Fate of bill to end split speed limit now in hands of Illinois General Assembly

| Wednesday, November 05, 2003

The Illinois General Assembly will soon decide whether to override Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s veto of HB1186, which would have eliminated the split speed limit in the state.

HB1186, which would have cut provisions in Illinois law that set up a slower speed for vehicles with a gross weight of more than 8,000 pounds, passed both houses of the state’s General Assembly by wide margins. A spokeswoman said Blagojevich cited “serious safety concerns” in vetoing the bill July 28.

The General Assembly meets twice this month to consider vetoed bills and decide whether to pursue an override. The first meeting, scheduled for Nov. 4, 5 and 6 is now under way; the second is scheduled for Nov. 18, 19 and 20. HB1186 is on the agenda to be discussed.

The governor’s veto initially confounded supporters of the bill.

“There really wasn’t any testimony to the contrary during the House debate,” Bill sponsor Rep. Dan Reitz, D-Sparta, said at that time. “I’m not sure where the governor’s office got their information or who requested a veto.”

“I think that vehicles traveling at the same rate of speed irregardless of what the speed is are safer,” he said. “That was the main motive for the bill.”

The reaction from trucking industry officials was much the same.

“It’s clear the governor does not understand the issue,” Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA, said. “It’s clear he didn’t give sufficient thought to his action before he did it.”

 After the initial reaction to the governor’s veto, supporters of the measure said they would attempt an override. The effort should succeed, Reitz said, “Unless anyone had a change of heart.”

“We’re pleased that the Legislature is going to consider fixing it,” Spencer said. “There certainly going to be plenty of truckers and other professional drivers that will throw their support behind the effort.”

To override the veto, 71 votes are needed in the House, 36 in the Senate. HB1186 received 89 yes votes when it passed the House, 18 more than needed to override. In the Senate, it received 45, nine more than are needed to reverse the governor’s action.

Already, forces that opposed the bill have organized opposition to the measure and any possible override attempt. The AAA Chicago Motor Club issued a press release Nov. 3 urging legislators to turn away an override attempt. A similar release was issued before the governor vetoed the bill.

The latest AAA release again quoted – incorrectly, Land Line found – figures provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The release contended that NHTSA said “22 percent of all crashes involving trucks were attributed to excessive speed.”

The NHTSA study did say that several factors combined – “a speed limit of 55 mph or higher, poor weather and a curved road” – could substantially increase the chances of both a rollover and a jackknife for large trucks.

However, the study did not say 22 percent of large truck wrecks were caused by truck speeding. Neither did it use the phrase “excessive speed.” According to NHTSA, among accidents that involved a truck and another vehicle, officers said the truck was speeding in 22 percent of only those accidents where law enforcement said speeding was a factor. Cars were speeding in 78 percent of those cases.

Supporters of the bill pointed to federal studies and other research that indicates fewer collisions occur when speeds are uniform.

“Highway safety engineers have long recognized that highways are safest when all vehicles are traveling at the same speed regardless of the speed limit,” Jim Johnston, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, wrote in a letter to Blagojevich. “In fact, the safety research in this area is irrefutable.”

However, despite calls for passage, the governor’s press secretary said it was arguments like that made by AAA that swayed Blagojevich against the bill.

“During the review process, he heard from supporters and opponents, and was very much moved by the fact that a 10 mph increase in an 8,000 pound truck increases its force at impact by 40 percent,” Abby Ottenhoff, press secretary for the governor, said. “Out of his concern for safety for cars on the road he vetoed it.”

--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor

Mark Reddig can be reached at mark_reddig@landlinemag.com.

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