Gov. Pat Quinn said last week he is still reviewing legislation that would raise the speed limit on the state’s rural interstates from 65 to 70 miles per hour.
It’s fine that the governor wants to complete his review, but once that’s done, he should sign the bill, taking a cue from the House and Senate that overwhelmingly approved the measure with veto-proof margins in both chambers. Quinn also should consider common sense and studies that show higher speed limits on rural interstates have little impact on safety or traffic speed.
Illinois is one of 16 states with a maximum 65 mph limit. The state is surrounded by states with a 70 mph limit or higher. The legislation would only affect the speed limit on what are known as “rural interstates.” The interstate speed limits within cities would not be increased. The speed limits on other rural roads also would not be affected.
There are two common assumptions: that speed limits actually regulate the speed at which drivers travel and that higher speed limits are inherently more dangerous. A lot of research states that simply isn’t true.
For example, the German Autobahn is the only interstate-like highway in a major nation where no speed limit is posted. Undoubtedly, there are some motorists who drive fast on the autobahn. But the average speed is a fairly reasonable 80 mph.
Other studies have shown that increasing or decreasing the speed limit has little to no effect on the speed drivers actually drive. Most drivers find a speed they consider safe and comfortable and drive at that speed, no matter the speed limit.
It’s also questionable whether higher speed limits result in more accidents. In the decade after the federal government ended the 55 mph speed limit and many states increased the speed limit to 65 mph or higher, the number of fatal accidents actually dropped slightly.
States that have since increased the speed limits on their rural interstates often have had the same experience. Some argue the higher speed limits are safer because it aids in traffic flow. There also is some evidence that suggests slow drivers — those driving 10 mph or more slowly than the rest of the traffic — are the most likely to be involved in an accident.
The conclusion is that taken in total, it appears higher speed limits result in little if any increase in accidents. It’s also important to keep in mind that accidents on rural interstates make up a tiny fraction of the total number of accidents.
The Illinois State Police and the state’s transportation agency have both opposed the legislation. Transportation officials are rightfully concerned about the cost of replacing the speed limit signs and the Illinois State Police appear opposed to writing fewer needless speeding tickets.
The 65 mph speed limit on rural interstates is a frustration for motorists and those who make a living delivering goods. It’s time Illinois caught up with its neighbors and increased this limit to a more reasonable 70 mph.
Quinn should sign Senate Bill 2356.