CHICAGO (CBS) — Road safety advocates were urging Illinois lawmakers to reject proposed legislation that would increase speed limits on interstates for the third time in the past decade.
AAA Chicago Motor Club said the numbers don’t lie: in the past two years, 39 percent of fatal crashes in Illinois were speed-related, well above the national average of 28 percent.
“The Illinois legislature cannot ignore the culture of speed that already exists on Illinois roadways,” AAA Chicago spokeswoman Beth Mosher said. “While all of Illinois’ neighboring states have a current maximum speed of 70 mph, Illinois’ percentage of speed-related fatal crash rates is much higher, and this problem cannot be fixed setting even higher speed limits.”
Illinois State Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove) has introduced a measure to increase the speed limit from 70 to 75 mph on Interstate 355, Interstate 80, and every interstate west of I-355 and south of I-80. The proposal also would increase the speed limit from 55 to 60 mph on non-interstate highways with fewer than four lanes of traffic.
Oberweis said drivers regularly drive over the existing 70 mph speed limit anyway.
“When I drive from Chicago to Springfield, if I set my cruise control at 74 mph, I’m not passing very many cars, but a lot of cars are passing me. Something like 90 percent of the traffic is traveling at a speed greater than 70 mph on I-55. I think it’s not good for the country to have laws that are widely ignored,” he said.
The senator noted his proposal would not affect speed limits for most Chicago area interstates, and he said the interstates outside of the metropolitan region were built for faster traffic.
A 5 mph increase in the speed limit might not seem like much, but Mosher said that it would add up to lives lost.
“That’s what we’ve seen since the speed limit was increased back in 2013, then again in 2014. The fatality rates are going up, up, up due to speed,” she said.
Mosher said Insurance Institute for Highway Safety data collected over the past 20 years backs up the AAA opposition to the plan. Experts have said increasing the speed limit on highways by 5 mph increases the fatality rate by 8 percent.
AAA said the problem with speed-related traffic fatalities would grow worse in Illinois, where more than 1,100 people have died in speeding crashes over the past four years.
“We think that Illinois already has a culture of speed here. The fatality rates due to speed are higher than any of our neighboring states. This is really cause for concern for us,” she said.
Some drivers argued raising the speed limit would only give lead-footed drivers more reason to put the pedal to the metal.
“If you raise it to 75, they’re going to do 80,” said Gary Koca, of Downers Grove.
Gary Novotny, of Willowbrook, said he was obeying the speed limit on I-355 on Tuesday, “and I was getting passed like I was standing still.”
Other drivers said the time-saving benefits of a higher speed limit would be worth the risk.
“I think that’s fine as long as there’s not a lot of entrance and exit ramps where the 75 is, because that’s where a lot of the challenges are with merging traffic,” said Doug Mills, of Downers Grove.
The speed limit proposal Oberweis introduced in the Illinois Senate has been assigned to the Transportation Committee, which was scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon in Springfield.