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Raising the Red Flag

In recent years, there has been quite a controversy about flags in the United States. As the political polarization of this nation continues to divide, arguments over the display of Old Glory, the Confederate flag and even the Blue Line flag (to commemorate fallen police officers) have been subject to heated debate. The Illinois Vehicle Code (IVC) has something to say about flags too, and unfortunately there is not much to debate.

However, flags on trucks are a source of confusion. This is because the legislature has specialized in writing language throughout the years which lack harmonization.

It would seem simple enough to say if a vehicle is required to display a red flag, the specifications of the flag would be consistent throughout the Code. As usual, this would be faulty thinking.

Here are some excerpts from the IVC when flags are required to be displayed on trucks and other vehicles.

Snow Plow Blades – 625 ILCS 5/15-101(c)

Legal width for any vehicle is 8’6”, including snow plow blades. However, snow plow blades can extend up to 12’ wide when certain conditions are met, one of which is displaying an 18” square flag on the driver’s corner of the blade.

Note the only requirement for these flags is to be 18” square. Fly the 18” square red ITEA flag. Fly the blue Chicago Cubs W flag. The law does not limit creative flagging, but clean, red flags are advisable.

Implements of Husbandry – 625 ILCS 5/15-102(b)(2)(B)

Scroll down a few paragraphs and find flag requirements for overwidth implements of husbandry (aka “farm equipment” for the lay reader). Like snow plow blades, these flags must be 18” square.

Unlike snow plow blades, the flags must be clean and bright red. What qualifies as “clean” and “bright” are subjective and left to the interpretation of the police officer, which is not always a good idea. Also, these flags must be free from advertising, words, emblems or insignia. No ITEA or Chicago Cubs W flags for Farmer Jim.

Portable Buildings – 625 ILCS 5/15-102(b)(3)

Moving an overwidth portable building? A red flag will be needed, but unlike the flag scenarios above, two flags are required. These flags must be red (not “bright” red) and only have to be 12” square. The flags also must be cloth, so no cheap plastic imitations of red. Be mindful where the flags are mounted, as the lawmakers have a prescription for this too.

Projecting Loads – 625 ILCS 5/12-204

The weekend warrior picks up some 12’ base trim and loads the merchandise in the back of his Ford Explorer with the rear glass up. Guess what? It the material projects more than 4’ from the back of the vehicle, and during daylight hours, guess what he needs? You guessed it. A red flag.

But it’s not only limited to a red flag, but could also be a red cloth. Notice this does not require the red flag to be made of cloth, only that a red cloth is an acceptable substitute for a red flag of any consistency. Either way, the choice belongs to the driver, but it has to be a minimum 12” square.

The more important lesson here is that while this statute does not reside in Chapter 15 of the IVC like other weight, size and load laws, this applies to all vehicles. This includes commercial vehicles with loads projecting more than 4’ to the rear.

2nd Division Vehicles – 625 ILCS 5/12-702(a)(3)

All second division vehicles (trucks, trailers and buses) weighing more than 8,000 pounds (on the scale) must carry two red-cloth flags which are 12” square or larger. Not two red-plastic flags.

Wide Loads – Administrative Code Title 92 Part 554.417

While not in the IVC, the Administrative Code has the force of law. This section is the regulatory authority for those vehicles operating oversize loads on a valid permit, issued for the state highways, by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

When vehicles are overwidth, they must display flags which wave freely in the air, within the same specs as flags in the implements of husbandry section above. Further, these flags must be displayed on the extremities of an overwidth load, and at the extreme ends of all projections, protrusions and overhangs. All four corners of a house trailer must have flags displayed.

Local permit authorities may have their own rules for flags on permit loads. Best to check with them before moving.

For police officers, don’t take enforcement action based on assumptions of what a “flag” means. Read the law critically first. Truckers, do the same or you might find yourself waving a white flag instead.

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