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Interview with the Michigan State Police

The Illinois Truck Enforcement Association is all about partnership in Illinois…whether between police, the trucking industry, or the legal community. In mid-October, leadership from the ITEA had the great privilege to attend the Mid-America Association of State Transportation Officials annual conference in East Lansing, Michigan. Each year MAASTO hosts this conference in a different member state. It is custom for a law enforcement representative from the host state to speak about commercial vehicle enforcement there. In 2012, a senior official from the Michigan State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division was on hand to talk about truck laws and regulations. Michigan has some very unique truck laws, and Lt. Patrick Morris from the MSP-CVED agreed to an interview for our blog.

ITEA: Thank you for taking the time out to speak with us Lieutenant! Can you tell us a little about your history with the MSP? Morris: I have been a member of the Michigan State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division for 17 years. I currently hold the rank of Lieutenant and title of District Commander. My primary responsibility is the deployment of 20 motor carrier personnel across 14 counties.

ITEA: We have always heard about Michigan having some fairly liberal weight laws, but a new term we learned at MAASTO was that Michigan is considered an “axle load” state, as opposed to Illinois being a “gross weight” state. Can you explain what it means to be an “axle load” state? Morris: Michigan allows more axles on the roadway than any other state (up to 11 without a permit) and more gross weight (up to 164,000 pounds depending on axle configuration). With the additional axles, Michigan exceeds the gross allowable weight under the federal bridge formula. The Michigan Department of Transportation has long held that axle weights, based on spacing, that exceed the allowable weight are primary factors in infrastructure deterioration.

ITEA: In Illinois, if a truck exceeds the federal bridge formula and/or 80,000 pounds gross, that’s it without a permit. But in Michigan, legal weight extends beyond 80,000 pounds. Does the federal bridge formula extend past 80,000 pounds as well? Morris: No, the bridge Formula does not extended beyond 80,000 lbs. After 80,000 we apply individual axle spacings verse grouping of axles to determine allowable gross/axle weight. (Click HERE to learn more about Michigan size & weight laws)

ITEA: At MAASTO, truckers were saying once the gross weight is north of 80,000 pounds, a 13,000 pound axle limit kicks in…is that true? Morris: The 13,000 pound limit applies when axle spacing is less than 9 feet between axles, but more than 3.5 feet.

ITEA: It’s not uncommon to see fuel tankers with 11-axles in Michigan. The typical fuel tanker in Illinois has a 9,000 gallon capacity, but usually can only carry about 8,500 gallons of gas and stay legal weight. What is the capacity of the tankers in Michigan? Morris: A fuel tanker can carry a maximum of 13,400 gallons of product.

ITEA: Obviously fuel is a divisible load. Is a weight permit required at all with these trucks? Morris: As a general rule, permits are not issued to vehicles exceeding 11 axles when the load is divisible. Vehicles that exceed 11 axles are required to have a permit.

ITEA: How do you weigh these vehicles with all these axles and higher gross weights at roadside? Morris: We use HAENNI brand wheel load scales on the roadside to conduct portable weighs. We have a mixture of split and platform scales at our weigh stations in New Buffalo, Grass Lake, Coldwater, Monroe, Fowlerville, Ionia, Cambridge and Powers.

ITEA: In Illinois, all Illinois State Police troopers start out working the road and then some move on to become motor carrier officers. Is this how it works in Michigan as well? Morris: Michigan motor carrier officers are not hired as troopers. Motor carrier officers do perform regular road patrol, but have limited authority as it pertains to passenger vehicles. Motor carrier officers enforce traffic safety laws on commercial vehicles, protect the infrastructure through aggressive size and weight enforcement, conduct commercial vehicle and driver inspections, and contribute to homeland security efforts by enforcing hazardous material regulations. (Click HERE to learn more about the MSP Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division)

ITEA: All Illinois State Troopers graduate from the academy with some level of CVSA certification. Do regular road troopers in Michigan perform CVSA inspections like the motor carrier officers? Morris: Troopers are not CVSA certified and therefore do not perform CVSA inspections. Troopers do stop commercial vehicles for violation of general state laws.

ITEA: Our organization is big on respecting the different authorities between regulatory agencies, particularly between local and state law enforcement. How do local Michigan police factor into truck enforcement? Morris: There are approximately 45 CVSA certified local officers performing inspections across the state. These officers are a valued partner and play an important role in the policing of CMV’s throughout Michigan. The Michigan State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division (CVED) ensures all local officers receive annual CVSA updates and adhere to CVSA inspection policy. The CVED also conducts CMV basic awareness classes for county, state and local law enforcement officers in an effort to get them more involved in basic CMV enforcement.

ITEA: That’s really encouraging to hear that locals are given some unique authority, but under the umbrella of the State…uniformity is so important. Does the MSP have a selection process for which local police agencies can become CVSA certified? Morris: There is no selection process by MSP. The local police departments chose their personnel and seek out CVSA training on their own or with our assistance.

ITEA: Illinois has a reputation for expensive truck registration. A 26,000 pound plate costs $561. An 80,000 pound plate costs $3191. What does similar registration cost in Michigan? Morris: A 26,000 pound plate in Michigan costs $558, and an 80,000 pound plate costs $1660. Any registration over 160,000 pounds costs $3117.

ITEA: Wow…that is significantly less expensive than our state. How are overweight fines calculated? Morris: Weight fines are calculated on the amount a vehicle is overweight on a per pound basis. Operating overweight is a civil infraction with a fine schedule of 3 cents per pound for each pound of excess load over 1,000 pounds when the excess is 2,000 pounds or less; 6 cents per pound of excess load when the excess is over 2,000 pounds but not over 3,000 pounds; 9 cents per pound for each pound of excess load when the excess is over 3,000 pounds but not over 4,000 pounds; 12 cents per pound for each pound of excess load when the excess is over 4,000 pounds but not over 5,000 pounds; 15 cents per pound for each pound of excess load when the excess is over 5,000 pounds but not over 10,000 pounds; and 20 cents per pound for each pound of excess load when the excess is over 10,000 pounds. Each axle is fined according to the amount they are over, or as determined by the Federal Bridge Formula if applicable. (Bridge Formula is only applicable to vehicles 80,000 pounds or less.

ITEA: Our overweight fines are calculated in increments of 500 pounds overweight. A 5000 pound overweight in Illinois is $1190, and a 10,000 pound overweight is $3750. How does that compare to Michigan? Morris: Using our formula, 5,000 pounds over allowed weight is $600, and 10,000 pounds over would be $1500.

ITEA: We learned at the MAASTO conference that Michigan increased the speed limit a few years ago for trucks. What impact has that had on traffic in Michigan? Morris: In October 2007, the speed limit for commercial vehicles weighing in excess of 10,000 pounds was raised from 55mph to 60. Prior to the change the average speed traveled was 64mph. We refer to this as the 85th percentile. Although the speed limit changed in 2007, the 85th percentile remained the same. The speed limit change had very little impact with driver behavior and the average rate of speed was virtually the same.

ITEA: One unique characteristic of Michigan is the hundreds of miles watery border with Canada. How does Canadian trucking impact enforcement efforts in Michigan? Morris: Michigan is a major thoroughfare for Canadian trucks traveling to the United States. There are three border crossings from Canada, two of which are the busiest in the nation for commercial vehicle traffic. The Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron averages 4,000 to 6,000 trucks per day. The Ambassador Bridge in Detroit averages 6,000 to 8,000 trucks per day. Even though there are differences in CMV laws between the United States and Canada, most Canadian trucks and drivers are in compliance with Federal and State laws. The borders provide a traffic choke-point which allows us to police the large number of CMVs more effectively.

ITEA: Good stuff Lieutenant! We appreciate you taking some valuable time away to educate us Illinois folks about how things work in a neighboring state. One last burning question….Wolverines or Spartans? Morris: Wolverines – Go Blue!

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