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Impounding Trucks: Part 2 – Administrative Tows

Hey – did you hear the government is strapped for cash? Not really a new concept, and most people have their own personal opinion about why the crisis occurred and how to solve the problems. Contrary to popular belief, most (not all) local governments in Illinois have been running a pretty lean budget the last 5-6 years.  New revenue streams are constantly being sought out. One constantly evolving revenue stream is “administrative adjudication”. This week’s article, a second in a series about impounding trucks, will focus on administrative towing.

Like most concepts, there are pros and cons, and the best solutions are somewhere in the middle. The Illinois Truck Enforcement Association is constantly straddling that delicate line because it is in the balance the best enforcement occurs. With the best enforcement comes profitable trucking. Administrative adjudication is no different.

First, the pros. Everyone reading this article lives in a community. The cost of doing business by each unit of local government (municipalities, townships, counties, libraries, schools, park districts, etc) in a community is funded through taxes and user fees. No one wants to see their taxes or user fees rise, and administrative adjudication helps keeps funds in the community.

The reality is the cost of adjudication through the circuit court system is exponentially more expensive to the payee than administrative adjudication. The initial purpose for administrative adjudication was to provide relief to the courts for parking tickets. Then health and building code violations were added. These matters didn’t fly high the angst flag because they were violation unique to the community and their ordinances.

Now, the cons. The problem isn’t so much the practice of administrative adjudication, but how it’s applied.  As local government saw the financial rewards of administrative adjudication, the creative juices started flowing. In 1999, then Governor George Ryan successfully sued five suburban communities who created an alternative traffic enforcement program by administratively adjudicating moving traffic violations.

In the mid-2000’s, the beleaguered automated red-light traffic program was added to the rolls of permissible administrative adjudication.  In the last year, automated speed enforcement and administrative towing have been added.

The interesting thing about administrative towing was that local government began doing it before the law prescribed it. The towns that initiated administrative towing did it by exercising home-rule authority because there were no conflicting state laws.

The General Assembly, in Public Act 97-0109 (effective 1/1/2012), added administrative towing to the state law and set limits to the practice. By doing this, the legislature effectively prevented home-rule authorities from administratively towing for any reason they wanted by setting up a conflict between local ordinance and state law.

The lesson to be understood is that when a vehicle is towed by the police, two parallel things could be happening. First, the tow is occurring pursuant to the state law. As discussed last week, a truck driver who has been arrested (taken into custody) for an offense can have his truck impounded.

Secondly, the same tow could also be an administrative tow, which means the owner of the vehicle has to pay a fine (usually $500) to the local government before the vehicle will be released from the pound.

So what does this have to do with trucks?  In 625 ILCS 5/11-208.7, the state law has limited administrative towing to the following offenses (summarized):

  1. Driving Under the Influence (DUI – alcohol or drugs)

  2. Vehicles operated in the commission of criminal (not traffic) misdemeanors and felonies

  3. Vehicles operated by people who unlawfully possess cannabis or controlled substances

  4. Suspended/revoked driver’s licenses. Exception – no admin tow if the suspension/revocation was for unpaid parking/moving violations or vehicle emissions violations.

  5. Expired driver’s licenses (more than one year) or never having obtained a driver’s license

  6. Vehicles operated by people with warrants for their arrest

So what is missing from this list?

  1. Trucks operated by a driver who does not have a CDL when required

  2. Trucks operated by a driver whose CDL is cancelled or disqualified

  3. Trucks operated in violation of driver’s license classification 

  4. Trucks without valid safety tests

  5. Trucks that are overweight or oversize

  6. Trucks without valid registration

  7. Trucks that have not paid fuel tax

  8. Trucks with equipment violations

Some of the bullet points listed above may result in an arrest and lawful impoundment of the truck, but an administrative tow fee cannot be added because the state law does not prescribe it. Some of the offenses listed above require the police or driver to remedy the situation before the vehicle can continue on its way, but it cannot be towed administratively. Some of these offenses carry high fines, but an extra $500 administrative tow fee cannot be added.

No one is shedding a tear for the drunk driver, the bank robber or the fugitive who is saddled with a $500 administrative tow fee. It is an effective deterrent. It’s the misapplied law which irritates those who did not deserve it.

Next week, this article will discuss the most egregious impoundment of them all…the ransom tow.

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