Are you ready to drive 70? Quinn signs law, but St. Clair, Madison counties can opt out

News-DemocratAugust 19, 2013 

Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday signed legislation raising the speed limit of rural interstates in Illinois to 70 mph, although Madison and St. Clair are among a handful of counties that have the option to opt out of the new law.

Beginning next year, the maximum speed limit on four-lane divided highways will be raised from 65 to 70 outside of urban areas in the Chicago area and metro-east.

State Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton, sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives. Costello said the bill was pro-business and increased safety on interstates by lessening disparity between the speed of drivers.

"A lot of studies I looked at showed disparity in speed is what actually creates most accidents," Costello said. "The average person in the U.S. on the interstate drives 72 miles per hour whether the speed limit posted is 65 or 70. You've got law-abiding citizens who are driving 65 and other people are driving 72, creating the disparity that causes most of the accidents.

"So now putting the speed limit at 70, those law-abiding citizens are driving closer to the speed of traffic. Really, from a safety aspect, I consider a 70 mile per hour speed limit safer than at 65 miles per hour."

County boards in eight counties, including Madison and St. Clair counties, can adopt an ordinance setting a lower speed limit countywide or just within specific areas, such as East St. Louis.

The other counties that can opt out are near Chicago, and include Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties.

Officials in St. Clair and Madison counties could not immediately be reached for comment on whether they will vote to opt out of the new law.

Allowing commerce to more freely travel through the state will benefit businesses in Illinois, Costello said.

The new law applies to all vehicles, including larger trucks, and overcame early opposition from some legislators and motorist-safety organizations. Opponents cited a 2009 study in the American Journal of Public Health that found a 9.1 percent increase in deaths attributable to higher speed limits on rural interstates between 1995-2005.

Costello said state statistics show speed disparity, not merely higher speed limits, cause accidents. He cites state records showing a decrease in serious accidents involving semi-trailers after a law allowed the trucks to travel the same speed as cars -- 65 mph.

Statewide, there were 17,676 accidents involving large trucks in 2010 and 17,275 such accidents in 2011. About 85 percent of those accidents occurred in urban areas, according to state records.

The new law has safeguards as well, Costello said.

"Most people don't realize we gave IDOT (Illinois Department of Transportation) discretion on areas they think are dangerous," he said. "If for some reason they think there are very serious public safety concerns, they do have overall discretion to change the speed limit back to 65 in those areas."

The increased speed limit matches that of 36 other states, including all states neighboring Illinois except Wisconsin. Eleven of the states with speed limits below 70 mph are densely populated states in the northeastern part of the country.

The legislation will also decrease the range drivers may be charged with excessive speeding -- from 31 mph over the speed limit to 26 mph.

"This limited 5 miles per hour increase will bring Illinois' rural interstate speed limits in line with our neighbors and the majority of states across America, while preventing an increase in excessive speeding," Quinn said in a statement.

"I encourage all motorists to continue to respect our traffic laws, avoid distractions and exercise common sense behind the wheel to protect the safety of themselves and others."

Some information for this article was provided by The Associated Press. Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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