So, on 28 March, 2015 I was issued a piece of payin’ paper requesting my contribution to the speed tax (aka a “speeding” ticket). I was on the I-294 portion of the Tri-State Tollway in north suburban Cook County, Illinois. Anyone familiar with the Chicago Metro Area (BrentP, help out the uninitiated) knows that traffic routinely runs at 70-80 miles per hour when free flowing on just about every Interstate Highway in the area. The problem is, the speed limit on every Interstate Highway in the area is posted at 55 mph except in the Loop; those sections (I-55, I-90/94, I-290) are posted as low as 45 mph.
As a solution to the grossly under-posted speed limits in the area, State Senator Jim Oberweis (the milk and ice cream guy) sponsored legislation that passed both legislation houses, even overriding the governor’s veto, that increased the statutory maximum speed limit on all Interstate Highways across Illinois from 65 to 70 mph while simultaneously lowering the threshold of Class B Misdemeanor Speeding from 31 to 26 mph or more in excess of the speed limit. The intent was to get speed limits on the Interstates everywhere in the state more in line with traffic flow and speed limits in surrounding states (IN, KY, MO & IA… WI is still 65 mph).
On 1 January, 2014 the new law went into effect and the speed limit signs across the state on Interstate Highways reflected the new maximum except in the Chicago Metro Area, where the speed limits remained at 55 mph. Further complicating things is that at the same time, misdemeanor speeding in the area was now 81 mph instead of 86 mph. You can bet the farm that the ISP, and the county sheriffs’ departments from Lake, Cook, Will, Dupage, McHenry and Kane Counties enforced the new misdemeanor speeding with either the same or more fervor as they did the old. The justification Pat Quinn (then governor), the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority aka Illinois Tollway aka ISTHA was that there are other factors that make a 70 mile per hour speed limit in the Chicago Metro Area too unsafe and that 55 mph was the safe maximum.
While some may be inclined to take out a loan to purchase that bridge Quinn, IDOT and ISTHA were selling, Oberweis didn’t buy it, and neither have I. In response, Oberweis et al did a take two and passed clarifying legislation, effective 1 January 2015, requiring an engineering and traffic investigation to back up a lower speed limit on any road under the jurisdiction of IDOT or ISTHA. Further, any lower speed limit on a highway under the jurisdiction of ISTHA not only has to be supported by the investigation, IDOT must concur, IN WRITING, with the lower speed regulation promulgated by the ISTHA for said highway.
As of this writing, the speed limits remain at 55 mph.
My recent research, spurred by my receipt of a shakedown backed up by the threat of death, has revealed that at least since September 2013, ISTHA has known that free flowing traffic on Interstates under its jurisdiction is right around 70-75 mph according to a report released by Regina Webster & Associates, Inc. (RWA), 8619 W Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL, 773-283-2600. Further, even after adjusting the recommended speed limit as far down as possible when factoring in allowances according to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), adopted as law at the federal level and required to be adopted as law in any state that receives federal funds for highways within its borders, RWA still recommended that the speed limit on the Chicago Metro Area Interstate Highways be 65 mph. So the 64 billion dollar question is: WHY ARE THE SPEED LIMITS STILL 55 MPH ON INTERSTATES IN THE CHICAGO METRO AREA?
The short answer: REVENUE. The speed limits are grossly under-posted because it is a very reliable revenue stream. According to the report released by RWA for the ISTHA in September 2013, the projected violation rate on just I-294 if the speed limit remained at 55 mph (which it did) would be 96%. That translates to nearly 100,000 violators a day based on then travel density calculations. Currently, a speed violation on an Interstate Highway in the Chicago Metro Area is $120 for 1-19 mph over the speed limit and $140 for 20-25 mph over the speed limit. I haven’t researched the cost of 26 mph or more over the speed limit, however it is a mandatory court appearance and a Class B Misdemeanor punishable by jail time if the court so decides to pass down such a sentence. Speeding of 25 mph or less over the speed limit doesn’t require a court appearance and can be resolved by what is called “court diversion.” Court diversion is a program by which a defendant can pay the applicable fine, pay $20 extra dollars, take a 4 or 8 hour traffic school course and submit to court supervision (be on probation with a probation officer and all) for four months. If successfully completed, the case is dismissed and nothing is reported to the secretary of state. So maximum monetary cost for “no court appearance required” tickets is $160, far less than most individuals in the Chicago Metro Area earns in a day.
This revenue stream scheme has the potential to net between $1920 and $2560 per officer per day, assuming he or she writes two tickets per hour for an eight hour shift and each ticket is between $120 (speeding 1-19 mph over with straight guilty plea) and $160 (speeding 20-25 mph over with traffic school). This translates to between $480,000 and $630,000 per officer per year (assuming a 5 day work week and a 50 week work year, allowing for two weeks of vacation). As you can see, the under posted speed limits have the potential to translate to hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue per officer per year and multiple millions of dollars when factoring in the hundreds of “radar wranglers” employed in the Chicago Metro Area. And remember, NONE of these calculations have factored in the increased costs of insurance premiums, if the Insurance Mafia gets wind of the technical foul (court diversion traffic school attempts to mitigate that factor, but one can only qualify for traffic school once per 12 months, so any second or subsequent offense and the Secretary of State WILL rat you out to the Insurance Mafia).
If you are so inclined as to fight the damned ticket, the cost of fighting one ticket includes at least one day of lost wages for your trial date ($160 if your hourly wage is $20 working day shift), the cost of subpoenaing witnesses, subpoenaing records, making copies, serving subpoenas, paying witness fees, and any additional lost wages due to a requirement to attend any motion hearings for any motions you may file (such as a motion to suppress, motion for a bill of particulars, or a motion for a list of witnesses). If you fight the ticket and lose, you could be assessed an additional $125 to $160 in court costs. So although the cost of the ticket is substantial, it is quite easy to see why most people will just pay it without much fuss considering the much higher potential cost of fighting. Even if you win, more likely than not you have paid out as much or more than the original cost of the ticket in mounting an effective defense against the charge; the only savings realized is the higher insurance premiums you won’t have to pay.
In my situation, I have decided to fight the ticket. I have already lost one day of wages ($174) in order to get on the motion call calendar to file my three pretrial motions, paid out $75 in witness fees, plus over $50 in gas, travel, and FOIA request fees, not to mention the day of wages I will lose on the trial date. My consolation is that the “Geico-bino” Mafia family won’t get any extra money from me, the state won’t get any of the money I spent, the feeling I will feel once I win my case, and I have uncovered a scam that at least one Illinois State Senator is quite interested in squashing.
I am not sure I would have standing as a Wisconsin resident to do so, especially if I win my pending case, but if not, I strongly urge the residents of Illinois to sue the IDOT and ISHTA, forcing them to follow the law they so zealously claim to enforce against “safety” violators, and to force them to pay punitive damages to all individuals that were ever wrongly convicted of violating unlawfully enacted speed regulations.
I am no fan of the initiation of force, however I certainly wouldn’t bat an eye if the writings of the ramblings of old windbags in a building in the middle of the state, meant to be used to forcibly extract money from peaceful individuals, came back to bite a group of bastard bureaucrats square in their asses.