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The Odd Coupling

Anyone from the Chicagoland area can easily spot a true City-boy just by listening to the way he speaks. There is a tone of voice, a dialect, and a vernacular all its own to those born and raised in the City. You can just as easily spot a suburbanite pretending to be one of the Superfans as well…it is just not authentic. An expression commonly heard in City-slang is “a couple-three” (or “a couple-tree”). What this expression really means is there are two items in the subject, but the speaker wants to casually exaggerate and make it three. Sometimes on the highways we have “a couple-three” vehicles in combination. The article this week is all about the coupling devices that hold them together.

There are four basic kinds of coupling devices in truck world: 5th wheels, pintle hooks, ball hitches, and saddle-mounts. Each of these devices has unique parts necessary to their safe operation which are included in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. There is a host of criteria regarding coupling devices that could render a truck or trailer out-of-service when inspected by a certified commercial vehicle enforcement officer (CVEO).

A little review since it has been a month: In Illinois, only the Illinois State Police and a handful of civilian IDOT workers have inspection and enforcement authority of the FMCSR. Local police have none. As said before, every truck officer worth his salt should have a working knowledge of the FMCSR and be able to notice a dangerous situation. How to discover the problem and what to do with the observed violation is another story.

The FMCSR in Parts 393.70 and 393.71 delineate the coupling device requirements. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) publishes the North American Out-Of-Service Standards. Here is the list of coupling violations listed in the Illinois Vehicle Code:

We’re done. There are none. Not one word. The definition of a “5th wheel” (625 ILCS 5/1-120.5) is a nearly word-for-word repeat of the definition in Part 393.70(b). But a definition is a definition. It is not an enforcement section. There is no penalty assigned. The word “pintle” appears once in the definition of a maxi-cube vehicle. The word “hitch” appears twice in the certificate of title section and once in the length section. “Saddlemount” is listed three times in the length section. That’s it.

The clever local policeman however takes the abundance of enforcement criteria in the FMCSR and tries to shoehorn it into the unsafe vehicle equipment section of the IVC (625 ILCS 5/12-101). Read more about that in detail HERE, but the crux is that to cite a violation this section, there has to actually be a violation of Chapter 12 itself. However, there is not a single word in Chapter 12 of the IVC about coupling devices.

Here is a list of coupling problems and their corresponding IVC violation:ProblemIVC ViolationMissing or no safety chainsNoneCracked drawbar eyeNoneMissing bolt of 5th wheelNoneTrailer dog-tracking more than 3″NoneMissing bracket pinNoneImproperly engaged kingpinNoneBroken weldNoneLoose mounting of pintle or ball hitchNoneReduced horn on pintle hookNoneFailure to criss-cross safety chainsNoneSo spring closer on safety chain hookNoneCracked kingpinNone

Unfortunately, these violations are being taught to local police officers in a state certified class which holds its okay to shoehorn them into 12-101. Wrong.

So what is a local police officer to do when he happens upon one of these violations in plain view (not conducting an unconstitutional fishing expedition)? Probably best to inform the driver of the problem and strongly suggest he fix the problem before moving on. Maybe take a picture and send it to the favorite CVEO from the Illinois State Police. The trooper with the authority can then decide if he wants to come take any enforcement action.

At the end of the day, there is little the local law enforcement officer can do. But there’s always a couple that think they can do more.

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