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If you take a look at a map of the continental United States that shows the rural interstate speed limits, one thing immediately draws your attention: Illinois and Wisconsin are a collective island representing the only states in the Midwest with a posted interstate speed limit as low as 65 mph.
Normally, we in Illinois would not mind being grouped into a category with Wisconsin, which has a much sturdier tax base and a state government not strangled by burdensome debt. However, the speed limit on rural swaths of interstate highways is one place where we should stand apart from our neighbor to the north.
Illinois and Wisconsin, aside from states in the northeastern part of the United States and California and Washington, are the holdouts on the 65 mph speed limit. Every other state that borders Illinois — Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky and Indiana — has rural interstate speed limits of 70 mph. In fact, 34 states have set the rural interstate speed limit at 70 mph. It is even higher in some Western states.
In April, the Illinois Senate by a 41-6 vote approved a plan to raise the speed limit for rural interstates from 65 mph to 70 mph. The House is considering the measure now. It passed out of committee on Wednesday and is awaiting action by the full House, which should follow the Senate’s lead.
While Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider opposes such a change, the people who enforce traffic laws see no problem with the change.
In Macon County, divided by Interstate 72, Sheriff Thomas Schneider said there may not be much difference for motorists if the bill becomes law. “The reality is that you do have people driving faster than the 65 mph limit, and probably a majority are driving 70. So, an increase of 5 mph is probably not going to make that much of an impact,” he said.
While the sheriff noted higher speeds can mean more serious accidents, he also predicted a speed limit increase might mean more drivers would follow the law. “From a sense of total compliance, you are probably going to have more people complying at 70 than at 65.”
McLean County Sheriff Mike Emery said he’s not against the proposal, either. Emery’s county is where interstates 55, 74 and 39 crisscross at Bloomington-Normal. “I think it brings us in line with other states around us. It’s just a matter of time. If not this General Assembly session, the next one,” Emery said.
Emery is exactly right. It makes no sense for a driver cruising across America on Interstate 80 to drive 70 mph in Ohio and Indiana only to hit 65 mph in Illinois before resuming 70 mph in Iowa.
The Illinois Insurance Association also opposes the legislation. A spokesman for the group said while deaths on Illinois roadways have decreased in recent years, statistics show a dramatic rise in fatalities attributable to speeding. In 2009, speeding contributed to 325 highway fatalities and the number jumped to 439 in 2011.
However, many motorists are driving more than 70 mph and Sheriff Emery has a good idea to help control excessive speeding. The current fine for driving 20 mph over the speed limit is $75. It is $95 for 30 mph over.
“A greater penalty for speeding, I think, would keep people closer to that 70 mph limit,” Emery said. “And I think the state of Illinois can use the revenue.”
The sheriff is right on both counts.
A rural interstate speed limit to 70 mph is an idea whose time has come in Illinois. The House should pass the Senate version of this legislation and Gov. Pat Quinn should sign it. ___