February 5, 2003

SPRINGFIELD (Feb. 5)–A potentially dangerous legal loophole began closing today when the Transportation Committee of the Illinois House followed the lead of Chairman Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville)and voted unanimously to approve an amendment that would make vehicles registered outside Illinois subject to the state’s Contract Carriers Regulation Act.

UTU Illinois legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo credited Ass’t. Director John Burner with the victory.

“John personally visited each of the Committee members and familiarized them with the issue,” Szabo said. “As always, his professionalism and relentless focus on the task was successful.”

Szabo said the new amendment is composed largely of what lobbyists call “cleanup language.”

“The original Contract Carriers Regulation Act passed in 2001 covered crew vans domiciled and registered in Illinois,” Szabo said. “That left a lot of crew vans exempted from Illinois law, because so many of the state’s crew bases–like the Quad Cities and East St. Louis and the South Side of Chicago–are virtually on the state line and easily served by contract carriers based in Iowa or Missouri or Indiana.

“The new language will ‘clean up’ that untidyness,” Szabo said. “If the amendment passes on the floor of the House and Senate and is signed by Gov. Blagojevich, all crew vehicles will be subject to state safety enforcement regardless of where they are domiciled. That means fines for violations.”

And there continue to be violations, Szabo said.

“One reason we were able to persuade the Transportation Committee to approve this amendment is that I brought my violation file to Springfield with me so I could show it to the members,” he said. “The file is getting pretty thick. I had a dozen case histories in which drivers of crew vans were so fatigued they fell asleep and ran off the road.”

Szabo pointed out, however, that a strong state law alone cannot control the problem of unsafe crew vehicles or dangerous driving.

“The only reason we have a file of case histories,” Szabo said, “is because train-crew members took the time to write up the violations they witnessed and forwarded their notes to the union for follow-up.”

Szabo urged all train-crew members to be on the alert for unsafe crew vans and to jot down the details whenever they see–or ride in–a vehicle that appears to be in an unsafe mechanical condition or is under the control of a fatigued or poorly trained driver.

“It only takes a minute or two to initiate the process that could save your life or the life of a buddy,” Szabo said. “If you see a vehicle that appears to be poorly maintained, has a bald tire, shaky steering, missing rear-view mirrors or inoperative headlights, brake lights or turn signals, jot down what you see. Note the license-plate number, the vehicle number and the name of the contractor on the vehicle. Note the time and the place where you saw the violation.”

There are two ways to turn your jotted-down notes from the field into an official report, Szabo said.

“Going on-line is the easier way,” he said. “Just go to the UTU Illinois Legislative Board’s Web page and scroll down the left margin until you come to ‘Safety Complaints.’ Click that, then click ‘Crew Van Complaint Form’ and enter the details from your notes. We’ll bring your complaint to the attention of the Illinois Department of Transportation.”

Those without on-line capability can obtain a paper complaint form from their local UTU legislative representative.

“It only takes a few minutes to fill it out and hand it back in,” Szabo said. “The union will do all the follow-up work to make sure the IDOT gets the details and investigates the complaint.”

Normally, vehicles are subject to regular state inspection once every six months.

“But anybody who owns a car or truck knows that lots of things can go wrong with it between six-month inspections, and driver fatigue can occur any time,” Szabo said. “We urge all our members to stay alert for crew-van safety violations and to report them to the union ASAP.”