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Putting the hammer down on new state laws

Put the pedal to the metal, Illinois!

Governor Quinn has just dropped the green flag on a higher speed limit for rural interstate highways, starting Jan. 1.

After decades of breaking the speed limit, we now can drive 70 legally.

But since the 65 mph limit is seldom enforced until a driver exceeds 75, what’s the practical limit now?

The speed limit matters only if casual speeders are ticketed.

So, can we now push 80?

ILLINOIS IS NOT breaking any new ground by raising the limit to 70.

Neighboring Indiana, Iowa and Missouri are among 36 states that already have returned their maximum speed to pre-1974 levels.

Drivers never respected the 55 mph mandate from the federal government, which acted after oil prices spiked during the Nixon administration. (No, it wasn’t the president’s fault; blame the oil sheiks.)

States were allowed to hike the limit to 65 in the late 1980s, but most still resented the feds’ dictate that was enforced with the threat of withholding federal highway funds.

Highway engineers will tell you that arbitrarily low speed limits are not safe, because many drivers disregard them and create a dangerous mix of speeds in traffic.

Eisenhower’s interstate system was built, supposedly, to handle a 70 mph limit.

Plus, cars are much safer today. Drivers generally wear their seat belts and drive vehicles equipped with air bags, among other standard safety features unavailable in the 1950s.

Despite the higher limit, we guess that motorists are not going to notice a difference.

BACK IN THE EARLY 1980s, this editor recalls, Wisconsin posted signs to warn drivers about their speed as they left rest stops along interstate highways: “55 means 55.”

It was mostly a hollow threat. We never drove that slow (unless a state trooper was in sight), and we never got stopped. Nor did anyone in our family of a half-a-dozen automobiles that made the interstate trek north for our annual fishing vacation.

Speed-conscious Wisconsin apparently is now going to buck the trend toward 70. Although the Assembly (lower house) of the Legislature could approve the increase soon, the idea is expected to hit a roadblock in the Senate and has received no encouragement from the governor’s office.

We noted, however, that during our dozen trips last year to the veterinary school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, cars traveling 65 along I-90 were in the minority. Even this editor was forced to drive 70 (or a couple of notches higher) just to “keep up with traffic.”

That’s his story, anyway.

GOV. QUINN HAS recently signed a number of bills into law, but none prompted more whining than the ban on salon tanning for youths under 18.

The new state statute, effective Jan. 1, copies the law already on the books in Chicago and Springfield.

State law currently bans salon tanning for youths under 14, and a parent’s consent is needed for those 14-17.

Quinn has been jumped (again) by populist demagoguery among Illinois editorial writers who decry the latest “nanny state” law.

“I love my kids and think I can make wise decisions for them without interference from Springfield,” writes Scott Reeder of the Illinois Policy Institute. (His column will be published in this newspaper on Monday.)

We’re sure Scott does a great job of child rearing. We’re also sure a lot parents don’t. A lot.

The government does, sometimes, have to parent the children of the state – unfortunately. Sometimes it has to parent the parents.

Otherwise, why not repeal laws on minimum ages for buying alcohol and tobacco? Why is it the state’s business if a 15-year-old wants to sit at a bar with a beer and a cigarette, as long as it’s OK with Mom and Dad?

Speaking of which, Quinn also signed a law banning sales of electronic cigarettes to anyone under 18.

He must be trying to give smoking a bad name. Or maybe he just likes picking on minors.

BECAUSE CRITICIZING Quinn is good for the populist soul, columnist Reeder also objected to the governor’s signing a new state law that will prohibit drivers from using hand-held cellphones (as Chicago already does).

“... [R]ather that leave it up to the discretion of individual drivers to determine when they can safely drive and talk, government has taken a one-size-fits-all approach and prohibited it for everyone,” Reeder writes. ”It’s just one more erosion of individual freedom at the hands of big government.”

Like that darned speed limit. Shouldn’t we leave the determination of a safe driving speed to the discretion of individual drivers? Why do we need a one-size-fits-all speed limit?

Give it the gas, Pa! The Illinois Policy Institute says that trooper has no business telling you how fast you can drive.

Really, we appreciate all that “live and let live” libertarianism.

But the anti-government stuff can get a little ridiculous.