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Raising Illinois’ Speed Limits–A Good Thing, or A Dangerous Idea?

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In August of 2013, then-Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation that raised the speed limit on rural interstates to 70 mph, despite opposition from the Illinois Department of Transportation, state police and leading roadway safety organizations, who feared increased mayhem on the highways, especially between cars and trucks. Now, we’re looking at raising those limits again.

This is SB-2036:

Synopsis As Introduced
Amends the Illinois Vehicle Code. Provides that unless some other speed restriction is established under a Chapter in the Code governing rules of the road, the maximum speed limit outside an urban district for any vehicle is 60 miles per hour (rather than 55 miles per hour) on all highways, roads, and streets that do not have 4 or more lanes of traffic and are not interstate highways and 75 miles per hour (rather than 70 miles per hour) on Interstate Route 355, Interstate Route 80, and every interstate west of Interstate Route 355 and south of Interstate Route 80.

As you can probably imagine, there are plenty of people who’d relish the chance to add 5mph to their current highway speeds, but there are plenty of folks who weren’t happy about the raise to 70mph, and they feel even more strongly about 75mph.

AAA Chicago’s take:

“The Illinois legislature cannot ignore the culture of speed that already exists on Illinois roadways,” said Beth Mosher, director of public affairs for AAA Chicago. “While all of Illinois’ neighboring states have a current maximum speed of 70 mph, Illinois’ percentage of speed-related fatal crash rates is much higher, and this problem cannot be fixed setting even higher speed limits.”

The data on speeding are clear. From 2013-2015, on average, 39 percent of Illinois fatal crashes were due to speed, well above the national average of 28 percent and above all other surrounding states as well. In that time, over 1,100 people died on Illinois’ roads in crashes due to speeding. Additionally, total motor vehicle fatalities were on the rise in both 2015 and 2016 with fatalities eclipsing 1,000 crashes in 2016 for the first time since 2008.

“The roadway fatality trends in Illinois coupled with its culture of speed are deeply concerning to us and allowing vehicles to go faster only exacerbates this problem,” said Mosher. “We urge legislators to do what’s best for all roadway users and vote no on Senate Bill 2036.”

Chief sponsor of SB-2036, State Senator Jim Oberweis (from the Peoria Journal Star):

Oberweis said that making the interstates 5 mph faster would help with the flow of traffic and improve public safety. He argues that 75 mph is the safest speed because 85 percent of traffic travels at that pace anyway. “We’ve checked that in most expressways in Illinois, it’s 75 mph,” Oberweis said. “Evidence shows that accidents are not caused by the absolute speed level, rather variation in speeds. Some cars will tend to weave in out of traffic.”

Oberweis contends that the current 70-mph speed limit is often ignored by commuters, and by ignoring one law, it “breeds further disregard of laws.”

“I drove this week from Aurora to Springfield on I-55, I had the cruise control set at 74 mph, and I passed very few cars,” he said. “A strong majority of cars were passing me going 75 to 80.”

Of course, if you’re looking for the real-deal speed experience, you want Germany’s Autobahn:

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