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Tow Truck Registration – Part 1

Most police officers who specialize in truck enforcement will be the first to tell you that it is not the most exciting job ever. There is one task that needs to be done, and when the roads are empty, it is flat out boring. A few times a year though, police officers have a couple days when truck enforcement activity picks up because certain vehicle registration expires at different times during the year. On March 30th, Illinois apportioned plates expire. On June 30th, Illinois flat weight registration expires. Like all things related to truck law, there are exceptions to the rule…and with exceptions comes confusion. The article this week will address some of the unique issues about tow-truck registration, which will expire on December 31st.

The first concept to understand is that tow-truck plates, like all other flat weight trucks plates, are on a pay-to-play system. This means the greater the fee paid, the higher the maximum registered weight limit. Tow-trucks are second division vehicles (625 ILCS 5/1-146) just like other trucks, and are required to pay a fee for registered weight. When a second division vehicle is found operating without registration, it can be cited as an overweight on registration under 625 ILCS 5/3-401(d)(2). The maximum fine cannot exceed the cost of appropriate registration to cover its weight.

The second concept to understand is that the word “tow-truck” is a little too general. It is common speak to use the word “tow-truck”, but not all trucks which lawfully display tow-truck registration (or “TW” plates) actually engage in towing. The term “towing” refers to a power unit vehicle pulling a powerless vehicle behind it.

As it pertains to the common tow-truck, there are really two kinds: 1. Tow only – these trucks are not equipped to carry any load, and can only tow a vehicle on its stinger or sling. They are also referred to as single wheel lifts. 2. Rollback carriers – these trucks are commonly referred to as flatbeds. A rare few are equipped to only carry a load and not tow behind, but most modern rollbacks are also equipped with a single wheel lift. These trucks can perform two functions simultaneously.

A third concept to understand is that Illinois tow trucks pay the same fees as regular flat weight truck plates (625 ILCS 5/3-810.1). A flat weight “F” truck plate for 16,000 pounds costs $277. A tow truck plate with 16,000 pounds of registered weight also costs $277. The only difference is that the tow truck plate does not have a visible letter designation for each tier of registered weight like other flat weight plates. To determine the registered weight for a TW plate, the police officer must run it through the Secretary of State database or make a lawful stop and check the registration card.

There are only a few times in the Illinois Vehicle Code when the streams get crossed between Chapter 15 overweights and Chapter 3 overweights…and tow trucks is one of those times. In 625 ILCS 5/15-111(a)(12), the statute talks about registered weight, which is odd because registration issues should be in Chapter 3 with other registration statutes. This brings us to the fourth concept…the 3rd tow truck plate.

All vehicles in Illinois are required to be registered, even ones being towed away on a wrecker. The singular purpose of the 3rd tow truck plate is to magically “register” a vehicle being towed that does not have its own valid registration. The 3rd plate does not have any weight assigned, and it is improper to combine the weight of the 3rd plate with the weight of the power unit plate like truck-trailer combinations.

For our member police officers and truckers, we have a Standard of Practice (SOP-18) addressing this topic to download on our discussion forum. Next week, the article will focus on different towing situations and the proper methods of enforcement as it pertains to registration. Tow truck drivers – you only have a couple weeks until January 1…renew your tow truck plates soon!!


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