Few Drivers Respect Construction Zone Speed Limits

Concerned couple says state could make big bucks if existing laws were enforced

By Katy Smyser and Dick Johnson
|  Friday, Apr 5, 2013  |  Updated 12:36 PM CDT
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In our test, only three vehicles out of nearly 500 were clocked at going the speed limit. Dick Johnson explains.

In our test, only three vehicles out of nearly 500 were clocked at going the speed limit. Dick Johnson explains.

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No one wants a speeding ticket -- especially Ron Musial.

"I drive for a living, so I can’t afford to get a ticket," said the salesman.

His company won’t pay his insurance if his rates go up because of a speeding violation. That’s why Musial and his wife, Margo, are sticklers when it comes to driving the speed limit. That includes highway work zones, where the Musials always slow down to 45 miles per hour, day or night.

Illinois law says all drivers must go 45, even if there are no construction workers around. But as they follow a law designed for safety, the Musials often feel like they’re risking their lives.

Photos and Videos

Time Lapse: Traffic on I-294

This video was taken midday on Sept. 17, 2012 at southbound Interstate 294 just south of the Interstate 55 interchange. While there aren't any construction crews around, the law remains: all drivers must not exceed 45 miles per hour in a construction zone.
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"I can’t believe all the people that pass us up like we‘re standing still," he said. "And not only do they pass you up, they flip gestures; they roll their windows down and swear at you; they blow their horns and they cut you off to the point where you think you’re going to get run off the road.”

“People pull up, and they don’t realize you’re going the speed limit," he continued. "And I can’t tell you how many times it feels like I’m going to get hit."

So the Musials contacted the tip line of NBC Chicago’s Unit Five Investigative Team, and Unit Five set out to see -- firsthand -- what the Musials claim they endure nearly every day.

In mid-September we took a drive on the Tri-State Tollway west of Chicago, heading south from Interstate 290 to Interstate 55, where construction signs were posted and lanes were narrowed or blocked off for several miles.

We set our cruise control to 45 miles per hour. In only seconds we felt panic set in, as car after car quickly bore down on our rear bumper, or tailgated, or zoomed by at speeds that were 10, 20 and 30 miles faster than we were going.

Just as the Musials described, several drivers zoomed up behind us at frightening speeds, and then had to quickly change lanes as they suddenly realized how "slowly" we were going.

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Giant tractor-trailers hugged our bumper. A special education school bus zoomed by us, as did a Chicago police squad car that clearly wasn’t answering an emergency. Some drivers leaned on their horns; others gave us various hand signals.

Often during our 30 minute drive, we looked back to see ten or more cars trailing closely behind – each trying to figure out how to get around us.

Our overwhelming feeling was that we would be much safer if we would simply speed up – essentially breaking the law -- like everybody else.

"I don’t know if they are just not giving tickets out or what, but it’s creating an unsafe situation," said Musial. "If people were getting tickets, they would be slowing down."

"I have never seen a policeman pull anyone over," he wife added. "I have never seen anyone stopped."

Illinois State Police said they do hand out tickets to many drivers speeding in a construction zone.

The posted fine is $375.00, and police admit that catching speeders -- like the dozens who passed us by -- is essentially like shooting fish in a barrel.

Documents

According to Illinois State Police Captain Luis Gutierrez, the issue is one of priorities and manpower. There are just not enough officers to catch all the speeders.

"The more troopers that [drivers] see out there, the more you’d be able to adjust the driving behavior of the motoring public," he said. "But we have a lot of roadway to cover, so we try to do the best we can."

Gutierrez said state police have gone so far as to dress up a state trooper as a construction worker, arm him with a radar gun, and position squad cars down the road to pull over violators. But too often, he says, the drivers end up pleading ignorance.

"They believe that workers need to be present in order for the work zone speed limits to apply,” he said. "However, that is not the case."

Margo Musial, who is an accountant, said that if state police could hand out 1,000 tickets a day to speeders in work zones -- at the posted fine of $375.00 each -- that would bring in about $10 million a month.

"The state could pay a lot of bills with $10 million a month if they would only enforce this law," she says. "And it would protect the workers."

Unit 5’s own observations appear to support the Musials’ point. In mid-September Unit 5 trained our camera on traffic passing an electronic sign on southbound Interstate 294. The sign posted the construction-zone speed limit of 45 miles per hour, and then flashed the speed of each driver going by.

In one typical minute, we counted 33 cars. The average speed was 63 miles an hour. One went 71. None went anywhere near the posted 45 mile-per-hour speed limit.

In all – in 15 minutes of watching -- Unit 5 tallied a total of 491 cars passing by the sign. Out of those, only three cars went 45 miles per hour. Another 62 cars kept their speed to 50 miles or less – which, it might be argued, was an attempt to observe the speed limit. But that left 426 cars – 87 percent of all the cars we counted -- which were clearly speeding through the construction zone, at speeds ranging from 51 to 80 miles an hour.

"This law needs to be enforced," says Margo Musial. "Or – take down the signs and get rid of the law. But at this point, it’s a joke."

ISP citations issued for speeding in a construction/maintenance zone:

2009................5,360

2010................6,403

2011................4,072

2012................2,238 (Through September 30, 2012)

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