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Illinois Legislatures Seek Stiffer Sentences for Wrong Way Drivers and to Increase Speed Limits

House Bill 303 aims at imposing harsher sentences on impaired wrong-way drivers in Illinois. The bill was introduced in January of 2017 by Representative Michael J. Zalewski. It was easily approved by the Illinois House and is now up for consideration by the Illinois Senate. Senate Bill 2036 aims to increase speed limits across the state. If passed, HB303 will allow judges to impose harsher sentences on repeat offenders arrested for reckless or impaired driving and repeat offenders who exceed the speed limit by more than 20 mph. The new legislation also allows for tougher sentences for impaired wrong-way drivers. Under the current law, an impaired driver who kills someone faces a prison sentence of three to 14 years. However, judges can sentence the driver to probation under some circumstances.

Wrong-way drivers

A study of wrong-way crashes on Illinois highways that analyzed data from 2004 through 2009 found 60 percent of wrong-way drivers were driving while impaired. Many wrong-way accidents occur on weekends and at after midnight. Sam Canzoneri is the Illinois Executive Director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Canzoneri says there have been over 50 fatalities and 300 injuries due to wrong-way drivers in Illinois since 2005. One of those fatalities was Steven Smith, a Marine reservist and first-year Chicago Ridge police officer. The 27-year-old was killed in a head-on collision Sept. 13, 2015 when the vehicle he was a riding in was struck by an impaired wrong-way driver on the Tri-State Tollway.

Rep. Michael J. Zalewski, who is chairman of the Illinois State Advisory Committee for MADD, proposed HB303 after meeting with Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel soon after Steven Smith's death. Weitzel says that wrong-way driving greatly escalates the danger impaired drivers pose to the public. If HB303 becomes law, Illinois will be the first state to have impaired wrong-way driving used as an aggravating factor for sentencing.

Speed limit changes

Senate Bill 2036 proposes increasing the speed limit on Interstate 355 to 75 mph and increasing the speed limit for part of Interstate 80 to 80 mph. The speed limit for two and three lane highways outside city limits would increase to 60 mph. The speed limit changes are consistent with speed limits for others states and are expected to improve traffic flow. An auto accident attorney is familiar with current and proposed driving laws and can advise individuals on how they may affect accident claims.

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