New laws '14: 70 mph
PESOTUM — With the speed limit on Illinois rural interstates set to ramp up to 70 mph Wednesday, a veteran Illinois State trooper would like to remind motorists of a fundamental rule of the road.
“It is a speed limit,” District 10 Master Sgt. John Thompson said, “not a speed suggestion.”
Although he offered his observation tongue-in-cheek, the 17-year Illinois state trooper, who formerly worked as a trooper in Wisconsin, said far too many drivers tend not to heed the “limit” part of the road signs.
“You’re not supposed to be over that,” Thompson said. “The motoring public thinks: ‘How far can I push this envelope before the lights go on?’ The average person thinks: ‘I can go a little faster.’”
Thompson was not about to suggest just how many miles over the limit a motorist can expect to push the envelope without getting another envelope containing a ticket. He reminded motorists that troopers are not robots who react at a certain number but rather human beings who make judgment calls based on the totality of the circumstances.
“Everything is situational. Is it somebody (speeding) out in the middle of nowhere or are they on a state route in a congested part of town? Everything comes into play: the weather conditions, whether it’s dark, how many people are out on the road,” said the trooper for District 10, which covers nine East Central Illinois counties.
With the New Year’s Day change, Illinois becomes one of 36 states with limits of 70 or higher on interstate highways, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
The same act that raised the limit also allowed eight counties with heavy traffic to opt out and maintain the current 55-mph speed limit. Those are Cook, DuPage, Kane, Will, McHenry and Lake in northern Illinois and Madison and St. Clair in southwestern Illinois.
The law also enhances the penalties for certain transgressions.
Illinois State Police say speeding 26 to 34 mph over the limit is now a Class B misdemeanor. Get caught going 35 or more mph over the posted limit, and you’ll be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. That’s the same class offense as driving under the influence.
Previously, both were petty traffic offenses with certain fines attached. Getting a ticket for a misdemeanor means you have to go before a judge to resolve your case and he or she will set the fine.
The fine for going 1 to 20 mph over the limit is a minimum of $120.
Those expenses are in addition to the cost of traffic school, which offenders must successfully complete to keep a conviction off their records and, hopefully, their vehicle insurance rates lower.
Currently, the cost of attending a four-hour traffic school session offered through Parkland College is $42.
Attendance is voluntary but if you choose it, you must agree to plead guilty to speeding, pay the fine, and then register for the class at the circuit clerk’s office at the Champaign County Courthouse. No one is allowed to arrive late or leave early.
Thompson said he used to teach the course and remembers most attendees coming in with “heads hanging low,” then leaving convinced that all drivers should have to take the refresher.
“We think we know everything, but things have changed a lot about the aspect of what is safe,” he said.
For instance, an older driver may have been taught to think about maintaining a certain number of car lengths between him and another object. Today’s drivers are taught to consider the amount of time it will take to slow their speed to avoid an accident.
“One thing that has changed a lot is cars with air bags, ABS brakes and traction control. There’s good and bad with” those features, Thompson said. “People tend to think their car is going to get them out of everything because of the safety features, but that’s not the case.
“Those are great things if you need to use them but those aren’t going to keep you out of the crash. They’re going to help after the fact. It gets people to be overconfident.”
The computer features that are standard on many new cars also add to the distracted driving issue — and to some extent, the problem of speeding,Thompson believes.
“The cars are becoming so technological,” he said. “You have big screens to turn the heat on. Although that’s nice, it’s not like a knob you get accustomed to. Now you have to reach over and go through a couple screens. ... It’s a lot more distracting than hitting the on-off button.
“The more distance you are covering in less time, it gives you less time to react.”
For those drivers who speed because they are chronically running late, Thompson said they must resolve to leave earlier or settle for being late.
“So often people run late in their lives all the time and they get that stipulation from work that if you are late again, you’re done. They can’t resolve to be late or they’ll be without a job,” he said. “It’s all about leaving earlier and taking self-ownership on how you conduct your life.
“One of things that happens is the mornings are rat races getting to work. We see speeds kicking up as people race into work. Where we end up having problems is when we have snow events. People leave the house at the same time they always do. Now they’re running late with slick roads.
“They are driving faster than they want to be even. Since they’re always late, they’re not driving at a prudent speed and the rescue is always the same: ‘Everything was fine until I hit that slick spot.’”
Thompson admits he has a favorite best excuse by a driver he stopped for speeding:
“The guy told me, ‘I’m trying to get home. I think my brakes are going out.’ I am not making that up.”
Sign of the times
Even though the speed limit on most Illinois rural highways and interstates increases to 70 on Wednesday, you’re not supposed to go that fast until you see a 70 mph sign, according to the Department of Transportation.
IDOT made about 900 new 70 mph signs from recycled materials at its sign shop in Springfield and has distributed them throughout the state. They are scheduled to be put up between Jan. 2 and 17, weather permitting.
Work on installing the signs on the tollways — 64 miles of I-88 and 15 miles of I-90 — in northern Illinois is supposed to happen between Jan. 7 and 14. The total cost of making and installing the new signs is estimated at $200,000.
The increased speed limit was signed into law in August.