SPECIAL REPORT: Governor vetoes bill to end split speed limit; override attempt expected

| 8/1/2003

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has vetoed an attempt to end the split speed limit in his 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.

"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 80,000 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."

Bill sponsor Rep. Dan Reitz, D-Sparta, seemed confounded by the governor’s action.

"There really wasn't any testimony to the contrary during the House debate," Reitz said. "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."

Blagojevich heard from a number of advocates on both sides of the bill after it passed the General Assembly. The AAA Chicago Motor Club worked against HB1186, while OOIDA was joined by a number of other groups and individuals, including Julie Cirillo, former chief safety officer with the FMCSA, in urging the governor to sign it. Ironically, most of those who fought to pass the bill did so based on safety concerns.

"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."

Ottenhoff indicated the governor was more persuaded by information he received about the risk to cars from trucks moving at the same speed than by FMCSA studies and other research showing more accidents would occur with vehicles traveling two different speeds.

"He said he listened to both sides, and he determined that it is not a commerce issue, but that the risk that it posed to cars that would be traveling on the same roads as the trucks that would be going faster would be great, and for that reason he chose to veto it," she said.

Supporters of the bill will likely attempt to override the veto when lawmakers return to the state Capitol in Springfield in November. 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.

"We'll take a look at the veto message and talk with the other sponsors," Reitz said. "I would anticipate that we will try to override this." The effort should succeed, he said, "Unless anyone had a change of heart."

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

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, Reitz told Land Line earlier this year that the State Police had no intention of opposing this year’s bill.

In fact, little opposition surfaced until the bill had passed both houses. After the bill was sent to the governor, AAA Chicago Motor Club and several local law-enforcement officials announced their opposition to the bill.

--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor

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