Motorist's Rights Archive
We would like to thank the National Motorists Association for making a majority of the below materials available.
Quick Links to Case for Higher Metro Chicago Speed Limits
Presentations to IDOT and Tollway Board of Directors
Actual Traffic Speeds in Metro Chicago
Speed surveys in metro Chicago show that 85th percentile speeds are above 70 on all tollways. Accordingly, posted speed limits should be 70. Note that actual travel speeds are almost exactly the same on segments posted at 65 compared to segments posted at 55. The only difference is that the 55 limits facilitate predatory enforcement practices. In addition, the 55 limits create a hazardous condition because a few drivers actually follow the limit to the letter of the law.
Though secondary to the more mainstream causes we support, we also give our time to the cause of motorists rights, with emphasis on promoting higher speed limits on US Interstate highways, especially in our home state of Illinois. Since we don't own any other websites, I'm posting some of the data we use for political activism here on this page so that we can link to it.
As you may gather from some of our auto themed prototypes, I'm a longtime motoring enthusiast and have owned a variety of motorcycles and sports cars over the years. Today I'm a middle aged father of two teenage drivers and own two four door sedans, but am still passionate about having reasonable speed limits our interstates. It's sad that we have to teach our young impressionable teenage drivers that they need to exceed the speed limit (break the law) in order to drive safely on most American interstates...at least here in Illinois where the old 55/65 laws are still in effect (a remnant from the failed 55 experiment that happened about 40 years ago). In the late 80's I was Illinois Chapter Coordinator for the National Motorists Association. I no longer hold that position but have become active this year because of pending legislation to increase the speed limit in Illinois.
So, with that as background, the remainder of this page contains charts, links and various information that I use in trying to convince our legislators that our current speed laws are oppressive, teach our young people to disrespect the law and are probably more dangerous than higher limits would be. The basis for that statement can easily be seen with a glance at some of the charts below.
A Case for Higher Interstate Speed Limits
Please feel free to copy this summary or any part of this page for making your own arguments to lawmakers and media.
Here is a summary version of my case for higher interstate speed limits:
1. Nearly 90% of fatalities occur on secondary roads. Only about 6% of fatalities occur on rural interstates plus another 7% on urban interstates nationwide. Increased speed limits would not apply to the roads where 87% to 94% of fatalities occur (depending on whether urban interstates are included).
2. Higher speed limits on interstates helps draw traffic away from secondary highways which are more dangerous, thus increasing overall road safety.
3. For decades, traffic engineers have promoted establishment of speed limits based on 85th percentile speeds – the maximum speed at which 85% of motorists travel when unencumbered by traffic or enforcement. Well informed state police and transportation departments also advocate this approach.
4. Speed limits have very little impact on the pace of faster traffic – most drivers, including the police, ignore under-posted limits.
5. Higher interstate speed limits improve safety by reducing speed variance, road rage and weaving.
6. Under-posted speed limits breed disrespect for all laws, especially traffic laws. This leads to speeding in construction zones and on secondary roads.
7. Under-posted speed limits leave drivers bored, unengaged and distracted. Since driving does not demand their full attention, drivers talk on the phone and even text while driving…because they can. Do you think drivers text on the German autobahn? Not likely.
8. With a very few exceptions, even with increased speed limits our interstates are still posted at or below the limits which were in place in 1970 (pre-55). Since then the handling capability and safety equipment on vehicles has improved dramatically such that limits of 80 to 85 should be the norm (as they are in many other parts of the industrialized world).
9. The so-called safety advocates (insurers and others who make money from ticketing) tend to cite studies which count the raw number of fatalities rather than looking at the actual rate per mile driven. The raw number of fatalities fell under the 55 mph speed limit fell primarily because people were driving less (because of gas prices). The actual fatality rate has fallen steadily for nearly 100 years during times of both rising and falling speed limits.
10. Higher limits reduce congestion and may actually save fuel by allowing drivers to keep a steadier pace.
Former Illinois State Chapter Coordinator
National Motorists Association
Nearly 90% of Fatalities occur on Secondary Roads
I lead with this little known fact because it puts the whole speed limit debate in context. Most of us know someone who is afraid to travel by air yet we know that air travel is safer than driving. The intuitive feeling is not supported by the facts. The same is true of high speed driving on interstate highways.
One of the many benefits of higher speed limits on interstates is that the faster travel time attracts traffic away from the more dangerous, but sometimes more direct, secondary highways. The most dangerous thing we can do is have interstate speed limits set at a level which encourages traffic to take the more direct two lane highways.
The data in the charts below is direct from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Driving Below the Average Traffic Speed is the Most Dangerous Pace
You may say "so what", or "why would anyone drive below the average speed". This is important because some people actually do obey the speed limit or stay fairly close to it. My favorite example is my own kids who are teen drivers and who have been taught to obey the law...except on interstates in Illinois. I have had to teach my kids to break the law on Chicago expressways in order to protect them. Average speeds when not obstructed by heavy traffic are more like 70 mph vs the posted 55. Top speeds during rush hour can be well over 80 mph, sometimes even in construction zones.
The point is that when speed limits are set far below reasonable and average speeds there are always a handful of cars who are driving close to the limit and become a hazard to themselves and to others, particularly when they do not keep right and yield to faster traffic.
The red line in the chart below is commonly known as the Solomon/Cirrilo curve. It points out that the safest driving speed is at, or slightly above, the average speed. Ironically the slowest traffic is at the greatest risk. It also means that when speed limits are under-posted, anyone who actually drives the speed limit is a hazard to themselves and others.
The Fatality Rate has Consistently Dropped for Decades Regardless of Speed Limits
A recent study which has been widely cited by so-called safety advocates is fundamentally flawed in that it looks at the raw number of deaths rather than the RATE which takes into account miles driven. The actual fatality rate per 100 million miles driven has been falling for years in spite of rising speed limits. As noted above and pictured below, the current fatality rate is approximately one death for every 100 Million miles driven.
Higher Speeds Lower Fatalities - Even at the Extreme
The chart below further illustrate the counterintuitive point that speed is not necessarily dangerous. Though somewhat dated (it is the most recent I could find) the data below clearly shows average German Autobahn speeds rising and fatalities declining simultaneously and consistently over a 20 year period.
Traffic Engineers Say 85th Percentile Speeds are Best
Traffic engineers and informed state police and transportation departments strive to set speed limits based on the 85th percentile speed. This involves performing a speed study and then setting limits sufficiently high that only 15% of drivers would exceed it even if there was no enforcement. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of studies have shown for decades that this is most constructive way to set speed limits.
For more on the wisdom of 85th percentile speeds (higher than almost all current speed limits) refer to the attachments and links below. At the bottom of the page booklets published by the Michigan State Police and Texas Department of Transportation which explain the proper way to set limits and the reasons.
Too-Low Limits are More Dangerous
When limits are set too low, all kinds of problems creep in. Bored drivers engage in distracting activities for example. How many people do you think text or talk on the phone while driving on the German Autobahn? One of the leading causes of death on wide open roads is falling asleep. In congested areas road rage becomes a problem as well when drivers operating closer to under-posted speed limits become an obstruction to faster traffic.
The Michigan State Police speak to the road rage issue in a Detroit News Article excerpted here:
"Michigan State Police First Lt. Thad Peterson said major contributors to aggressive driving include: speed limits that are too low for the road; traffic congestion; and poorly timed traffic lights. These act as instigators to drivers speeding, changing lanes and tailgating, all characteristics of “aggressive” driving. Changes made to roadways where aggressive driving occurs have reduced reported incidents or road rage, he said. As an example, Peterson pointed to changes made along a section of Interstate 496 outside of Lansing, which accounted for 40 percent of reported incidents of aggressive driving in that area. When the speed limit was raised from 55 mph to 70 mph, incidents of aggressive driving dropped to zero. “The low speed limit frustrated many drivers, so they drove over the speed limit. This caused problems for other drivers who were driving at the limit. The speed differential caused the tailgating, passing, and speeding that were reported as ‘aggressive’ driving,” Peterson said. His data also showed accident rates in that area also fell when the speed limit was raised. Surprisingly, the higher speed limit also improved traffic flow, nearly eliminating all symptoms of rush hour congestion along that stretch."
Insurance Companies Police, Courts and Traffic Attorneys Benefit from Under-posted Speed Limits
When limits are set too low lots of tickets are generated needlessly. These tickets, which often go to some of the safest drivers, allow insurers to charge those drivers higher rates while not taking on any added risk. Ticket revenue also helps support a bloated police and court system infrastructure. The American Automobile Association (AAA) is perhaps the worst enemy of the motoring public because it is disguised as a motorists advocate but behaves like the insurance company that it is by opposing realistic speed limits.
Links to Editorials We Have Had Published
A few local papers have published our writings on this subject...
Raise Limit for Metro Chicago
Raise Limit for Illinois
Links to Other Sources Which Support Higher Limits
Some favorite links to other sources...
Charts Supporting Higher Speed Limits:
The charts from above are repeated here in link for readers who may wish to repost them elsewhere.
The first chart is to establish context on the speed limit debate. Nearly 90% of all traffic fatalities occur on non-interstates. Rural and urban interstate fatalities are each only about 6% of the total for 2011. Data shown is for 2011 but the proportions have been similar for each of the past 5 years. The 2nd chart illustrates that traffic flowing below the average pace of traffic is at the greatest risk. Too-low limits drive law abiding citizens into the highest risk group. The 3rd chart shows that despite claims to the contrary, fatalities have dropped over time regardless of rising and falling speed limits. The 4th chart goes to the extreme and shows that even in Germany, where there is no speed limit, fatalities have fallen as average speeds have gone up over time. The common fear of higher speed limits is much like the fear of flying that many people feel. This is another example where the common intuitive feeling that higher speeds increase danger is simply not supported by the facts.
Links to Speed Studies and Short Descritpion of Each:
The Effects of Raising and Lowering the Speed Limit
Speed Zoning Synthesis, a USDOT study
Did the Higher 65 MPH Speed Limit Actually Reduce Highway Deaths?
Speed Doesn't Kill: The Repeal of the 55-mph Speed Limit
Did Raising Freeway Speed Limits Affect Traffic Safety?
Comparison of Speed Zoning Procedures and Their Effectiveness
A Recommended Speed Zoning Practice
New York DOT Study
New Jersey Speed Limit Report
Driver Perception of Speed Limits & Safety
An Evaluation of the Michigan 70 MPH Speed Limit
Traffic Safety Impact Of 1995-1996 Increases In California's Speed Limits
Driver Speed Behavior on U.S. Streets and Highways
Evaluation of Lower Speed Limits on Urban Highways
Speed Limit FAQ's:
Speed limits should be based on sound traffic-engineering principles that consider responsible motorists’ actual travel speeds. Typically,this should result in speed limits set at the 85th percentile speed of free-flowing traffic (the speed under which 85 percent of traffic is
traveling). These limits should be periodically adjusted to reflect changes in actual traffic speeds.
Here are some frequently asked questions on speed limit policy:
Q. How should speed limits be set?
A. Traffic engineers maintain that speed limits should be established according to the 85th percentile of free flowing traffic. This means the limit should be set at a level at or under which 85 percent of people are driving. Numerous studies have shown that the 85th percentile is the safest possible level at which to set a speed limit.
Q. What are “realistic” speed laws?
A. According to a pamphlet produced by the Washington State Department of Transportation relating to speed limits, “realistic” speed limits should invite public compliance by conforming to the behavior of the most drivers. This would allow the police to easily separate the serious violators from the reasonable majority.
Q. Isn’t slower always safer?
A. No, federal and state studies have consistently shown that the drivers most likely to get into accidents in traffic are those traveling significantly below the average speed. According to an Institute of Transportation Engineers Study, those driving 10 mph slower than the prevailing speed are six times as likely to be involved in an accident. That means that if the average speed on an interstate is 70
mph, the person traveling at 60 mph is far more likely to be involved in an accident than someone going 70 or even 80 mph.
Q. Wouldn’t everyone drive faster if the speed limit was raised?
A. No, the majority of drivers will not go faster than what they feel is comfortable and safe regardless of the speed limit. For example, an 18-month study following an increase in the speed limit along the New York Thruway from 55 to 65 mph, determined that the average speed of traffic, 68 mph, remained the same. Even a national study conducted by Federal Highway Administration also concluded
that raising or lowering the speed limit had practically no effect on actual travel speeds.
Q. Don’t higher speed limits cause more accidents and traffic fatalities?
A. No, if a speed limit is raised to actually reflect real travel speeds, the new higher limit will make the roads safer. When the majority of traffic is traveling at the same speed, traffic flow improves, and there are fewer accidents. Speed alone is rarely the cause of accidents. Differences in speed are the main problem. Reasonable speed limits help traffic to flow at a safer, more uniform pace.
Q. Aren’t most traffic accidents caused by speeding?
A. No, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) claims that 30 percent of all fatal accidents are “speed related,” but even this is misleading. This means that in less than a third of the cases, one of the drivers involved in the accident was “assumed” to be exceeding the posted limit. It does not mean that speeding caused the accident. Research conducted by the Florida Department of
Transportation showed that the percentage of accidents actually caused by speeding is very low, 2.2 percent.
Q. Aren’t our roads more dangerous than ever before?
A. No, our nation’s fatality rate (deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled) is the lowest it has ever been. The total number of fatalities has also stayed relatively stable for several years. They do occasionally increase, but given that our population and the distance the average person drives are also increasing, this is not surprising, nor is it cause for alarm.
Q. If nobody follows the speed limit, why does it matter that they are underposted?
A. According to a speed-limit brochure published in conjunction with the Michigan State Patrol, inappropriately established speed limits cause drivers to take all traffic signals less seriously. The brochure also points out that unrealistic speed limits create two groups of drivers. Those that try to obey the limit and those that drive at a speed they feel is safe and reasonable. This causes dangerous differences in speed.
Q. Don’t lower speed limits save gas?
A. No, research has shown that the 55-mph National Maximum Speed Limit, which was enacted specifically to save gas, had practically no impact on fuel consumption. This is partly because people do not obey artificially lower speed limits. It is also because the differences in travel speeds that result from unreasonable limits waste gas. Most fuel is used to accelerate to a given speed. Speed limits based on
actual travel speeds promote better traffic flow, which reduces the amount of braking and accelerating on our roads. This has a positive effect on fuel consumption.
New 70 mph Speed Limit Should Apply to Metro Chicago
The recently signed 70 mph speed-limit bill begins to undo the damage done by the national 55 mph limit established in 1973. Illinois had a 70 mph speed-limit 40 years ago and it was not just for rural interstates. Most state highways, even two-lane highways, had limits higher than the 55 mph still in place on metro Chicago’s interstates.
After reading the recent Illinois speed-limit bill and discussing it with sponsor Jim Oberweis, it is clear to me that the bill was intended to cover, and should apply to, metro Chicago for the same reasons that it makes sense downstate. The speed-limit for all metro Chicago interstates will revert to 70 mph unless IDOT produces an engineering study proving the new limit unsafe. County boards may also be able to block the new limit.
If IDOT abides by the traffic engineering principles espoused by other transportation and police departments across the country and around the world, it is nearly certain that the findings would dictate a speed-limit of 70 mph (or higher) for metro Chicago expressways, with the possible exception of those inside the city limits.
IDOT and the county boards should stand aside and allow metro Chicago limits to revert to 70 mph. All the evidence indicates that there would be no negative impact on safety. In fact, the opposite is true. Overall metro Chicago highway safety would be improved. Here’s why:
1. Nearly 90% of fatalities occur on secondary roads. Only 11% of fatalities occur on Illinois interstates, including metro Chicago. So, those big fatality counting signs over the tollways are telling us about the risk after we exit.
2. Higher speed-limits on interstates help draw traffic away from secondary highways which are more dangerous, thus increasing overall road safety. This is always a key point, but even more-so in metro Chicago since roads like Interstate 355 and Interstate 294 charge tolls. There is already a big incentive to take the more dangerous secondary highways such as old 53 and Route 59 for example.
3. For decades, traffic engineers have promoted establishment of speed-limits based on 85th percentile speeds – the maximum speed at which 85% of motorists travel when unencumbered by traffic or enforcement. Well informed state police and transportation departments around the world advocate this approach. The position taken by IDOT is inconsistent with its peers.
4. Speed-limits have very little impact on the pace of faster traffic – most drivers, including the police, ignore under (and over) posted limits.
5. When limits are under-posted there is one group of drivers who travel at careful and prudent speeds and another group which tries to adhere more closely to the law. Higher interstate speed-limits improve safety by reducing speed variance, road rage and weaving.
6. Under-posted speed-limits breed disrespect for all laws, especially traffic laws. This leads to speeding in construction zones and on secondary roads and other bad behavior. When IDOT has no credibility on speed-limits it reduces their credibility on warnings about texting, cell phone usage, etc.
7. Under-posted speed-limits leave drivers bored, unengaged and distracted. Since driving does not demand their full attention, drivers talk on the phone and even text while driving…because they can. Texting is probably not an issue on the autobahn.
8. Even with increased speed-limit, Illinois interstates and other highways are still posted at or below the limits which were in place in 1973 (pre-55). Since then, the handling capability and safety equipment on vehicles has improved dramatically such that limits of 80+ should be the norm for rural interstates as in many other parts of the industrialized world. An increase to 70 should not be cause for any concern.
9. Insurers and others who profit from speeding tickets tend to cite studies which count the raw number of fatalities rather than looking at the rate per mile driven. The actual fatality rate has fallen steadily for decades during times of both rising and falling speed-limits.
10. Higher limits reduce congestion and may actually save fuel by allowing drivers to keep a steadier pace.
One final point makes this a rather urgent matter for Chicago area drivers. Beginning 1/1/14, unlucky drivers who “go with the flow” of average traffic speeds could end up paying a $1,500 fine and go to prison for 6 months. If nothing changes, that will be the penalty for going 81 mph in metro Chicago (26 over the 55 limit).
This Class B Misdemeanor penalty would be ok if the speed-limit was 70 mph. In that case, 96 mph could lead to jail time. With heavy-handed penalties like this, it is absolutely critical that Chicago area interstate speed-limits be set properly. We all know the 55 limit is a bad joke and the notion of going to jail for 81 is asinine. It’s time we put an end to it.
Steve Doner, father of two teenage drivers, and,
Former Illinois Chapter Coordinator
National Motorists Association
The attachments at the bottom of this page further support the assertions made above.
Everything on this page is publicly available on the internet.