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Leadfoot drivers abound on Illinois tollways despite speed limits

If it seems like most drivers are going faster than 55 mph on the tollways surrounding Chicago, it's not your imagination. According to recent studies conducted by the Illinois Tollway show, only one in 20 drivers obeys a 55 mph speed limit. Most are traveling at more than 10 miles over that. The average speed was clocked at 66 to 70 mph, but Tollway engineers who studied driver speed found people traveling as fast as 91 mph.

As Illinois prepares for 70 mph limits on some interstate roads next year, tollway speeds are a topic of discussion and debate. Advocates for higher speed limits note that the speed at which people drive is impacted more by other drivers' speed, highway conditions and personal factors (like being late for an appointment) than the posted limit.

Many safety experts, however, point to data that show that speeding is at least a partial cause of about a third of fatal car accidents. The faster a vehicle is going, the greater the impact if it hits something (like another vehicle). According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the force of the impact in a collision increases by 125 percent if a vehicle accelerates from 40 to 60 mph. Besides the potential for a harder collision, a speeding driver has less time to react to unforeseen circumstances. On tollways, this can be particularly dangerous.

Nonetheless, Tollway engineers say that in some areas of the state, the 55 mph limit on tollways can and should be raised to at least 65 mph. These include the section of the I-94 northbound from Gurnee into Wisconsin. Some stretches already have 65 mph speed limits. However, the engineers determined that raising the speed limit in the counties that border Cook County "may exacerbate safety and operational issues that are currently marginal."

Regardless of the speed limits, distracted and reckless drivers are everywhere. This time of year, more people are taking to the road under the influence after holiday festivities. We are also heading into the season when snow and ice make driving extra hazardous. Negligent drivers who cause injuries on the road can and should be held accountable not just in criminal court, but via civil damages that will help victims and their families get back on their feet.

Source:  The Chicago Tribune, "Speed limits largely ignored, Tollway report finds" Joe Mahr and Ted Gregory, Nov. 29, 2013

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