Are their eyes on your safety or… your wallet?

Are their eyes on your safety or… your wallet?

While Illinois does enjoy a rural interstate speed limit in line with many other states, 70 mph, any driver unfortunate enough to experience the dreaded question, “Do you know how fast you were going?” on urban interstates can tell you that the 55 mph speed limit seems sluggish in comparison to similar states, where urban interstate speed limits typically range from 65 mph to 75 mph [1].

What is less clear, though, is why the speed limit around urban areas of Illinois is lower than in other states. Los Angeles, with a US Census Bureau-estimated population of about 3.9 million people, is a larger city than Chicago, 2.7 million people; still, urban areas in California enjoy a speed limit 10 miles per hour faster than in Illinois.

It is true that there tends to be a correlation between lower fatality rates and lower speed limits; however, in the case of Illinois and California, the difference in the number of fatalities per 1 million people is less than 1 (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration / US Census). What’s more, the number of fatal crashes in Illinois in 2012 was greater on urban interstates than on rural interstates [2], which begs the questions: is it velocity that kills, or congestion; and if it is congestion, would higher speed limits help?

Mike Brockway demonstrates in his article on The Expired Meter that Chicago has seen a decline of approximately 20% of tickets issued from red-light cameras in five years, even dropping 5% from 2012 to 2013, to 32,619 [3].

Considering each ticket issued by these invisible police officers is $100 [4], from 2012 to 2013 Chicago would have collected $3,261,900 less. In addition to the fine, the state of Illinois gives you 20 points on your license (see Illinois Vehicle Code 11-306). Accumulate too many of these points and face suspension on your license and a $250 fee to remove the suspension5.

What else gives you points? Just about any traffic offense, of course, but namely: 

5 points for 1-10 mph above the speed limit;

15 points for 11-14 mph above;

20 points for 15-25 mph above;

50 points for any speed greater than 25 mph above the posted speed limit (see Illinois Vehicle Code 11-601b) [5].

Are Illinois police officers and government officials preying on those impatient speedsters willing to risk the 5 or 15 points on their licenses in order to travel at the speed of other states? In fact, someone could gather 20 points just for going the speed limit of a rural interstate in Illinois.

So should we expect to see an increase in the speed limit? Well, if the number of tickets issued by red-light cameras continues to decline (earning the city less money), it would seem unlikely.


National Highway Traffic Safety Administration / US Census:

956 fatalities / 12.88 million people in Illinois = 74.22 fatalities per 1 million people

 2,857 fatalities / 38.04 million people in California = 75.11 per 1 million people


2.National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

3.Brockway, M. (2014, March 24). Red-light camera tickets drop for fifth straight year as drivers hit brakes. Retrieved on

4.Illinois Driving University.

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