Tow trucks, like most commercial vehicles, are subject to Illinois' overweight truck laws, with a few nuances. Unlike most other vehicles, tow truck drivers need to know the weight of their truck and the weight of disabled vehicles being towed.
Section 15-111(d) of the Illinois Vehicle Code establishes permissible weight limits for tow trucks towing disabled vehicles. To be legal, both the tow truck and the vehicle being towed must separately satisfy the weight limits established by the Illinois Vehicle Code. In other words, if the tow truck is a legal weight, and the disabled vehicle is a legal weight, then in combination, the tow truck and disabled vehicle are legal. However, the tow truck must:
1. Have a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of at 18,000 pounds and may need to be equipped with air brakes. Air brakes are required if the tow truck is towing a vehicle, semitrailer, or tractor-trailer combination that is equipped with air brakes;
2. Be capable of utilizing the lighting and braking systems of the disabled vehicle;
3. Be equipped with flashing, rotating, or oscillating amber lights visible for at least 500 feet in all directions;
4. Not tow a vehicle more than 20 miles from the initial point of wreck or disablement, unless it is towing the disabled vehicle to the location where repairs will be made;
5. Have the proper license plate for the tow truck and disabled vehicle. In other words, the tow truck needs a license plate to cover the weight of the tow truck, and the disabled vehicle needs to have a proper license plate covering its weight. If the disabled vehicle is not properly plated, the tow truck can cover the weight for both vehicles by attaching a third license plate, properly issued to the tow truck company, to the back of the disabled vehicle. If a "roll-back" style tow truck is being used to tow a disabled vehicle, it must have a license plate covering the gross weight of the tow truck and disabled vehicle.
Even if all the above is met, the tow truck separately, or in combination with the disable vehicle, cannot exceed 24,000 pounds on a single rear axle or 44,000 pounds on a tandem axle.
What should a tow truck driver do if he or she needs to tow a vehicle more than 20 miles from the point of disablement (excluding moves to the place where the disabled truck is to be repair), make a secondary move, or exceeds the 24,000 single rear axle and/or 44,000 tandem axle limits? In these circumstances the driver must get a permit, or permits, in order to legally tow the disabled vehicle. When a permit is required, check which jurisdiction owns the road. Often, state, county, and municipal permits are required.
To protect against overweight tickets resulting in costly overweight fines, fees, and costs, tow truck drivers should diligently ensure the above requirements are met before towing a disabled vehicle. Police officers need "reason to believe" a vehicle is overweight. This is a very low standard; however, police officers must have a legal basis to stop a tow truck. If a police officer executes a traffic stop and issues an overweight citation, the best course of action is to consult an attorney well versed in overweight truck law to discuss possible legal options.
Sean P. Connolly is the principal of the Connolly Law Office, P.C. He represents companies and drivers charged with overweight violations. Mr. Connolly is a member of the Illinois Truck Enforcement Association's board of directors and is certified by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board as an instructor for Basic Truck Enforcement. Mr. Connolly can be reached at (630) 986-8090 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.