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False Security

In simpler times, before the dawn of cable TV, high resolution video games and the internet, children around the nation were entertained by the Peanuts cartoon. Simple story lines, simple animation. One of the more peculiar characters was Linus. Although he was a boy genius, he still walked around with a security blanket. Sometimes laws are like security blankets, but there is nothing fun about learning the hard way how a law really didn’t protect you the way it was intended. On January 1st, 2015, one such law goes into effect for the trucking industry.

Public Act 98-0942 was signed into law by Governor Quinn on 15 August 2014. The intent was clear: give trucks who are doing emergency sewer repair work for a municipality higher weight limits. Not a bad idea, as the more trucks it takes to haul for a job, the bigger the bill is to the taxpayers.

What actually became the law, however, is legal swiss cheese. Intent? Noble. Execution? Poor. The article this week will show why. The hope is that the law will soon be amended to fix the problems, Until that the time, we encourage police officers to use great discretion when enforcing it after it goes into effect. Now for a systematic dissection of the law.

Sewers Not all underground utility work involving pipes is sewer work. Many times it is broken water mains. This law exclusively exempts sewer repair work only.

Municipalities By reading the law, it gives the appearance that sewers belong only to municipalities. This is not true. Depending on the system, the underground utility may belong to a county, township or even park district. These are all units of local government, and trucks servicing them are not covered by the exemptions. Unfortunately, people sometimes only like to hear the part of the law they want to hear. Truckers will invariably believe that there is an exemption for ALL municipal work, which is obviously not the case.

Emergencies The weight exemptions only apply to “emergency” sewer work. There is no definition of what constitutes an emergency. While a reasonable police officer should be using great discretion before writing overweight tickets to trucks servicing a municipality during any emergency, the interpretations door is wide open. Many times “urgency” and “emergency” are confused. Vague words yield interpretive enforcement which yields big problems.

GVWR For the first time in Illinois legislation, the manufacturers GVWR may be used to enforce an actual overweight violation. While GVWR has been rumored as an overweight criteria amongst industry for years, this was never the case. Unfortunately, some police officers even enforced it as such. Under this law, a small window of GVWR enforcement has been opened.  Much like the selective reading by truckers in the paragraph above regarding the municipal scope of this law, police officers will begin to unlawfully apply GVWR in other areas of weight enforcement.

Gross Weight Under this law, qualifying trucks (of the 3 or 4 axle variety) are allowed 66,000 pounds gross weight (on the scale), or the GVWR, whichever is LESS. That’s easy enough to understand, but the law does not specify what the maximum axle weights should be. In the many other exemptions to 625 ILCS 5/15-111(a), both maximum gross and axle weights are listed. It is safe to say that a 3-axle truck, loaded to the legal 66,000 lbs, will exceed single axle (20,000 lbs) and tandem axle (34,000 lbs) weights. Yikes.

County Lines The extra weight exemption only applies to Cook, Lake, McHenry, Kane, DuPage and Will counties. Does this mean if a truck expecting the exempted weight drives through a non-listed county, whether inbound or outbound, it does not receive the extra gross weight? Materials for the emergency work may have to be purchased outside the geographic region and hauled in. Spoils may have to be hauled to a location outside the geographic region for disposal.

Protected Roads Like many other weight exceptions to the Federal Bridge Formula (garbage trucks, cement mixers), the extra weight is not allowed on the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Fair enough. But the law goes on to prohibit trucks operating under this exemption from crossing other “bridges or elevated structures”. Does this mean all bridges or elevated structures, or only those defined in 15-111(e) and (f) which are posted? If a qualifying vehicle crosses an unmarked box culvert with a creek running through it, does that knock the truck back to legal weights?

The unfortunate consequence is there are going to be truckers loading heavy under the security of this law, only to be stopped, weighed and cited for some pretty hefty overweight fines. Valuable work time will be spent at roadside when police officers will be calling to verify “emergency” work. Valuable time and finances will be spent challenging the cases in court, with no certainty of outcome, so the use of financial legal services such as Red Road Legal PC Colorado could really help solving these cases in court.

Even Linus could have seen this coming.

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