Truck enforcement is a challenging field for police officers due to the complex laws that surround trucking. To help law enforcement agencies within Illinois sort it out, 10 suburban-Chicago police officers who specialize in truck enforcement met in 2009 and started the Illinois Truck Enforcement Association.
The association is open not only to law enforcement officers and agencies but also to trucking companies and attorneys. By welcoming all sides, the group intends to provide education, open dialogue and access to resources in order to keep roads safe.
“Truck laws are large and complicated,” said Sean Connolly, an ITEA board member and an attorney. He noted officers also observe truck dimensions, including size and width, not just weight violations. “It’s a highly specialized field, a niche area.”
Given the complexity of truck laws, there are margins for error. “One thing I see often is jurisdiction issues,” Connolly said. “The first time I see a ticket I look to see the jurisdiction.”
In Illinois, there are three main entities that perform truck enforcements: Illinois State Police, county police and municipal police. Each entity has its own jurisdictions. If an officer writes a ticket outside of his or her jurisdiction, Connolly explained, it is not a proper ticket.
Within his or her jurisdiction, though, any sworn officer can enforce Illinois State Vehicle Code or any local city ordinance, though most municipalities adopt the Illinois Vehicle Code in its entirety. However, only state officers can enforce federal vehicle codes.
“It’s best to have a designated truck enforcement officer,” said Connolly. These officers must be certified to operate portable scales, which in turn must be certified by the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
Officers not certified to use portable scales use scale stations, including private scales like those at quarries. However, officers need to be careful which scales they use.
“Private scales still have to be certified,” said Connolly. He noted officers also have to find the closest scale, within reason.
Another common mistake beyond jurisdiction is being overweight on registration. “Fines cannot exceed the cost of registration.” He noted officers sometimes use the wrong weight chart or apply surcharges.
Some officers also believe they can impound vehicles on overweight violations, which is not the case. Connolly explained there are two things they can do: hold the driver or have the driver make the load legal. The latter can include having another vehicle brought in to take those extra pounds. This is often done when an officer is not comfortable with the overweight vehicle going onto the road. Fines for overweight vehicles are compiled by the Illinois General Assembly and based on the amount a truck is overweight, increasing by 500-pound increments.
“Officers need to be careful with what they do with the vehicle,” said Connolly. “The municipality could get in a lawsuit and pay out thousands of dollars.” Companies can sue for lost time on the road and lost merchandise. An example of a possible lawsuit is if a truck is carrying produce and the produce goes rotten while the vehicle is impounded.
To prevent such liabilities, municipalities and police departments need to keep up the education of their officers, by having them complete courses and certification.
“It’s perishable knowledge,” said Connolly. “I deal with this every day, and I’m constantly learning new things. The biggest problem is having a municipality or officer that is isolated — they don’t know who to call or ask if they have questions.” Another mistake, he said, is municipalities that look at truck tickets as revenue. “It’s better to look at it as having safe roads.”
Overweight trucks cause more damage to roads and stop slower, which can result in accidents. Connolly added municipalities need a program with integrity, not based on financial benefit.
“(For) all law enforcement it’s a balancing act enforcing the law — enforcing violations within reason,” Connolly said. Everyone wants speeding laws enforced for safety reasons, but when it is just three or four more than the limit there is less of a call. “It’s the same with overweight violations — do within reason. Police departments need to make the decision on how they want to enforce them — they need to know overweight laws.”
ITEA offers many resources for truck enforcement officers. Its website includes a discussion forum, document database, blog, real time updates on legal changes, current resources, professional relationship building and legislative input voting. Officers can always call and get someone to answer questions about truck enforcement, Connolly said. ITEA now utilizes Dropbox, so members also have access to important resources wherever they go — especially if they download the mobile phone app.
For more information, visit www.illinoistruckcops.com.