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Higher Illinois speed limits spur safety concerns

The higher truck and passenger vehicle speed limits approved last year could put Illinois drivers in greater danger of crashes and catastrophic outcomes.

In various parts of the U.S., speed limits have risen significantly since the national limit was abolished. As most Elgin residents know, Illinois has recently joined the push for faster speeds. In late 2014, legislators approved higher speed limits for both passenger vehicles and trucks on certain roads near Chicago.

Supporters believe this change will improve traffic flow and make commuting more convenient. However, critics have worried about the safety effects. Speed is a common factor in car accidents, injuries and fatalities. In 2013, over one-quarter of all deadly crashes in the U.S. involved speed, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. As speed limits rise, these tragic outcomes may only become more common.

Excessive travel speeds

In late 2014, state lawmakers approved legislation to permit higher speed limits on nearly 300 miles of roads near Chicago. These limits may now be set as high as 70 miles per hour, according to The Quad-City Times. However, this change is not automatic; increases must be approved for each stretch of highway.

Several safety and transportation groups, including the Illinois State Police and the Illinois Department of Transportation, have opposed this change. Gov. Pat Quinn even vetoed this legislation due to safety concerns. However, the Illinois House overrode the veto.

Last year, lawmakers also overrode a veto from the governor to pass legislation allowing higher speed limits for trucks. The Chicago Tribune reports that trucks can now travel 60 miles per hour on roads in select counties. This is just an increase of 5 miles per hour over the current speed limit, but it could have significant impacts.

Speed and accident risk

Higher travel speeds are generally associated with more devastating outcomes in the event of accidents. According to the IIHS, the amount of energy that must be released during a crash increases based on speed, but exponentially. This means that even small changes in speed can have large effects on crash energy and severity.

Drivers who are traveling at higher speeds may also be less capable of avoiding accidents. This is due to the following factors:

  • Steering, braking and other crucial vehicle controls perform differently at high speeds.
  • At higher travel speeds, drivers cover more distance while responding to a situation than they would at lower speeds.
  • At higher speeds, a vehicle also needs a greater stopping distance, since it has more momentum.

These factors may especially be problematic in large truck accidents. These accidents often have devastating consequences because trucks outweigh smaller vehicles by up to 30 times. Trucks that are traveling faster bring even more energy into crashes. Trucks also require a much greater stopping distance than vehicles. A higher travel speed further increases stopping distance and reduces the odds of accident avoidance.

Help after accidents

According to the IIHS, research suggests that drivers usually adjust to new speed limits and eventually start exceeding them. Consequently, even if the new Illinois speed limits are prudent, many motorists may soon start traveling at more dangerous speeds. This may put innocent drivers at greater risk for accidents and catastrophic or even fatal injuries.

People who have been hurt in accidents involving excessive speed or other forms of recklessness may have recourse. Unnecessary behaviors that put others at risk may be considered negligent. People who suffer injuries due to negligence may be entitled to compensation. Speaking with an attorney is an important first step for anyone who has been hurt because of another person's careless actions.

Keywords: truck, accident, injury

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