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The sticker shock of an overweight citation is remarkable. Whether it’s a $10,000 ticket or a $500 ticket, it’s a lot of money for a so-called “traffic” violation. Regardless of how robust a company is, every dollar counts in a weak, cut-throat economy. A confusing part of truck law is understanding how the total fines are calculated. Even more confusing is how the fines are supposed to be dispersed! The article this week will discuss an interesting portion of an overweight fine…the surcharge.

Let’s be clear. The police officers of Illinois did not create the fines. Yes, overweight citations generate more revenue than other minor traffic violations. However, do not kid yourself that local police departments who issue the citations reap all of that money. That is simply not true.

The three main portions of a fine are: 1.   The statutory fine – this is set by the General Assembly (your elected leaders). 2.   The surcharge – also a statutory fee. 3.   The court costs – allowed by statute, set by the individual circuit court in each county (by an elected clerk).

The best way to understand the surcharge is to change your viewpoint of it. Instead of thinking of it as part of the fine, think of the surcharge as a “tax” on the fine. The General Assembly has created a sliding scale for the fine portion based on how much weight the vehicle(s) exceed the legal limit by.

The authority for the surcharge is derived from 730 ILCS 5/5-9-1. Here is how the surcharge is calculated: 1.   Take the total statutory fine amount, for instance $1050. 2.   Divide the fine by 40, which in this case is 26.25. 3.   Round up to the nearest whole number. The number is not rounded down, as the statute says “or fraction thereof”. In this case, the dividend is rounded up to 27. 4.   Multiply the dividend by 10, or $270. This is the surcharge amount.

In rough (very rough) numbers, the surcharge is usually about 25% of the statutory fine. That’s a lot of money. What $270 is to an overweight fine of $1050, $2630 is to an overweight fine of $10,500. Tack on another $200 in court fees, and the total bail comes out to $13,300.

If you are reading this and you are in the industry, you are probably not very happy. Please understand that the local police agency who wrote the ticket gets absolutely zero dollars of the surcharge and zero dollars of the court fees. Of the $10,500 statutory fine, the local town is entitled to half by statute ($5750), but Supreme Court Rule 529 only gives the police agency 44.5% of that fine ($1138.31).

That’s still a lot of fine revenue for one traffic stop, but is only 11% of the total bail amount. Where the rest of the fine money goes is a colossal disaster to understand, and it is no different with the $2630 in surcharge funds.

But guess what? A portion of the surcharge revenue is allocated to the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board. These statutory revenues help equip police training, which includes truck enforcement training.

Now here’s the real irony. The law authorizing the surcharge specifically says it is NOT to be collected for violations of registration. In other words, if the police officer writes an “overweight” on registration citation, he cannot collect the surcharge in the bail/fine.

However, for over 20 years, local law enforcement was improperly trained to collect the surcharge on all overweight citations, including those for overweight on registration. It wasn’t until the conception of the ITEA that this faulty, destructive training was exposed.

How many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in overweight “tax” surcharges were collected during that time frame by local law enforcement? These are the same taxes which partially financed the very training teaching police officers improperly! Don’t blame the police officers themselves…they were just following a leader like they were told to do.

If the carrier industry is going to be taxed at such a heavy rate for being overweight, the ITEA would be happy to host a debate arguing the merits of it. But at the end of the day, if those dollars are going to be used for training police officers to do truck enforcement, that training needs to be authoritative.

Training which is of the highest quality. Training which is applauded by the industry. Training which is supported by the state regulatory agencies. Training which teaches police officers to do their jobs, but to do it with respect and compassion. Training which teaches police officers to protect the industry. This is the training police officers receive from the ITEA.

A quick way to gauge the heart of a truck enforcement officer is by the tone and method in which he delivers the bad news. Regardless of how an officer personally feels about the fine structure, there should never be high-fives or laughter. That is a slap in the face of a trucker, far worse than the fine or the surcharge, which he doesn’t get a piece of anyhow.

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