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We All Wear Masks

In 1994, actor Jim Carey starred in a comedy called “The Mask.” Carey plays character Stanley Ipkiss who has a reserved, vanilla personality and lackluster social life. He locates a magical mask containing the spirit of Loki, a Norse god which transforms him into a boisterous character who exudes confidence, charm and wit – the exact opposite of his true persona. However, his antics become increasingly perverse and destructive. Ultimately, Ipkiss destroys the mask to prevent it from completely dismantling his life. The moral of the story is that while you can mask certain elements of yourself, you can never truly escape who you are.  A current hot button topic in the world of commercial vehicle safety is a concept called “masking”, and the article this week will explain why it is so destructive to a CDL holder.

Masking occurs when a CDL holder receives a citation for a traffic violation, which is later reduced or amended to a different offense to avoid negative sanctions. This concept was the primary focus of a recent conference attended by law enforcement, prosecutors, judges and regulatory agencies from around the nation.

The overwhelming sentiment from the conference was masking violations is detrimental to the safety of motorists traveling on the nation’s roadways. Masking allows dangerous drivers to continue their unsafe driving habits without ever being fully accountable for their actions. Drivers who continuously ask officers, prosecutors and judges to “cut slack”, or make deals to protect the CDL holder’s interests, may never have to face the consequences for their behavior.

The solution seems simple enough – don’t allow violators who hold CDLs to hide their poor driving habits behind amended or reduced charges. After all, CDL holders should be held to a higher standard, right? Well, the answer is not so simple.

The Illinois Truck Enforcement Association has always prided itself on bridging the gap between law enforcement and the trucking industry. More problems can be solved working together than divided. Masking is another one of those problems which can be overcome through unity and accountability.

To say CDL holders should always be held to a higher standard and should have to face the maximum consequences for every mistake is not only wrong, it defies everything the ITEA stands for. The fact is mistakes are made by the best and the worst of us. The important thing is to discern who’s making the mistakes, the intent of the person and the likelihood the person will learn from the consequence.

However, carte blanche masking of traffic violations because the person holds a CDL is not the proper way to handle cases either. Some individuals who go without proper discipline for their actions are likely to repeat their behavior. This means drivers who take unreasonable risks while driving may continue to do so with the feeling of invincibility because they’re CDL holders.

Conversely, this doesn’t mean every CDL holder is brazen enough to drive without due regard for the safety of other motorists because they drive a commercial vehicle for a living. Repeat offenders almost certainly represent a very small minority of all operators.

Accountability is the arguably the most important core value of the ITEA, but accountability comes in many different facets. As it pertains to the current topic, every entity needs to be accountable for their actions.

To the CDL holders, continue to drive safe and be responsible. If you happen to find yourself on the receiving end of a traffic ticket, understand the officer has made a determination the violation was worthy of a citation. Take a moment to think about the events leading up to the traffic stop and what could have been done to prevent the violation from occurring. Learn from the mistake made and understand the officer is not trying to ruin your livelihood, but make the roadways safer. If you believe the officer was wrong, you are entitled to your day in court.

To the police officers, use your authority responsibly. Because you can write a citation, doesn’t mean you always should. CDL holders have much invested in their licenses, and while they do have more skin in the game, mistakes do happen. Do your best to determine the type of driver with whom you are dealing. Is it the professional who made a simple error, or the habitual offender? While this isn’t always possible, use your best judgment. Chances are you’ll get it right.

To the prosecutors, do your homework on the history of the driver. Don’t assume the person holding a CDL is a pillar of the professional trucking community. On the other hand, don’t assume every truck driver is attempting to get one over on you or will continue dangerous driving habits because you cut them some slack. Most drivers depend on the validity of their CDL to put a roof over their head and food on their table.

What is the best solution to masking? Stanley Ipkiss would likely tell you wearing his magical mask in moderation would have positively impacted his life without causing harm to others. Rampant abuse of the mask, however, is a recipe for disaster.

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