Speed limit is going up

Speed limit is going up

Trailing the pack, Illinois is hitting the accelerator to catch up.

On Jan. 1, Illinois will join 36 other states that have speed limits of 70 mph or higher.

Ignoring the opposition of his state transportation secretary and state police director, Gov. Pat Quinn Monday signed legislation that increases the speed limit from 65 mph to 70 mph on its interstate and tollway highways.

Opponents argued without success that the higher speed limit will lead to an increase in traffic fatalities.

Supporters of the legislation, however, claimed that slower doesn't necessarily mean safer, citing the danger posed by a minority of motorists who travel at speeds less than the vast majority. Further, speed increase advocates say if a higher speed reflects real travel speeds, the new higher limit will make the roads safer.

Those conflicting arguments show how opposing sides can use different data to reach different conclusions.

That's not the only difference in opinion on the issue. Gov. Quinn and the bill's chief legislative sponsor, state Sen. Jim Oberweis, a Sugar Grove Republican, are at odds over whether the legislation applies to all interstate and tollway highways in Illinois or just those outside the urbanized areas of northern Illinois and St. Louis.

Quinn contends it does not apply to urbanized areas while Oberweis said it does. The state has until Jan. 1, when the law becomes effective, to iron out that dispute over the bill's language.

Quinn's stance, however, is comical because anyone who's driven on the interstates in the Chicago area knows that most motorists travel at a rate far in excess of the current 65 mph limit.

On the scale of importance, the higher speed limit is one of the less important subjects of public debate. But there is no question that Illinois is out of step with the majority of the nation's 50 states and all but one of its neighboring states. Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Iowa and Michigan operate under the 70 mph maximum, leaving Wisconsin as the only outlier.

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DukeGanote wrote on August 22, 2013 at 10:08 am

70-mph is a modest step forward and a "good neighbor" policy. Rural interstates accounted for just 4% of Illinois' traffic deaths in 2011, at the low rate of 0.40 per 100-million-travel-miles. That's FAR FAR lower than 1.95 to 3.67 rates on conventional rural roads.

Observant drivers recognize why interstates are so much safer than conventional highways; they were designed to eliminate the common causes of crashes. Common causes include crossing conflicts at intersections; head-on conflicts with adjacent, opposing traffic; and roadside hazards such as trees, telephone poles, curves, and sharp drop-offs.

We've invested heavily in interstate highways because eliminating common causes of crashes and delays improves travel times, fuel efficiency, and safety. 

Since rural interstates carry long-distance travelers, truckers and tourists, it just makes sense to post the highest speed limits on the safest rural roads.