For the second time in three years, the Illinois state legislature and governor are locked in a battle over whether to raise the highway speed limit for commercial trucks – an issue that’s cropped up across the country since the repeal of the National Maximum Speed Limit (NMSL) of 55 miles per house almost 12 years ago.
The state legislature voted in favor of raising the speed limit for commercial trucks on Illinois’ 2,000 miles of highway from 55 mph to 65 mph. But Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) threatened to veto the move, just as he did in Nov. 2004. “It’s a matter of public safety. Ten miles per hour can be the difference between life and death for a person in a car,” Blagojevich said. “The safety of families who travel Illinois highways is more important than any arguments advanced by the trucking industry.”
The National Safety Council (NSC) wants Illinois to retain its 55 mph speed limit for commercial trucks because its research indicates higher speeds lead to more severe crashes, for both cars and trucks.
“Crash severity increases with speed,” said Alan McMillan, NSC president. “Large trucks require much longer distances than cars to stop, for the greater the speed, the greater the stopping distance and the greater the risk of serious injury or death in a crash. The physical impact of a truck hitting another vehicle is 40% greater when traveling 65 mph, compared to 55 mph.”
Data from other states that raised commercial truck speed limits backs that up. For example, in May 2005, the Ohio Turnpike increased its speed limit for commercial vehicles from 55 to 65 mph. By May 2006, commercial vehicle crashes increased 36%, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, even though the increased truck speed limit made it consistent with that of passenger vehicles on the turnpike.
According to a survey by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), some 40 states have increased their speed limits since the double nickel repeal and, while national statistics indicate highway fatalities have stayed relatively level since then, neither have they fallen, the group said.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) believes that equalizing speed limits between cars and trucks offers more safety benefits – which is why it supports Illinois’ effort to raise the truck speed limit to 65 mph.
“This isn’t rocket science,” said OOIDA executive vp Todd Spencer. “Having one speed limit in the state for both cars and trucks is the only speed limit policy that makes safety sense.”
He said annual accident statistics show that cars are three to four times more likely to run into the back of a truck than the other way around. Rural stretches of Interstate highway, where these limits would increase, are the absolute safest highways in the state, said Spencer. “No good comes from trucks running slower than surrounding traffic,” he added.
The American Trucking Assns. (ATA) is endorsing the idea that truck manufacturers limit the maximum speed of their products at the factory to no more than 68 mph, to help reduce the number and severity of speed-related crashes among all vehicles on U.S. highways.
“There has been a growing sense within the trucking industry for the need to slow down the large truck population as well as all traffic,” said Gov. Bill Graves, ATA president & CEO. “With speeding as a factor in one third of all fatal highway crashes, it makes all the sense in the world to work to reduce this number.”