Truckers will face fines for using left lane on Illinois highway

| 4/12/2005

What was described by an Illinois legislator’s office as a “voluntary effort” to encourage trucks to stay in the right lane on U.S. 41 in northeastern Illinois is being treated as a regulation, with truckers who do not drive to the right facing $75 fines.

An official with the office of state Sen. Susan Garrett, D-Lake Forest, told Land Line in early March that the senator was working with the Illinois Department of Transportation to place signs along U.S. 41 between Chicago and the Wisconsin border asking trucks to stay in the right lane.

Mike Claffey, spokesman for IDOT, said the signs were posted along U.S. 41 during the first week in April. The signs tell trucks – but no other vehicles – to remain in the right lane.

Garrett had earlier indicated she intended to introduce a bill that would compel trucks to stay in the right lane on all similar roads in the state. However, an aide to the senator said later she had opted for the voluntary effort.

However, Lt. Lincoln Hampton, a spokesman for the Illinois State Police, said that for trucks on U.S. 41, the signs represent a regulation, not a request.

Old law, new interpretation
Hampton said the signs are based on an existing Illinois law that says all slower traffic on four-lane and larger highways is supposed to stay to the right. He said the law also specifically requires trucks only to stay in the right lane in construction zones.

In the case of U.S. 41, truckers found in violation would receive a ticket.

“It is required that slower traffic stay to the right, and truck traffic use the two right lanes, or use the right lane when not passing,” he said. “That’s why is basically … the law is to stay to the right.”

But in this case, trucks are being singled out on the signs, he said, because “the truck traffic is usually slower traffic anyway.” Some trucks on U.S. 41 stay in the left lane while traveling at lower speeds and when not passing, he said, creating traffic backups. “That’s the main reason.”

However, Hampton said that even though the signs refer only to trucks, the State Police would apply the left lane restriction equally to all slow vehicles that are not staying in the right lane.

‘Common sense’ approach
A State Police spokesman told The Chicago Tribune in March that authorities would use “common sense” when deciding whether to issue a ticket to a trucker found in the left lane. Hampton said that it was typical to allow officers such discretion in deciding whether to issue tickets.

“Obviously, an officer has to make a determination of how long the vehicle has been in the left-hand lane, if he is maybe passing or that kind of thing,” he said. “It’s just like any other regulation as far as traffic laws; the officer has discretion as to issuing the citation.”

However, the signs will not give truckers any guidance on when or for how long they can be in the left lane.

“The laws remain the same,” he said. “The law is not saying that you cannot use the left lane; it’s saying they’re asking you to stay in the right lane. Basically … you can use the left lane, obviously to pass or in emergency traffic. What we want you to do is stay in the right lane if you’re not passing.”

Targeting trucks
Trucks quickly became a target of state efforts along U.S. 41 north of Chicago after the first of the year, when Illinois more than doubled tolls on the nearby Tri-State Tollway, which carries Interstate 94 to the Wisconsin border. U.S. 41 parallels the interstate through suburban Lake County.

The higher tolls quickly had a visible effect. In February, Chicago-area media outlets reported that the tollway system had seen a 7.7 percent decline in the number of trucks since it implemented the toll hike. But The Chicago Sun-Times reported that on two of the tollway’s roads, that drop exceeded 10 percent.

Garrett said the truck diversions raised the ire of many local residents. But the most visible response came from the Illinois State Police, which increased their patrols along U.S. 41. More weigh stations were added in January.

In addition, State Police officers assigned to commercial enforcement said Feb. 24 that they would conduct “special inspection details” and use portable scales on the road. Truckers said in March that the stepped up enforcement had already begun.

State Police officials said in a statement that they were acting under the direction of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The governor released a statement saying there have been complaints from residents about commercial trucks.

“As major changes to the tollway get under way, we’ve heard from local residents who are concerned about the short-term impact on local traffic flow – especially from commercial trucks,” Blagojevich said in a news release.

OOIDA member Brian Calhoun, Grayslake, IL, said he had seen the increased enforcement on U.S. 41 firsthand.As he and his wife were traveling the highway in their car on a recent Saturday night, he saw two trucks at a weigh station undergoing full inspections.

“Two state troopers, they had two trucks pulled into the scale, and they had the doors open, going through the truck and everything,” he said. “It had to have been like 6:30 at night … and the scales are never open on 41 on weekends.”

Calhoun has also recently seen scales open at odd hours, like 4:30 a.m., doing full DOT inspections.

“They’ve never done that before,” Calhoun said.

– By Mark H. Reddig, associate editor