SPECIAL REPORT: Groups battle to continue split speeds in Illinois

| 6/13/2003

A battle is brewing in Illinois over a bill that would eliminate the split speed limit in the state.

According to media reports, a combination of law enforcement officials and the AAA Chicago Motor Club are opposing the bill, HB1186, which has already passed both houses of the state’s General Assembly by wide margins. The two groups say increasing truck speeds will lead to more accidents.

HB1186 would cut provisions in Illinois law that set up a slower speed for vehicles with a gross weight of more than 8,000 pounds. Those vehicles can now travel at 55 mph on the state’s highways, while other vehicles are limited to 65 mph. Under the new bill, all vehicles would face a 65-mph speed limit, except in urban areas.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Dan Reitz, D-Sparta, passed the Senate 45-9 on May 7 and was approved in the House 86-18 in March. In the Senate, the bill was sponsored by Sen. George Shadid, who is chairman of the Transportation Committee.

“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. Rock Island County includes a portion of four-lane U.S. 67.

Nicole Niemi, a public relations specialist with AAA Chicago, said the group’s opposition to HB1186 is “basically a safety issue.”

“We aren’t opposed to truckers, obviously,” she told Land Line. “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.”

AAA specifically is concerned about the ability of large trucks to brake quickly at higher speeds or in adverse weather conditions.

OOIDA responds

The bill has inspired the opposite reaction in the trucking community. Numerous truckers have called OOIDA to ask about the bill or indicate their support, and OOIDA General Vice President Woody Chambers and his wife, Paula Chambers, were present when testimony on the bill was heard in the Senate Transportation Committee.

Trucking industry experts have long said that splitting speeds is dangerous for all drivers. Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, recently testified in Ohio regarding a similar bill in that state.

“It is not about trucks driving faster,” Spencer said. The organization 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 on the highways. Spencer said it did exactly the opposite, requiring that vehicles be constantly in conflict with each other.

“Lane changes and passing are constantly required to avoid crashes,” Spencer said. “While some may suggest that having slower speed limits for trucks can somehow promote safety, there is much research to suggest otherwise. Forty states currently have uniform speed limits for all vehicles using their highways.

“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. 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 law enforcement opposition. The Illinois State Police sent a letter to legislators just before the final vote opposing the bill. However, bill sponsor Rep. Dan Reitz, D-Sparta, told Land Line earlier this year that the State Police had no intention of opposing this year’s bill.

Meanwhile, HB1186 sits on the governor’s desk. It’s unknown when Blagojevich will make his decision.

The governor has between 600 and 800 bills before him now, Tom Schafer, a spokesman for Gov. Rod Blagojevich, said. 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.”

Editor’s note: Jim Johnston, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association recently wrote to Gov. Blagojevich of Illinois to express the association’s position on HB1186. To read Johnston’s letter, click here.

--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor

Keith Goble and Dick Larsen of Land Line contributed to this report.

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