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Brown: Raising speed limit to 70 mph will seem like license to go 80

Updated: September 21, 2013 6:27AM

On a drive down to Louisville the weekend before last, I was surprised to realize that 80 miles per hour had become the new 70.

By that I mean that most of the traffic on I-65 through Indiana, especially south of Indianapolis, was zipping along at 80 mph — 10 mph above the posted speed limit of 70.

That was a first for me, not to see somebody driving 80 mind you, but to see nearly everybody driving 80. I didn’t even see that on a drive out to Los Angeles a few summers back.

That, of course, is the problem with raising the speed limit, as Gov. Pat Quinn did Monday by signing legislation that boosts the state’s top allowable interstate speed to 70 miles per hour from 65.

Most people are going to want to drive five to 10 miles per hour faster than the limit no matter what, and the faster you go, everything becomes just a little more dangerous.

That’s why Cook County ought to step up, if necessary, and opt out of the new law by holding the speed limit here at 55 — as the legislation appears to allow.

As of Monday evening, there was a difference of opinion between some of the principals involved about whether such a step is needed to keep the urban interstate speed limits where they are. Fortunately, with the law not set to take effect until Jan. 1, they have a few months to sort it out.

Sure, we could probably bump the urban speed limit up to 60 miles per hour but then the people who are already driving 65 on the Kennedy, Eisenhower, Stevenson and Dan Ryan would be driving 70 (and you know who you are.) I could understand if the collar counties relaxed things a bit in recognition of the realities on their roads, but the reality is that it’s pretty congested out their way, too.

In signing the legislation, Quinn overruled the position of his own State Police and Department of Transportation, which had opposed the bill on its way through the General Assembly.

The agencies had argued that studies show higher speeds increase the severity and frequency of accidents.

By choosing the position that is generally regarded as being more popular with motorists, however, Quinn proved yet again that he is in full campaign mode as he faces a tough re-election battle next year.

It’s hard to get too bent out of shape about the speed limit being increased when so few people observe it anyway, and especially when at least 36 other states have top speed limits of 70 mph or higher.

Truth be told, I thought the speed limit already was 70 on some stretches of Illinois interstate — and had been driving accordingly. Whoops. Surprised I never got a ticket.

Don’t blame me. I blame those long stretches of rural interstate highway where the speed limit signs are few and far between.

Tell the truth. You thought the speed limit was 70, too.

Or maybe like me, you were only too happy to deceive yourself as long as you could justify it on the basis you were “driving with traffic.”

That’s still the standard most of us adopt, unless we see a state trooper parked along the side of the road and feel compelled to slow down — temporarily.

We probably wouldn’t have much trouble at all with a higher speed limit if someone actually enforced it, but that seems to be the last thing anybody wants — especially if it means a possibility of getting a ticket.

Quinn approved the higher speed limit on the same day a report was released showing Illinois with the nation’s fifth busiest interstate highway system, which arguably would have been another reason to hold the limit in check.

Our current fleet of automobiles practically invites us to go faster.

Back in the days I was driving a 1981 Toyota Corolla, I welcomed the 55 mile per hour speed limit because the car wasn’t going to go much faster than that anyhow.

In my wife’s new SUV, I was surprised to find myself flying through Indiana at 80 miles per hour with everyone else.

We’d only been back a few days when the story broke about seven people being killed on I-65 near Roselawn, Ind., when the car in which they were riding was crushed between two trucks forced to abruptly stop in a construction zone.

The faster you drive the faster you need to be ready to stop.


Twitter: @MarkBrownCST

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