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Will Car Accidents Increase With New Speed Limits in Illinois?

It seems as though speed demons have gotten their wish. The speed limit on rural interstate highways in Illinois will increase from 65 mph to 70 mph under new legislation signed into law on August 19, 2013 by Governor Pat Quinn. Quinn reasoned that the current 65 mph speed limit interfered with commerce in Illinois when compared to other states that have higher speed limits. However, Quinn’s assessment of the speed situation does not come without opposition with fears of an increase in car accidents and truck accidents.

Speed limits across the country have been on a steady up-tick since 1987, when Congress allowed state deviations to the nationwide 55 mph limit. Opponents of raising the limits argue that the higher speeds will inevitably lead to increases in highway fatalities and car accidents and would make it more difficult for large trucks to stop in order to avoid truck accidents. In 2005, Rune Elvik, chief research officer for the Institute of Transport Economics at the University of Oslo conducted an analysis of over 98 studies, over a forty year period that found speed has a major impact on the number of automobile and car accidents and the severity of the injuries. He said that the relationship between speed and road safety is causal.

There is however some competing data on the subject. In Texas, where speed limits can eclipse 80 mph, state data from two interstates that increased speeds by 10 mph actually showed a drop in fatalities over a 6 year period.  As this debate rages on, it seems as though raising speed limits has become overwhelmingly excepted in the United States as Illinois will now become the 37th authorize speeds of 70 mph or over. Governor Quinn said in a statement that “the limited 5 mph increase will bring Illinois’ rural interstate in line with our neighbors’ and the majority of the states across America, while preventing an increase in excess speeding.” States seem to agree that the time savings and economic benefits that come with higher interstate speeds outweigh the potential risks of faster moving traffic.

R.F. Wittmeyer

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