Criminal Law

Speeding Laws

At the heart of the offense of speeding is the operation or driving of a motor vehicle at a speed that is greater than the speed that is specified by the law, such as state laws and local ordinances.

Typically, a speeding law prohibits driving in excess of a specified number of miles per hour and contains a general ban against driving at a speed greater than what is "reasonable and proper under the circumstances," such as weather or construction conditions or falling rock.

Because speeding laws vary from state to state, and even town to town, it is important that you understand the speeding laws of your area when facing a charge of speeding.

Speed Laws Must be Certain and Definite

Although the precise language used in the various speeding laws may differ, a law that regulates speed is valid and enforceable if it meets the standards of certainty and definiteness, that is, it is not "vague," but rather it clearly lets the driving public know what speeds are legal. The requirement that laws are to be certain and definite is found under constitutional law principles, and laws can be challenged on grounds of unconstitutionality for being vague.

A law or ordinance that prohibits driving at a rate of speed in excess of a specified number of miles per hour, for example, "55 miles per hour," by its very nature, is precise and clear, and so this type of a law is not "void for vagueness, that is, unenforceable because it doesn't clearly tell the driving public what speed is illegal.

However, speeding laws, in addition to specifying a maximum speed, usually contain provisions that bar driving at a speed greater than is "reasonable and proper"' or "reasonable and prudent" under the then-current circumstances, such as actual and potential hazards, like falling rock or construction sites.

For example, one driver might think that driving 85 miles per hour on a straight, flat highway in good weather is reasonable and prudent. Another motorist might think that driving within the speed limit in heavy rain might be dangerous. Both of these examples show how the phrase "reasonable and prudent" can be too subjective a standard upon which to base valid laws.

If you think you might have a valid challenge to the constitutionality of a speeding law, it is important to raise that challenge at the trial level. The failure to do so might prevent you from making such an argument on appeal.

"Reasonable and Prudent" Speed

The fact that a motorist was driving within or below the speed limit doesn't mean that he or she was not violating the "reasonable and prudent" part of the law.

For example, a person who drives at one mile per hour toward a crowd of pedestrians in a posted 35 miles per hour zone may be charged with driving at a speed that is greater than is reasonable and prudent under the circumstances.

Similarly, a "reasonable and prudent" clause is a limitation on that speed. So, driving at a speed in excess of the limit, specified in miles per hour, is illegal regardless of whether the speed is reasonable under the circumstances.

In a prosecution for driving at a speed greater than what is reasonable and prudent under the existing conditions, the State does not have to present evidence on or prove the actual speed of the driver's vehicle.

Reduced Speed Limits

If a state sets a maximum speed limit in its statutes, the prosecution is not required to prove that the speed limit was posted- placed on street signs- in order to convict a driver of speeding.

However, when state or local law requires that signs be posted warning motorists that the speed limit in a certain area is lower than the usual, maximum speed limit set by a state law, the posting of such signs has to be proven in order for the lower speed limit to be effective. If there is no evidence that signs were posted, the maximum speed limit controls.

A lower speed limit will be enforced so long as the posted sign gives drivers fair notice of the lower speed limit. If the state or local government's attempt to comply with posting requirements is not reasonably likely to give actual notice to drivers of the lower speed limit, the lower speed limit will not be enforced.

For example, a driver usually will not be guilty of violating a village or town ordinance that reduces the state's speed limit within the village where the driver passed only one reduced speed limit sign, which was partially obscured by brush and was smaller than the size required by state law.

Related Resources on Lawyers.comsm

- Defenses to Speeding Violations
- Enforcing a Speeding Violation
- Traffic Violations
- Criminal Law articles and information
- Selecting a Good Criminal Lawyer
- Find a Criminal Lawyer in your area
- Visit Our Traffic Citations Message Board or Criminal Law Message Board for more help

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