined up to $1500.

The question is this: does that maximum punishment fit the crime?  Yes, unsafe trucks on the highways of this great state are unquestionably wrong.  But look at the law surrounding safety tests.  The number one phone call received by the ITEA is questions regarding safety tests…from police officers.  The most downloaded resource document from the ITEA member database is the three-page safety test flow chart.  Three weeks were spent on this very blog earlier this year discussing the nuances of safety tests, and the articles barely even scratched the surface.

The fact is the law is confusing for both the industry and law enforcement.  Where there is confusion, there is error.  Where there is error, should there be excessive penalties?  The cost of an average safety lane test can range from $25-$50 based on the size of the vehicle and the number of axles, but a driver could theoretically go to jail and be fined $1500 for not getting it done it time?  Most local police departments in Illinois have policies that misdemeanor arrests are custodial.  The driver is handcuffed, booked at the station and assigned a state ID number.  That’s quite a ride for not getting a $25 safety test done.

In reality, the ITEA has yet to see a documented case (although rumors swirl about) of any police officer actually making a custodial arrest of someone for not complying with this law, or fining them $1500. The majority of local police officers who cite a driver for this charge it under local ordinance and issue fines anywhere from $25 to $250.  Discretion is always up for debate, but those ordinance fines are far more reasonable than what the state law prescribes.

So if the legislature has mandated a penalty that no police officer has any intention of enforcing, then maybe it’s time to change that law to make it what it should be, a petty offense.  This is what was proposed in the aforementioned meeting in 2011.  With Senate Bill 1294 starting to move through the statehouse, this would be a great time to make a common sense change.  Without a change, the future reality is that maximum penalties will be sought.

A law is only as good as the enforcement of it.  So if the means does not justify the end, then one could probably consider the penalty, well…dumb.

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