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PS, I Love/Hate You

Unless you are new, you are well aware the ITEA is just as much about trucking industry advocacy as it is about training and resourcing for law enforcement. For many years (and for many reasons) the two professions have been on opposite side of the battlefield. Great healing has occurred since the ITEA first launched, but there is one topic that is a quiet, brewing storm in the background: portable scales.

Here’s the reality – there will never will be consensus on the use of portable scales by law enforcement. Love them or hate them, they probably are never going away. Does that mean the use of portable scales is never abused by law enforcement? No. Does that mean trucking should just accept status quo? No.

There are two kinds of portable scales, axle load and wheel load weighers. Axle loads are large and heavy scales which are towed around on a trailer. Very few local units of government use these because of the cost and time it takes to set them up.

Local police do not have the authority to lay axle load scales on the highway and make all trucks weigh. This is why these scales are more commonly employed during a joint effort between the Illinois State Police, the Illinois Department of Transportation and some local police departments.

Because local police officers stop trucks one-at-a-time under the “reason to believe” doctrine, wheel load weighers are more practical for that type of activity. They are relatively light and portable compared to their axle load cousins, and one officer can quickly set them up by himself.

To understand portable scales and how Illinois has come to a loggerhead on their use, step back take an objective look at the law. The truth is the law does not have a heck of a whole lot to say about them.

Regardless of type, the law only has three main points about portable scale use:

1.   Training Any police officer who writes overweight tickets based on the evidence gained from portable scale use must have been trained and certified in a course accredited by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board. This does not apply to Illinois State Police troopers.

2.   Annual certification The Illinois Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Weights and Measures, has regulatory authority over the annual certification of portable scales. There is no end run around this regulation. Each year, IDOA must put a sticker on it.

3.   Exemption The National Institute of Standards and Technology has a handbook (#44) which governs how commercial vehicles are weighed. In commerce, CMVs are required to be weighed “full draft” only. However, the Illinois Vehicle Code exempts law enforcement from this, thereby allowing police officers to weigh axle-by-axle.

That’s it. The end. No more regulation. There are a lot of rumors about how portable scales should be deployed and operated, but it’s not in the law. Here are some of them:

1.   Portable scales must be used on level ground…not true. 2.   Trucks have to release their brakes on portable scales…not true. 3.   Police officers cannot use portable scales during excessive cold and heat…not true. 4.   Police officers must use dummy pads for all axles not being weighed…not true. 5.   Police officers cannot use portable scales on tag/drop axles…not true. 6.   Police officers must photograph or print the portable scale reading…not true.

Having said all that, any police officer weighing trucks in the manners described above, and thinks it to be okay, is very wrong. Conversely, anyone from the trucking industry who universally believes all portable scales are inaccurate is just as mistaken.

Even though Illinois law does not give any hard and fast rules for portable scale operation, there are many things a quality truck officer will do to ensure the weighing is accurate and reasonable. Here is a list of common sense practices a truck officer should follow:

1.   Make sure the ground you are weighing on is level and have the driver release his brakes to prove it. 2.   Don’t use portable scales when the temperature is above or below the manufacturer’s ratings. 3.   Use dummy pads on all adjacent axles not being weighed within a group or tandem. 4.   Use dummy pads on all axles if the vehicle has any amount of pressure adjusting axles. 5.   Either let the driver see the scale reading, or take pictures of the display. 6.   Always weigh both wheels on an axle simultaneously, never one at a time.

Using these recommendations may not change industry opinion on the use of portable scales, but it will go a long ways to prove the case in court. It will also help prevent defensive legislation which could further erode the ability of law enforcement to weigh trucks.

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