Illinois Overweight Trucks and “Reason to Believe”
Unlike other offenses, a police officer only needs “reason to believe" a truck is overweight in order to require the driver to stop and submit to a weighing of his or her vehicle. See 625 ILCS 5/15-112(a).
The Illinois appellate courts support this less stringent standard for overweight trucks. In People v. Slonski, 40 Ill. App. 3d 319, 352 N.E.2d 292 (1 Dist. 1976), the Court stated that the stop of an overweight vehicle is not an arrest. Specifically, in Slonski the court stated, “this is neither an arrest nor a significant limitation upon the liberty of the driver." This is interesting, given the nature of this type of stop.
A normal stop of an alleged overweight vehicle is not a brief investigatory stop. It involves the driver presenting his or her commercial driver’s license, registration, and insurance information. After a discussion with the police officer regarding the vehicle load, the driver is asked to follow the officer to the nearest available scale tested and approved by the Illinois Department of Agriculture. A scale may, or may not be, nearby. This could take a long time and the driver is not free to leave. If a driver refuses to submit to a weighing he or she will be ticketed for a violation of 625 ILCS 5/15-112(f) and fined not less than $500.00 nor more than $2,000.00. The driver could also be charged with fleeing and alluding and/or failure to yield. Clearly a driver is not free to leave, so how is this not an arrest?
What if the statute stated a police officer, who had reason to believe a driver was intoxicated, could require the driver to submit to a blood test at the nearest hospital or clinic? Would this be considered an arrest or significant limitation upon the liberty of a driver?
For a regular traffic stop, an officer must have “reasonable suspicion." In People v. Juarbe, 318 Ill.App.3d 1040, 1049, 252 Ill.Dec. 739, 743 N.E.2d 607 (2001), the Court stated that, “[a]n officer may make a valid, investigatory stop without probable cause to arrest when there is a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity." The Court further noted in People v. Rush, 319 Ill.App.3d 34, 39, 253 Ill.Dec. 383, 745 N.E.2d 157 (2001), that, “[a] traffic stop requires a reasonable suspicion that the vehicle or an occupant is subject to seizure for a violation of the law." In People v. Brodack, 296 Ill.App.3d 71, 74, 230 Ill.Dec. 540, 693 N.E.2d 1291 (1998), the Court stated that “[r]easonable suspicion must be based on specific and articulable facts; a mere hunch is insufficient." In other words, a greater standard is required for regular traffic stops (including DUI) than stops of allegedly overweight vehicles.
The Court in Slonski further stated that, “[a] vital public interest is served by vehicle weight restrictions." This is true, but is it more vital than keeping drunk and reckless drivers off the road? Why are there two different standards? And, why is there a stricter standard for offenses as serious as DUI and reckless driving? It is not clear why the Illinois General Assembly has a less strict standard for vehicles allegedly overweight, but what is clear is that the General Assembly has enacted very high fines and surcharges for trucks caught driving in excess of vehicle weight limits. It could be argued that this lower standard is motivated by revenue, unfortunately at the expense of driver’s rights.