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Exemplary Police Work #11

If a person is riding a bicycle built for two, he is upon a tandem bicycle. If a trucker has a pair of axles which are a minimum 40” and a maximum 96” on center, he has a tandem axle. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. Whereas a tandem almost always equals two of something, sometimes it does not. The tale to be told in this article is about a tandem of officers who misunderstood the word “tandem”, the mistake they made and the exemplary job they did fixing it.

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, a tandem axle is pretty self-explanatory. However many people who are in the carrier industry and law enforcement do not understand the legal definition. If a vehicle has two axles which are apart by 97” on center, it is not a tandem but two single axles. If a vehicle has two physical axles which are so close together the measurement is less than 40” on center, then it’s not a tandem either.  Instead, it’s a single axle. Clear as mud?

Well guess what? It will only get a little more confusing from here out! When the Illinois Department of Transportation issues overweight permits, their permits have their own definition of a tandem. A tandem on a routine or superload IDOT permit does not always mean two axles. It could mean two axles, or it could also mean a group of axles.

For instance, a 3-axle semi-tractor is towing a 3-axle lowboy trailer. The first axle is the steer axle. The second group of axles is usually a true 2-axle tandem. At the end of the lowboy trailer is a group of three axles. On IDOT’s routine and superload permits, a weight will be listed for the steer axle, a weight for the first tandem and a weight for the second tandem.

Wait! The last “tandem” is not really a tandem at all, because it has three axles! Correct. It is not a tandem per the legal definition as described twice above, but it is a “tandem” as it applies to the language of IDOT permits.

So all of that to say this: recently an ITEA certified police officer encountered this situation, became confused and took incorrect enforcement action. How he handled it is what defines a certified ITEA member from non-ITEA truck officers. It’s okay to make mistakes, even the best truck officers do. What stands a certified ITEA apart from the others is his ability to own the mistake and fix it without being defensive or argumentative.

In this instance, the officer stopped a superload permit move after he saw the first axle in a group of three axles up in the air. It was a heavy load, and his experience told him all axles would be needed on the ground. Because the permit only listed a total weight for the “tandem” (a group of three-axles in this case) but not for the true tandem (the two-axles actually on the road), how much weight should the two-axle tandem receive?

The officer was not sure, so he contacted another ITEA officer. Unfortunately this officer was just as confused, so the two of them decided the tandem should only receive 34,000 pounds, or legal weight for a 2-axle tandem per the Illinois Vehicle Code. This was incorrect, as was the massive fine accompanying the ticket which was issued. After the truck was weighed, the citation issued and the bail collected, a third ITEA officer was consulted who explained the mistake.

There was no fight. There were no rationalizations. There was no arrogance.

Quite to the contrary, the officer took a position of humility, acknowledged his mistake and set out to correct it. The officer immediately contacted the trucking company, explained his error, returned the bail and disposed of the case so no one would have to go to court.

That’s what professional policing is supposed to look like.

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