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The Good, the Bad, and the CDL

When the Illinois Truck Enforcement Association began in 2009, the founding members created a list of issues that law enforcement routinely was enforcing incorrectly, and set out to make it right. Many of those items have been discussed on this blog in the past such as local enforcement of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Many of those issues have been successfully corrected through legislative action and policy administration. One of the first resource documents copyrighted by the ITEA was the “CDL Flowchart”, as enforcement of CDLs was all over the map. Until now, it has remained relatively the same…but as we embark into 2013, a major change has been made….and more is probably on the way!

The most important concept to understand is that CDLs are governed by Federal law. This means that each state must administer and enforce it’s CDL policy uniformly with other states for interstate commercial motor vehicle traffic. This concept is being displayed in the CDL Medical Merge process nationwide.

When the ITEA first tackled this issue with the CDL flowchart, the common teaching about criterion for CDL classification revolved around a three-prong comparison: 1 – registered weight, 2 – actual weight on the scale, and 3 – manufacturers suggested gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR)…and the police were instructed to use whichever weight was higher. Entirely incorrect.

First on the chopping block was registered weight. This was never criterion by federal law. The Illinois administrative code had language to this effect, but it changed in January 2009 when the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) struck the language from the books altogether.

Next up was actual weight (on the scale). Both the federal law and the Illinois administrative rules make mention of this, but Illinois administrative rule was more restrictive. The Illinois administrative rule said actual weight could only be used in absence of a manufacturers GVWR for a trailer. It made no mention about what the police should do when the manufacturers GVWR is missing for a power unit. This is the battleground on which the ITEA has stood for over three years.

In early 2012, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), who has regulatory authority over CDLs, attempted to change their rules in order to satisfy a New England federal court ruling. In late 2012, the FMCSA pulled the rule change after adversarial comments were made. BUT, there is a good chance the FMCSA will be passing a rule change in 2013 that will dramatically change the criterion for CDLs…again. If and when that occurs, expect the ITEA to promptly make the necessary changes to our resource documents.

The potential FMCSA rule change spurred the ITEA into action. The policy of not using actual weight on the scale as a CDL criterion when the power unit is missing the manufacturers GVWR was reviewed. The FMCSA was consulted, and it is their guidance that in absence of the manufacturer GVWR of a power unit, the actual weight could be used. This is also the method being instructed at the Illinois State Police academy. The CDL Services division of the Illinois Secretary of State also agreed that enforcement could use this criterion, but they had to follow the administrative code which limits them to the manufacturers GVWR for CDL testing purposes.

All that to say this: the ITEA has ratified a change to the CDL flowchart and SOP-11. This change allows enforcement to use the actual weight of the power unit to determine CDL classification only when the manufacturers GVWR is missing. It is improper to compare the two and use the higher weight. If the manufacturers GVWR is present, it always takes precedent.

Why is this so important? Not having a CDL when required is a Class-A misdemeanor. Most local police departments have a policy that misdemeanor traffic offenses are custodial arrests…handcuffs, fingerprints, mug shots, and a record. The truck (and its trailer) most likely will get towed. That is a big deal.


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