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Up or Down?

The introduction to this article serves as a reminder that all Illinois truck & trailer flat weight base plates were due for renewal on Thursday, June 30th.  Luckily, the Secretary of State is also open on Saturdays!  While the topic of remembering important things is flowing, let this article provide a second reminder; drop your axles.

Call it what you will.  Drop, tag, cheater, booster, lift, etc.  This article sends a reminder to engage adjustable axles as required.  Not vertically, but horizontally.  Tandem axles on trailers slide back and forth, a fifth wheel slides front to rear and adjustable axles move up and down.  The ITEA has discussed lift axles in previous articles, and even has a Standard of Practice explaining lift axles.  The SOP is openly available to all ITEA members.  While the purpose of lift axles is obvious, some of the rules surrounding them are not.

The Illinois Vehicle Code (IVC) is silent as to rules and regulations regarding the use of adjustable axles. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) mentions adjustable axles only once in its thousands of pages of rules and regulation.  The FMSCR states under 393.207(b): “Adjustable axles. Adjustable axle assemblies shall not have locking pins missing or disengaged.”

That’s it.

However, adjustable axles are mentioned and covered in the International Registration Plan.  The rules of IRP dictate, for purposes of registration under the IRP plan, “an axle is any such assembly whether or not it is load bearing only part of the time.”

This means 3-axle vehicles, weighing less than 26,000 pounds, which only have two axles engaged can be considered apportioned.  It also means 3-axle trucks coming into Illinois bearing foreign base plates are required to have apportioned registration whether the lift axle is engaged or not.

Ask any experienced truck officer how often they encounter loaded vehicles having a lift axle disengaged and they will say it happens all the time.  Most truckers tell officers they didn’t think they needed it, they don’t like how it makes the truck start/stop on wet pavement or it makes cornering turns difficult.

Earlier this year on a rainy day in the western suburbs of Chicago, a certified ITEA truck officer was following an 8-axle permit load traveling on a state highway.  The officer was able to locate a valid permit for the truck, but noticed when the vehicle turned left onto another continuous state highway, the driver lifted an adjustable drive axle just before it made its turn.

Once the truck finished its turn, the driver lowed the axle back to the ground.  Since the Illinois Vehicle Code and the Illinois Department of Transportation (the permit issuing authority) grants no special provision or authority for truckers to raise adjustable axles while turning, the officer stopped the truck.

The officer told the driver that he was in violation of his permit when raising his axle to turn.  The driver told the officer that the adjustable axle also serves as a steering axle and when the roads are slippery, the axle tends to push the truck while turning making it difficult to maneuver the truck in tight turns.

The officer weighed the truck, and found the drive tandem was overweight on its permit by more than ten thousand pounds because the axle was lifted.  In his discretion, the certified ITEA officer decided against writing the trucker a ticket for several thousand dollars.

Could the officer have issued a citation?  Yes.  Would the trucker have had any recourse other than a court battle?  No. Hopefully this situation strengthened and protected the bond between the trucking industry and the law enforcement community who serves them, the decision was binding only to this one incident.

In the end, trucks must have as many axles on the ground as the permit stipulates.  There are no exceptions provided.  While a driver may have a rational and articulable reason for raising an adjustable axle, the letter of the law governing an overweight permit says they cannot lift it at all.

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