SPECIAL REPORT: Illinois uniform speed bill headed to Gov. Quinn

| 5/18/2009

Monday, May 18, 2009 – After years of truckers calling for uniform speed limits in Illinois, could split speeds in the state be in its last days? Truckers who travel the state are encouraged that Gov. Pat Quinn could finally give them the answer they’ve been waiting for.

Illinois law now requires large vehicles to travel 10 mph below the 65 mph speed limit for other vehicles on rural interstates.

The Illinois Senate voted 40-8 Monday, May 18, to advance to the governor’s desk a House-approved bill that would allow vehicles weighing more than 8,000 pounds to travel 65 mph on highways outside Chicago. The bill – HB3956 – would exempt the five surrounding “collar” counties from the rule change.

The change would take effect Jan. 1, 2010.

Jim Johnston, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said eliminating dangerous split speeds in Illinois has been a long hard fight and the progress of the legislation is welcome news for truckers.  Citing federal statistics showing that split speed limits lead to more accidents, OOIDA has battled for passage of the legislation for years. 

“It might be premature to declare success now, but victory could be close at hand,” he said. “Truckers need to contact Gov. Quinn’s office and let him know of their support.”

In an effort to push the bill home, OOIDA has issued multiple Calls to Action on the matter. Truckers in the state have tirelessly pressed their lawmakers to endorse the legislation. They point out the safety benefits.

Owner-operator and OOIDA Senior Member Mike Rosenfeld of Eureka, IL, said that having vehicles travel at or near the same speed minimizes the need for passing, lane changes, tailgating, and other maneuvers that create opportunities for drivers to make mistakes.

“It’s a lot safer with everybody going the same speed. I think everybody knows that,” Rosenfeld told Land Line.

After years of failed attempts to have former Gov. Rod Blagojevich sign legislation into law to change the speed rule, OOIDA and other trucking industry officials are optimistic the proposal has a better chance now of becoming law.

How good that chance is remains uncertain, although most Illinois truckers think Gov. Quinn will sign. Quinn spokesperson Libby White told Land Line that the governor’s office has not taken a position on the issue.

Sen. John Sullivan said he is optimistic for getting the governor’s signature on the bill. Sullivan, D-Quincy, is the bill’s Senate sponsor.

Sullivan told Land Line he believes Quinn is “much more open-minded on (uniform speeds) than the previous governor. I certainly feel better about our chances there than we’ve had in the past.”

OOIDA has been in the fight for uniform speeds since the mid-90s when the Association was able to convince lawmakers that individual states should decide speed limits – not the U.S. Congress. OOIDA pushed for a “goodbye to 55” with the help of the National Motorists Association.

Since then, OOIDA has witnessed countless efforts to preserve dangerous variances in the state’s speed limits, most notably from Blagojevich. With the former governor out of the picture, OOIDA is encouraged that the lengthy battle to make the pursuit of uniform speeds an issue about safety instead of a game of politics could soon be over.

“This is a day to celebrate the significant step of getting the legislation through the Illinois Legislature,” said OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer. “But if we’ve learned anything from the past, it’s that you can’t take the governor’s approval for granted. Drivers should do everything they can to encourage the governor to let him know this is sound, safe highway policy and he should sign the bill.”

To view other legislative activities of interest for Illinois in 2009, click here.

– 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.