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Dumb Laws: Covered Heavy Duty Tows

Welcome to the third installment of the dumb laws trilogy involving the federal FAST Act implementation in Illinois. To review, the FAST Act in and of itself is not dumb. The intentions are good. What is dumb is the how it was interpreted by Illinois lawmakers and squeezed into Illinois statute. The article week will discuss the term “covered heavy duty tow and recovery vehicles” and the quagmire of unnecessary contextual non-sense.

To begin, the towing and recovery profession enjoys an exceptional history of working with law enforcement. Police agencies around the nation contract with towing companies for crash, criminal and safety towing. The Illinois Truck Enforcement Association is proud of the outstanding relationship it has with the Professional Towing and Recovery Operators of Illinois.

It’s right the towing industry has exceptions to size and weight law. If they did not, how would large vehicles ever be removed from the highways of this state?

Prior to the FAST Act, Illinois law provided extra size and weight provisions for certain tow trucks. This does not mean the law was perfect and could not use some revision and clarification. However, Illinois was not one of the states which had no exceptions for towing which initiated the FAST Act provisions to avoid assault charges in Illinois and have legal matter at court.

As mentioned in the previous articles, the FAST Act only required the states to adopt the language on federal highways, which are primarily the interstates and tollways in Illinois. The well-intentioned idea to make it uniform across all Illinois highways is where the mass confusion comes into play.

With the FAST Act language now in place, once again police officers are left to creatively interpret the law and its application. If anyone thinks this is a good idea and will help the towing industry, please speak up.

Where the authors went wrong was their failure to seek counsel from multiple stakeholders in the enforcement and interpretation of proposed language. If they would have reached out and asked, they would have learned it might be a good idea to amend the current law and blend the two. Alas, this never happened.

So now the police come to a fork in the enforcement road when they have a wrecker stopped they believe to be overweight. Is it a “covered tow” under the FAST Act, or is it a tow which receives the benefits of the old law?

To be considered a “covered tow”, three criteria must be met.

First, the tow has to be from the initial point of disablement. That’s easy enough and mirrors the old state law prohibiting secondary tows from receiving higher weights.

Second, the towing vehicle must be equal or greater in weight than the vehicle it is towing. So here is a practical example: an 80,000 pound semi breaks down and the 4-axle, 52,000 pound rotator comes to remove it. Does the towing vehicle weigh more than the towed vehicle? No. Therefore, it is NOT a covered tow under the FAST Act law. Yes, the police will be weighing each vehicle to prove the operation is not a covered tow.

Third, the tow must be destined to the “nearest repair facility”. Does this mean the nearest repair facility which the towing company or the driver/company of the disabled vehicle chooses? It’s a  great unknown.

This means the police officer can stand at roadside, scan the horizon for the nearest repair facility and opine the supposed “covered tow” has traveled too far. This is a terrible plan, but within the officer’s right. Don’t blame him.

Based on these criteria, and without much effort at all, law enforcement can easily make the case that no tow operations are covered tows under the FAST Act. In the event the tow is not a covered tow, then the operation defaults back to old state law, which is no simple piece of legislation either.

What if the police officer considers the operation to be a covered tow? What benefit does it provide?

If it’s a covered tow under this new law, then it has no weight limitations, except for registered weight. It’s exempt from everything else. No axle, gross or bridge formula weight limits. It can cross over posted weight limit structures.

Why? Because the language written by those who did not seek counsel said if it is a covered heavy-duty tow, then the vehicle is exempt from the weight limits of “this section”, meaning 625 ILCS 5/15-111(a).

They got a better deal than the fire trucks, who ironically had weight limits imposed upon their industry through the same legislative effort. A+ governance. Solid.

Now there is the primary problem of a bad law, the secondary problem of its interpretation and the tertiary problem of who is going to fix it. Will the owner of this law please rise and make this right? The ITEA will be glad to help.

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