News Local/State

Gov. Quinn Signs 70 mph Speed Limit For Rural Highways


Illinois drivers will soon be able to drive 70 mph on rural interstates under a bill signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn.

The Chicago Democrat had been mum on his decision-making, but in a statement Monday said the bill brings Illinois in line with dozens of other states who've raised limits.

Illinois State Police and the Illinois Department of Transportation secretary had opposed the measure, saying higher limits increase chances for accidents.

“This limited five miles-per-hour increase will bring Illinois’ rural interstate speed limits in line with our neighbors and the majority of states across America, while preventing an increase in excessive speeding,” Governor Quinn said, in a press release. “I encourage all motorists to continue to respect our traffic laws, avoid distractions and exercise common sense behind the wheel to protect the safety of themselves and others.”

The law takes effect in January.  It allows Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison, McHenry, St. Clair, and Will Counties to opt-out by adoption an ordinance that sets a lower maximum speed limit.

Republican state Sen. Jim Oberweis, a sponsor, says most drivers already go 70 mph or faster and raising the limit produces a more even traffic flow.

Nearly three dozen other states have raised their speed limits since federal limits ended in 1995.

Co-sponsors of the measure include Senators Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) and Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet), as well as State Reps. Adam Brown (R-Champaign) and Bill Mitchell (R-Forsyth.)

Sen. Rose said studies prove that it’s the speed deferential between vehicles, and not how fast all vehicles are going, that leads to accidents.

“This is an extreme example - but if two cars are going 120 miles an hour, and one of them hits the brakes, and the other ones hits the brakes at the same time, they’re both going to decelerate at the same rate,  essentially," he said.  "When one car is going ten miles than the other car behind it and hits the brakes, you got a big problem.”

Rose says he was shocked that Quinn signed the measure, citing Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider's opposition. 

Critics of the new speed limit say it will increase the level of accidents and fatalities on Illinois roads. One man who studied the impact of Iowa’s switch to a 70 mile-per-hour speed limit says that seems to be the case --- but there are other factors involved.

Civil Engineering professor Reg Souleyrette led a study at Iowa State University, that looked at the impact of Iowa’s 2005 speed limit increase. He says the state-funded study compared traffic accidents in the four years before and four years after the speed limit increase.

"We found that fatal crashes went up by 29 percent.:, said Souleyrette, who is now on the University of Kentucky faculthy. "And that’s a fairly high percentage, but the average year-to-year variation can go up or down by 21 percent. So it’s only slightly higher than what we expect to see going up or down on a year to year basis.”

And Souleyrette says the number of accidents went up more than the number of fatalities --- meaning that the percentage of accidents resulting in deaths went down.

Still, Souleyrette says some types of crashes went up dramatically in Iowa --- nighttime crashes went up 45 percent and cross-median crashes went up 52 percent.

The National Safety Council says the speed limit increase will mean a slight increase in accidents with injuries and deaths. Vice President John Ulczycki says based on what he’s seen in other states, accidents in Illinois will go up about 10-percent.  

He said the state is ‘underrepresented’ when it comes to rural interstates.  In 2011, he says there were 34 fatal crashes on those routes. 

Ulczycki suggests some ‘roadway engineering mechanisms’ to try to cut down on accidents.  They include wire guards on medians to keep cars from cutting across, and shoulders along the roads in areas susceptible to fog, and other natural elements.

“Illinois generally does a pretty good job on roadway engineering, but looking at those kinds of things that have been used in other states, are effective no matter what the speed limits are," he said.

But Ulczycki said the National Safety Council would prefer highways stay with 65 as the speed limit.  He said every time a state wants to increase speeds, they’re doing it for economic or convenience reasons, and the tradeoff means more accidents will happen.

He says next year’s 70 mile-an-hour speed limit means the average speed will likely be higher than 75 - just as many Illinois motorists now exceed the 65-mile an hour limit by five miles an hour or more.