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Electronic Display of Permits

It’s a small world, right? What a person who travels quickly learns is that its pretty much the same everywhere you go…just little differences here and there. There’s a local flavor to everything. Even though truck laws are uniform throughout Illinois, sometimes how they are applied varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and that does not make them wrong. Just different. The article this week will look at what the term “written form” means when it comes to oversize/overweight permits, because interpretations vary.

Oversize/overweight (OS/OW) permits are crucial to lawful operation of big loads. When a carrier wishes to exceed maximum size and weight limits, as set by statute, a special permit must be obtained. In reality, an OS/OW permit is a legal document which authorizes a vehicle to lawfully break the law.

It’s a big deal, because when a vehicle has  not obtained a permit when required, the fines can be astonishing. The authority for the State and local government to issue a permit is found in 625 ILCS 5/15-301(a) of the Illinois Vehicle Code. In 15-301(f), it states:

“Every permit shall be in written form…”

First, notice the term “shall”. It does not say “may”, “could” or “should”. It is a command. The ITEA wrote an article about this a couple years ago…you can read it HERE.

Secondly, notice the term “written form”. It does not say “verbal permission”. No unit of local government has the authority to authorize an OS/OW vehicle to operate on a public highway with verbal permission. It is unlawful and it sets the carrier up for failure. Verbal permission does not protect the industry.

As difficult as it may be to obtain local permits, no carrier should ever move OS/OW on verbal permission. At the end of the day, there will be a policeman, a set of scales and a ticket book because the verbal permission granted by an uneducated city worker will be forgotten. It is not worth it.

The debate occurs when interpreting what “written form” means. In days gone by, before the dawn of portable electronic devices, written form unanimously meant “paper”. However, in today’s world, electronic copy is readily accepted as a valid form of documentation in most arenas.

In 2012, the Illinois Department of Transportation reissued its Policy Manual which specifically included electronic display of permits as legitimate. There was one condition though: whatever device displaying the electronic permit must be able to be inspected by law enforcement. Why? Because the law says so in 625 ILCS 5/15-301(f):

“…shall be open to inspection by any police officer…”

Notice that the rule allowing for electronic display of permits is in the IDOT permit manual and the OPER 993 form. What this means is that the rule is only valid on State highways which are permitted under the authority of IDOT. Therefore, the rule does not apply on highways under the permit authority of a local government.

While the ITEA encourages all local government to model the permit policies of IDOT, they are not required to. As a matter of fact, the ITEA has a Standard of Practice requiring member police officers to honor the IDOT permit rules, on IDOT highways, every time. While it may seem like a simple request for local towns to allow electronic display of their local permits, there is more to the issue which must be considered.

Compare electronic display of OS/OW permits to electronic display of insurance cards. In 2013, the Illinois General Assembly authorized electronic display of insurance cards in PA 98-0521, but with a caveat. If a motorist hands a cellular phone, tablet or electronic device to the police officer, and the police officer drops said device, he is not liable for the damage.

As the law stands today, it provides no such protection for police officers inspecting an OS/OW permit. If you are a naysayer who thinks a broken smartphone or tablet dropped by a police officer isn’t a big deal, you don’t understand local government.

It’s a broken iPhone, dropped by a well-meaning police officer, which results in angry phone calls, meetings and eventually payment. The little things always make the most waves. No policeman wants to be sitting in the Chief’s office explaining why he has to now pay out $500-$600 he has butterfingers. The law does not authorize or protect the officer in this regard.

Maybe the time has come for Illinois to change the law. It would be good for industry, and with the right protections, good for law enforcement too.

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