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Stretching Out

Sitting still has never done a person good. People need to get up, move and exercise to maintain their health. Holding fast to sedentary habits leads to all sorts of medical issues. To combat the illnesses associated with doing nothing, one must purpose to change or atrophy sets in. There is no greater example of this in truck law than vehicle length limits. Read on to learn about a radical change to Illinois length law now sitting on the Governor’s desk!

No one would legalize murder to save money on prosecuting and incarcerating criminals. Nobody would raise the DUI per se limit to .200 to accommodate drunk drivers needing to get to work. Merely changing laws for the sake of an evolving culture, which could put public safety at risk, is hardly advisable.

However, vehicle length law is not murder. It’s not as dangerous as excessive speeding or driving highly intoxicated. Yes, there is a length ceiling which trucks probably should not exceed which could put public safety and infrastructure at risk, but that does not mean current length standards are appropriate either.

The overall length law for semi-tractor trailer combinations has not changed in Illinois since the 1950s. Bumper to bumper, the maximum legal measurement for this configuration of vehicles on local roads is 55’.

Unless a 53’ trailer is coupled with a 2’ tractor, these combinations will always be over length on local roads. Should the law change solely to legalize illegal operation of vehicles? Couldn’t carriers simply choose to operate shorter trailers?

More than forty years have passed since 53’ trailers have been introduced on the highways of Illinois and the law has not changed to accommodate them on local roads. They are the industry standard for truckload operations.

Opponents have argued the infrastructure of Illinois cannot handle the longer combinations, and in theory there is some truth to this. Many intersections in cities and villages were engineered for shorter combinations. However, as communities have grown, much infrastructure has been modified to meet changing industry standards even if statute has not changed.

Further, there is a lack of scholarly studies which prove longer combinations have played any role in jeopardizing public safety or are responsible for a disproportional amount of damage to the road system.

The reality is these combinations have been operating for decades with a minuscule percentage of problems compared to mega volume of 53’ trailers on the highways.

What has happened is a dramatic increase in enforcement of this ancient length standard. Truckers in violation of this law, although having done nothing else wrong, have also been found liable when crashes occur due to the negligence of other motorists.

The argument is this, “Hey – if the trucker would have complied with the [ridiculous] length law, it would not have been on this road and my intoxicated client with a suspended driver’s license would not have run into the truck and killed himself.” That’s fantastic. Thanks Mr. Lawyer.

Similar to increasing all highways to a uniform 80,000 pound maximum gross weight limit across all highways in 2010, Illinois is last to hold onto a 55’ overall length limit for semis. Failure to update this law keeps business from moving into Illinois and enforcement of the law is pushing business out. One more log thrown on the damnation fire for a state teetering on the brink of financial hell.

Both the Illinois House and Senate have passed HB 683 which will now move to Governor Rauner to sign or veto. If signed into law, the overall length of semi-tractor trailer combinations will increase from 55’ to 65’ on local roads. This will cover most 53’ trailers pulled by day cabs, but those trailers being towed by a sleeper cab will most likely still be in violation.

The law also provides two carrots to local government. First, it allows local government to seek compensation for damage to infrastructure caused by combinations exceeding 55’. Also, the law protects local government from being mandated to improve infrastructure to accommodate the longer vehicles (which were already operating anyhow).

A small bit of improvement for Illinois. Here’s to hoping the next common sense vehicle length law change does not take four decades to pass.

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