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Free Range Fines

Everybody likes a range. Police officers (and other gun aficionados) spend a lot of time on a range honing their shooting skills. Cowboys?  Well, their home is on the range.  A chef appreciates a good range on which to prepare meals.  If you are a carnivore, you may very well prefer the aforementioned chef to prepare your meal with free range chickens.  <insert reasoning as to what any of this has to do with truck enforcement>.  It’s no secret that many violations of truck law result in expensive penalties. This article will explore some violations that may or may not be expensive, depending on a fine range.

Unfortunately, the best comparison to draw from the previous paragraph is the free range chickens.  On a farm with free range chickens, the animals are given room to roam.  However, the chickens are confined. There are boundaries.  They can only go so far.  A chicken can stay safe near the coop or it can stray further away. It has a discretionary range of distance to travel.  That is sum total of decision making involved in the life of a chicken.

Some truck fines are like that too, and nobody knows quite why.  Maybe the General Assembly recognized that a violation may vary in severity, but it is the same violation.  For instance, a Great Dane is a massive dog and a Chihuahua is tiny, but they are both dogs nonetheless.  Red and green apples are the same fruit, but very different in taste and appearance.

The second possible reason is the General Assembly believed police officers would use appropriate discretion based on the severity.  Most traffic violations have static fines.  A conviction for not have mandatory insurance is $500.  A conviction for speeding  1-20 mph over the speed limit is $120. Police officers have discretion to write the citation or not, but the fine is mandatory.

Here are some examples of truck violations with a range of fines:

Oversize Vehicles In 626 ILCS 5/15-113(b), the General Assembly sets the fine amounts for overwidth, overheight and overlength vehicles.  For a first conviction, the range of fines is $50 to $500. Further convictions yield a range of $500 to $1000.  Go back to the Great Dane/Chihuahua comparison.  Picture a nine-foot wide snow plow blade operated without a flashing yellow light and an 18” square flag.  Is it overwidth? For sure, by six-inches.  Could that be the Chihuahua compared to the Great Dane sixteen-foot wide load off its permit route?  Both vehicles are overwidth, but is the severity equal?

Violation of Permit When an oversize or overweight vehicle is operated under the authority of a special permit, the permit is considered valid provided the vehicle is on the assigned permit route and moving between the effective/expiration dates.  However, that does not mean there cannot be a violation of the valid permit.  Is the failure to display a yellow oversize vehicle sign during broad daylight on same severity level as an overwidth load operating during the night?  The ranges of fines for a violation of permit are $50 to $200 for a first conviction.

Refusal to Weigh When a trucker refuses the lawful order of a police officer (not a regulatory sign) to weigh the vehicle, or removes a portion of the load prior to weighing, a violation has occurred.  The range of fines is $500 to $2000. Does anyone really expect a police officer to stick with the low end of the fine range after an adversarial conflict with a driver who refuses to weigh?

Another wrinkle is that all these fines are considered “minor traffic offenses” in Supreme Court Rule 526(b)(1). Unlike overweight violations in Rule 526(b)(2), the police officer cannot decide what the fine should be (within the range) and take that for bail.  It doesn’t matter if the police officer wants to fine the driver the lowest or the highest fine, the bail is $120.  The police officer has no choice but to make the driver come to court to assess the discretionary penalty, which includes the cost of ridiculously high court fees and time off work.

Maybe it’s time to start removing fine ranges from the law and levy reasonable fines that can be collected at roadside.

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