SPECIAL REPORT: IL axes split speeds; OOIDA savors latest success

| 8/17/2009

Monday, Aug. 17, 2009 – The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has witnessed countless political maneuverings through the years in Illinois, but none as vexing to truckers as Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s efforts to preserve dangerous variances in the state’s speed limits. Blago is gone now, and OOIDA’s resolve has paid off with the abolishment of split speeds.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill into law Friday, Aug. 14, that brings an end to split speed limits on rural, interstate highways.

The change in policy in Illinois marks the second time this year that a battleground state has adopted uniform speeds. On July 1, Ohio eliminated the slower speed on interstates posted at 65 mph for vehicles with a gross weight of more than 8,000 pounds. Large vehicles had been required to travel 55 mph – 10 mph below the 65 mph limit for other vehicles.

The passage of uniform speeds in the two states is more than just welcome news to truckers. It is a resounding victory for OOIDA, its members and others who fought the long battle to give the axe to speed variances.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome than to add Illinois and Ohio to the list of states that have eliminated split speeds, thanks to a long campaign by OOIDA to inform and reform bad safety policy,” Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president, told Land Line.

“The only speed limit policy that makes sense is to have all vehicles traveling at the same speed. It is a welcome change in both states that is long overdue.”

In the mid-1990s, OOIDA was able to convince lawmakers that individual states should decide speed limits – not the U.S. Congress. OOIDA pushed for eliminating the National Speed Limit with the help of the National Motorists Association.

Since then, OOIDA has poured resources into the pursuit of bringing an end to split speed limits in Illinois.

The Mid-West Truckers Association, a group headquartered in Springfield, IL, hammered state lawmakers for uniform speed limits for a decade.

OOIDA members from Illinois have frequented the statehouse through the years making sure that lawmakers were reminded the speed limit issue was at the forefront of hot-button issues affecting the trucking industry. OOIDA’s leadership also took part in legislative hearings that helped lay the groundwork for support of the effort to eliminate splits. In addition, the Association used research from power-hitters like Julie Cirillo, former assistant administrator and chief safety officer for the FMCSA, to convey the safety benefits of uniform speeds.

Time and again, Illinois lawmakers were receptive to the messages they received from OOIDA and its fervent membership in the state only to see the hard work of truckers trumped by Chicago politicos that wanted no part of the rule change.

Opponents have included the Illinois State Police, AAA Chicago and state transportation officials. Despite evidence to the contrary, opponents were able to convince past governors that trucks traveling at higher rates of speed cause more problems.

However, research collected by OOIDA concludes that the difference in vehicle speeds, not excessive speed, contributes to wrecks. Collisions occur when trucks and cars and must change lanes and pass more frequently.

Armed with this information, which included one of the first university studies – requisitioned and paid for by AAA – that showed there is no safety benefit with slower speed limits for trucks, OOIDA was intent to turn what had become a political issue into an issue about safety.

The lengthy battle that has ended in victory in Illinois allowed one OOIDA executive to reflect on seeing the issue of safety finally win out over politics.

“It means common sense has ruled,” OOIDA General Vice President Woody Chambers said. Chambers, who now lives in Kentucky, was a 60-year resident of Illinois and represented OOIDA at hearings on the issue.

Currently, trucks in Illinois are required to travel 10 mph below the 65 mph speed limit for other vehicles. As of Jan. 1, 2010, the new law will allow vehicles weighing more than 8,000 pounds to travel 65 mph on highways outside Chicago and the five surrounding “collar” counties.

Spencer said there are eight more states that need to ditch treacherous speed differentials, and OOIDA will continue to push them hard for uniform speeds.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.