Split Decision
Truckers await governor's decision as groups battle over split speeds in Illinois

A battle has broken out over a bill that would end the split speed limit in Illinois.

A combination of law-enforcement officials and the AAA Chicago Motor Club are opposing the bill, HB1186, which passed the General Assembly by wide margins. The two groups say increasing truck speeds will cause more accidents.

HB1186 would cut provisions in Illinois law that set a slower speed for vehicles with a gross weight over 8,000 pounds. Those vehicles can now travel at 55 mph on the state’s highways, while other vehicles travel at 65 mph. Under the new bill, all vehicles would face a 65-mph speed limit, except in urban areas. The bill passed the Senate 45-9 on May 7 and was approved in the House 86-18 in March.

“From our standpoint, anytime you raise the speed limit, you raise the chance of more accidents,” Capt. Dick Fisher of the Rock Island County Sheriff’s Department told The Quad Cities Times.

“We aren’t opposed to truckers, obviously,” Nicole Niemi of AAA Chicago said. “Our biggest concern is just traffic safety in general. We’re just concerned that at an increased rate of speed, that there will be more accidents and more fatalities.”

OOIDA responds
The bill has inspired the opposite reaction in the trucking community. Numerous truckers have called OOIDA to indicate their support for HB1186, and OOIDA General Vice President Woody Chambers and his wife, Paula, were present during a hearing on the bill in the Senate.

Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, recently testified in Ohio regarding a similar bill there.

“It is not about trucks driving faster,” Spencer said. OOIDA does not specifically favor higher speeds, but rather that all vehicles travel at a uniform speed.

He said the existing policy of requiring trucks to drive at speeds 10 mph slower than other vehicles does not promote safety. Spencer said it did exactly the opposite, requiring that vehicles be constantly in conflict with each other.

“By having one speed limit that all vehicles comply with, you minimize the need for passing, lane changes, tailgating and other maneuvers that create opportunities for drivers to make mistakes,” Spencer said.

“This isn’t physics or rocket science. It’s simple common sense that highway engineers have known and followed for decades.”

What’s next?
Whether the attempt to derail HB1186 will succeed is up in the air.

A previous attempt to eliminate the split speed limit in Illinois was killed by opposition from the Illinois State Police. However, bill sponsor Rep. Dan Reitz, D-Sparta, told Land Line earlier that the State Police would not oppose this year’s bill.

Sen. Frank Watson, R-Greenville, a supporter of the bill, said he was not sure whether the governor would sign the measure. If he does not by Aug. 5, Watson said, the bill would be killed. But other recent legislative activity may boost the bill’s chances.

“The governor just got through killing the trucking industry,” Watson said, referring to recent registration fee increases. “Maybe he’s looking for a way to appease the trucking industry. This might be one way of trying to do that.”

The governor has between 600 and 800 bills before him, Tom Schafer, a spokesman for Gov. Rod Blagojevich, said recently. The House sent the bill to the governor June 5, and under state law, Schafer said, “He has 60 days to decide once it hits his desk.” That could put his decision as late as Aug. 5.

“It’s still under review,” Schafer said. “The governor hasn’t made a decision on it yet.”

—by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor

Mark Reddig can be reached at Keith Goble and Dick Larsen of Land Line contributed to this report.


Split data at the heart of battle over split speed limits

At the heart of the battle over split speed limits in Illinois is a fight over figures.

On one side, the AAA Chicago Motor Club wants speed limits split and says it has statistics to back it up.

But on the other side of the fence, OOIDA, a former federal official and numerous studies say statistics support an end to splits.

And as HB1186, a bill that would end slower speeds for trucks, awaits the decision of Gov. Rod Blagojevich,Land Line took a look at the numbers for both sides, and found some interesting conflicts.

Julie Cirillo, former assistant administrator and chief safety officer for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, recently testified in Ohio in favor of ending split speeds in that state.

“Vehicles traveling 10 to 15 mph slower than the mean speed of traffic were much more likely to be involved in accidents than vehicles traveling slightly above the mean speed,” the former federal official said. “In 1963, David Solomon reported that deviation from the mean speed of traffic in both the negative and positive direction contributed significantly to the occurrence of accidents.”

However, a spokeswoman for AAA says the group considers two other studies, conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Illinois DOT, to be more pertinent to the split speed issue.

“We think that those statistics hold up more because it’s been shown that there’s an increase with higher speeds, and that report was published this month (June),” Nicole Niemi, a public relations specialist with AAA Chicago, said.

According to Niemi, the June 2003 NHTSA study said 22 percent of accidents involving trucks were attributed to excessive speed. When asked how the study defined “excessive speed,” Niemi said an 80,000-pound truck takes 190 more feet to stop at 65 mph than if it were traveling at 55 mph.

Land Line discovered the NHTSA study says something entirely different.

The NHTSA study did say “a speed limit of 55 mph or higher, poor weather and a curved road significantly increase the odds of both a rollover and a jackknife for large trucks.” But it did not say 22 percent of large truck wrecks were caused by truck speeding. Neither did it use the phrase “excessive speeding.”

According to NHTSA, in accidents that involved a truck and another vehicle where law enforcement said speeding was a factor, officers said the truck was speeding in 22 percent of cases.

But speeding by the other vehicle, rather than the truck, was a factor in 78 percent of the accidents in that category.

The NHTSA study also noted a similar pattern in other truck-car wreck statistics.

“There were 1,696 fatalities in head-on crashes involving a large combination truck and a passenger vehicle where the passenger vehicle was in the combination truck’s lane,” the study said. “There were only 177 fatalities in head-on crashes involving a large combination truck and a passenger vehicle where the combination truck was in the passenger vehicle’s lane.”

The AAA’s own research shows a similar pattern. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety said one of its studies determined that when car-truck accidents occur, the car driver is at fault most of the time.

“Car drivers were found to make more errors than truckdrivers,” J. Scott Osberg, director of research at the AAA Foundation, told Land Line. “The focus should be on the unsafe driving acts that lead to these fatal crashes.”

The foundation used federal statistics from the Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, the same source as the NHTSA study, to produce its April 2002 report, often cited by federal transportation officials.

That report said, “The results corroborate earlier studies of car-truck crashes showing that there are many more unsafe actions by car drivers than truckdrivers.”