A select group of law enforcement officers in McHenry County monitor trucks.
They comb county and municipal roadways identifying overweight trucks and other violations with loads that are not only illegal, but also safety hazards.
“When a truck is overweight, they take longer to stop, and they wear roads down quicker by putting all that weight on one section at one time,” said John Birk, deputy chief at the McHenry Police Department. “This damage can be seen through raised asphalt, cracking and potholes.”
It is the responsibility of trucking companies and their drivers to adhere to the long list of state and local laws, which include weight and size restrictions, as well as equipment and safety requirements, to name a few.
Enforcing trucking laws has improved over the years with education and training for the trucking industry and law enforcement agencies alike, local experts agree. That effort has led to decreased citations and safer roadways.
The McHenry County Sheriff’s Office issued 191 citations for overweight trucks between 2009 and 2012. That includes fines totaling more than $422,000.
The department has one dedicated truck enforcement officer who also handles accident investigations and several deputies with specialized truck enforcement training.
The most overweight citations (74) were issued in 2010, which brought in more than $191,000 in total bonds. Last year, the sheriff’s office issued 48 citations, and through June of this year, 12 overweight trucks have been ticketed.
The largest bond was issued in 2006 at a hefty price tag of more than $36,000, and the smallest – $95 – was issued in 2009 when 53 citations were doled out.
The money collected is then broken down and distributed to the court system, Illinois State Police, the state of Illinois and whoever maintains the roadway where the violation was committed.
“Commercial motor vehicles and roadway safety are key to our economic recovery,” Undersheriff Andrew Zinke said. “If drivers are operating illegally or unsafely, it is our responsibility to educate them and protect our community.”
Load weight limits for 18-wheelers cannot exceed 80,000 pounds — one truck placing wear and tear on the roadway equivalent to 9,600 passenger cars doing the same thing.
The fine structure is based on two categories – overweight on registration and overweight on gross weight. Other safety violations include bad tires, spilling on the roadway or no valid safety test, which is required every six months for trucks weighing more than 8,000 pounds.
The McHenry Police Department’s Truck Enforcement Unit issued a total of 50 citations for overweight on registration and four citations or overweight on gross weight in 2011 and 2012. That also includes about 655 citations for safety violations.
The unit carries two portable scales as well as equipment capable of leveling out the truck. Officers are trained in the state and local requirements, as well as other “red flags” often associated with violators, such as bowed-out tires, flattened-out springs or tires rubbing against each other.
“It’s an experience thing,” McHenry Police Department Truck Enforcement Unit Officer Mark Fisher said. “You get better with time.”
The majority of violators simply don’t know the state and local requirements, which in McHenry includes weight restriction on Riverside Drive and Orleans Street.
“Education is the most important piece in this,” Fisher said. “You get a lot of smaller companies that don’t know the law. They need to understand what they are doing wrong and how to correct it, instead of it just being a revenue source.”
The unit, as well as other agencies, is a member of the Illinois Truck Enforcement Association, which bridges the gap between the trucking industry and law enforcement personnel to make sure state requirements are followed.
Keeping a load legal is part of the training offered at Eagle Training Services in Lake in the Hills, although the laws are not part of state testing for a commercial driver’s license, said Jeff Clark, managing partner at the truck driving school.
“Most companies will have some type of training, but a well-run school goes beyond the minimum requirements,” Clark said. “Most quality schools cover weight and how to adjust a truck to compensate for that weight.”
Trucking companies still will overweight trucks, leaving the responsibility of a legal load up to the driver, the last line of defense before hitting their routes.
“Sometimes the shipper loads something that is overweight, but it is still the driver’s responsibility,” Clark said. “It can be a very confusing picture for the driver, but it’s still up to them to know the laws.”
The city of Crystal Lake averages around 20 overweight citations annually, and in Huntley, two citations have been issued since 2009. The city of Woodstock does not have certified truck enforcement officers.