Special Mobile Equipment – Week 1

It’s a truck! It’s a machine! It’s…it’s..special mobile equipment? There are few things that cause second glances from drivers than the sight of construction machines, slow moving vehicles and other strange vehicles sharing the road with regular cars and trucks. These machines are unique looking and have unique rules. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misunderstanding about what qualifies as special mobile equipment (SME) and its unique rules. Over the next two weeks this blog will look at two areas of confusion surrounding SME. First up? Registration.

Before digging too deep into this topic, it should be noted all ITEA members have access to our Standard of Practice (SOP-29) regarding proper enforcement of SME weight laws, including registration. Understanding SME law can definitely be confusing. It is like looking at something through binoculars first, instead of standing back and seeing the bigger picture.

The first concept to understand is the definition, found in 625 ILCS 5/1-191. This paragraph lists a plethora of vehicles that are considered special mobile equipment…cranes, bucket loaders and asphalt spreaders are just a few. Some are power units, some are trailing units. The key part of the definition is the line “including, but not limited to:” Could there be a master list out there with more vehicles considered SME? As a matter of fact there is. And it resides in the office of the Illinois Secretary of State Commercial & Farm Truck Division.

When a person needs to determine if their machinery should be considered SME or not, a case study is opened by SOS. It is in their final discretion whether or not the vehicle in question requires registration. Since SOS is the authority on registration, their word is final. The SOS C&FT division has files upon files of cases they have studied over the years.

The reason this is so important is because 2nd division vehicles (trucks/trailers) are generally required to purchase weighted registration under 625 ILCS 5/3-401D(A), with some exceptions. If a 2nd division vehicle has not purchased weighted registration as required, the vehicle may be considered overweight on registration, and the fine is calculated using the cost of the appropriate license plate to cover the gross weight of the vehicle. This can range from $158 for an 8,000 pound B-truck plate to $3191 for an 80,000 pound Z-truck plate. It is an expensive problem for someone to have as they will basically have to buy the plate once with the fine and then buy the plate a second time for real from the SOS.

SME is not required to purchase weighted registration, or any registration at all for that matter. As in all things truck law, there is usually an exception for every rule, and the exception for SME is found in 625 ILCS 5/3-402(A)(3). This means that equipment listed in the definition of SME, or as determined by the SOS, does not have to purchase license plates. Game over. The owner may, at his own choosing, purchase “exempt vehicle” plates to mount on the SME. These plates carry no weight and serve only to identify the owner of the SME.

It is understandable why police officers may err by thinking SME needs registration and improperly write an overweight on registration citation. SME is a close cousin of 2nd division vehicles, but that does not make them anymore a 2nd division vehicle than being a Canadian makes a person an American simply because they are both human beings.

However, it is not the job of police officers to try and interpret the law that has already been interpreted by the agency responsible to do so. If there is dispute between the police officer and the driver/owner, a simple phone call or emailed photo to SOS may easily clear up the mess. The drivers name and contact info can be gathered and a citation issued a later date if need be. Always better to get an authoritative answer before making a wrong decision.

And no matter what, whether the vehicle stopped is exempt SME or a truck/trailer requiring weighted registration, the lack of registration NEVER preempts the axle/gross weight laws of Chapter 15 of the Illinois Vehicle Code. Further, the vehicle is NEVER fined according to the chart in 625 ILCS 5/15-113. The two chapters are mutually exclusive of each other in this regard. The appropriate method to fine the driver is listed in the paragraph above.


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