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Unenforceable Speed Limit?

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

McHenry County, Illinois

Unenforceable Speed Limit?

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
September 12, 2009

West South Street Woodstock

The Woodstock City Council recently lowered the speed limit on West South Street to 40MPH (from 45MPH). This new sign greets eastbound motorists as they enter the City Limits from County jurisdiction just west of Serene Trail. (Click on the photo to enlarge it; then click on the Back button on your browser.)

Now I'm not going to test the speed limit by traveling 41MPH after I pass the sign, but my opinion is that the 40MPH speed limit is unenforceable eastbound. Here's why.

The speed limit in the County, west of the City Limit, is the "unposted" State speed limit of 55MPH. There was no problem with enforcement of Woodstock's 45MPH speed limit eastbound from the (unmarked) City Limit, because the speed limit did not decrease more than 10MPH.

But, when a speed limit drops more than 10MPH, IDOT calls that an "altered speed zone" and requires the posting of a sign before reaching the new, lower speed zone to alert drivers and give them the opportunity to slow down. As it is now, you round a curve eastbound and quickly face a 40MPH speed limit sign - no warning! That means slamming on the brakes to slow to 40MPH by the time you reach the sign (which no one does) or "speeding" in the 40MPH zone.

The driver who gets a ticket in the new 40MPH probably has a good defense, if he has a good lawyer who understands this nuance and argues it effectively before a traffic court judge. Cost? $300-500 to beat a $75 ticket.

However, why not solve the problem in the right manner, as well as extending the courtesy of a warning to a driver, by paying for the County to install a standard regulatory sign reading "Reduced Speed Ahead" and the required smaller 40MPH sign below it. Cost? $100.00.

The City wanted to help out the few residents in the Serenity Creek subdivision who couldn't wait a few seconds for a break in traffic. It did that. Now, help out the hundreds of eastbound drivers every day who are entitled to a warning of the new lower speed.

A further alert of the new, lower speed limit could be given by temporarily installing two orange flags at 45-degree angles at the top of the new 40MPH sign. The City of McHenry does that; they figured that out. Why can't Woodstock do that?

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