The Illinois law applies to four-lane divided highways and allows state officials some discretion — for instance if a roadway is old and can’t handle high speeds.
Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary spokeswoman Jae Miller praised a provision that lowers how much speeders can be over the limit — from 31 mph to 26 mph — before they can be charged with a misdemeanor.
“Lowering the speed threshold for reckless driving is good road safety policy,” Miller said in a statement. “We are also encouraged that the law allows certain counties to opt-out and set a lower speed limit based on local needs.”
Illinois State Police Director Hiram Grau released a nearly identical statement.
Congress scrapped the often-ignored federal limits of 55 mph on most roads and 65 mph on rural interstates. The federal law had been passed to reduce fuel consumption after the 1973 oil embargo, and safety advocates lauded it for the subsequent drop in deaths and injuries.
But the 1995 repeal was pushed by lawmakers who were angered by what they said was federal officials overstepping states’ rights.
Opponents of raising Illinois’ limit said it merely puts those already speeding into a higher bracket.
“Drivers chose a speed at which they don’t think they’ll be stopped or ticketed, usually that’s five or 10 miles over the speed limit,” said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “Study after study shows that there is always a safety trade-off when you raise the speed limit.”
A 2009 study in the American Journal of Public Health examined traffic fatalities that happened between the federal speed limit being dropped and 2005, finding a 3.2 percent increase in deaths attributable to the higher speed limits. The increase was highest on rural interstates, jumping 9.1 percent. The study estimated more than 12,500 deaths were attributable to the increased limits.