SPECIAL REPORT: Illinois Senate approves end to split speed limit

| 4/6/2007

Friday, April 6, 2007 – For the third time in recent years, legislation making its way through the Illinois statehouse would bring an end to split speed limits in the state.

The Senate voted 45-10 in late March in favor of the latest attempt to eliminate the provision in state law that set up slower speed limits on rural interstates for vehicles weighing more than 8,000 pounds. Currently, those vehicles are required to travel 10 mph below the 65 mph speed limit for other vehicles.

The bill – SB540 – would allow the Illinois Department of Transportation to increase large truck speeds to as much as 65 mph. It now heads to the House for further consideration.

Rep. Robert Flider, D-Decatur, the bill’s House sponsor, made it clear that even if the bill is signed into law it doesn’t guarantee elimination of the speed gap.

“The bill allows the state to consider authorizing uniform speeds. It wouldn’t mandate a change, but just to consider it,” Flider told Land Line.

Despite the support this year’s effort has enjoyed to this point, the forecast for the legislation is cloudy.

Attempts in 2003 and 2004 to get uniform speed legislation enacted were met with vetoes by Gov. Rod Blagojevich. In both instances the House and Senate initially approved the legislation by veto-proof margins.

In 2003, the House had first crack at an override attempt only to fall two votes shy of the margin needed to hand the bill off to the Senate for further consideration. A year later, enough Senators stayed together to pull off an override but several lawmakers in the House switched their votes in support of the governor’s position.

Blagojevich said at the time he fears that faster trucks would mean bloodier accidents because the force of impact is stronger the faster a vehicle is traveling.

OOIDA and other trucking industry officials have fought for the elimination of the state’s split speed limit for years. They cite federal statistics showing that split speed limits actually lead to more accidents.

Flider cited those concerns as reasoning for taking up the effort.

“Studies have shown that uniform speed limits are safer in many instances. There are occurrences of a car driver coming upon a truck and suddenly realizing that truck is driving a lot slower. That can create some challenges on a busy highway,” Flider said. “It seems to me, and I think studies have concluded, uniform speed limits actually would be safer as long as everybody follows the speed limit.”

The biggest obstacle to passage again could be getting it past the governor.

“We’re not sure what the mood in the governor’s office will be,” Flider said.

The governor’s office diverted calls from Land Line to the Illinois Department of Transportation. An agency spokesman, Mike Claffey, said IDOT is on record as opposing the bill, but added that he does not speak for the governor.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor