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The Exception Proves the Problem

In 2004, there was no bigger animated film than The Incredibles. The evil antagonist Syndrome, a self-made, artificial “superhero”, created technology which would grant any average person superhero powers. He justified his insanity by claiming “when everyone’s super, no one will be”. Syndrome’s warped ideology is a caricature of many things, truck law being one example. The article this week will look at how watering down laws makes them practically pointless in an effort to make all trucks equal.

In a perfect world, all things are equal. But it’s not a perfect world. Everything is not apples to apples. Some people are highly intelligent. Some are super athletes. Some are wealthy. Others are none of those things.

Spend a semester in a college level sociology class and you will hear talking heads working towards a single Utopian theory which concisely explains all human behavior. It’s the intellectual one-size-fits-all, and it will never be accomplished.

Legislation is similar. In an effort to do right by society, legislatures ratify laws which are meant to better the lives of their constituents. As luck would have it, no one law perfectly fits everyone, so the laws must have exceptions. Truck law is no different, and arguably one of the most excepted laws enforced by police officers. Here are three examples.

Example One – Weight Laws

The State of Illinois has four foundational weight laws: single axle weight, tandem axle weight, gross weight and bridge formula weight. These are contained in 625 ILCS 5/15-111(a). There are nineteen numbered exceptions to this law, and buried within each of the exceptions are more sub-exceptions, limitations and qualifications for each.

There are good reasons for these exceptions and they were hard fought and won by special interest lobbyists. The question is at what point does legal weight become useless? If every configuration and commodity has an exception to the rule, is it time to scrap the law altogether? (For the record, the ITEA is NOT endorsing this idea.)

The FAST Act required states to consider raw milk as a non-divisible load for the purpose of overweight permitting. This was the first time the Illinois legislature codified a specific commodity as a non-divisible load. A slippery slope for sure, as each sector of the trucking industry will surely begin campaigning to carry more weight in excess of legal.

That pesky “non-divisible load” definition keeps getting in the way though. Is it unthinkable to forecast a day when there are dozens of exceptions to “non-divisible load”? Is it fair to those who don’t have the resources to pay lobbyists to be the lone ducks having to play by non-excepted laws?

Example Two – Hours of Service

In recent years, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration overhauled the hours of service laws. For sure drivers shouldn’t be tired while driving as it directly correlates to highway fatalities. However, the universal application of the law does not meet the reality of many trucking operations who have the ability to operate safely outside these stringent regulations.

As to be expected, there are a host of exceptions to the hours of service laws for short haul  operations, interstate vs intrastate, hazmat drivers and most recently a well-deserved exception for specialized carriers on their meal breaks. If there needs to be so many exceptions to the regulation, maybe the root regulation itself is inadequate?

Example Three – Illinois Idling Laws

Sleeping people (usually people who foolishly bought a home next to a truck lot or within earshot of loading docks) do not like the sound of diesel engines churning. In response, the Illinois legislature created idling laws so as not to disturb those who count sheep.

First, the truck has to be idling in one of nine counties (out of 102) and in portions of two others. Second, the truck can’t be idling for more than ten minutes in any given sixty minute period. Still following along? Good, because there are sixteen numbered exceptions from this point forward.

The honest truth is it’s almost impossible to create a scenario when a truck is idling unlawfully, thereby rendering the law useless.

It’s a good thing Syndrome was only a cartoon character.

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