Speed laws in the US state that motorists should travel at a rate of speed which is consistent with present driving conditions. The basic speed law is not meant to replace posted speed limits, but merely to reflect the fact that safe rates of speed change depending on driving conditions. Basic speed law requests that motorists use good common sense under present driving conditions, in addition to the posted speed limits.
Explanations of Speed Laws
Basic Speed Rule. The Basic Speed Rule requires vehicle operators to drive at a speed that is reasonable and prudent. As a corollary to this rule, State laws usually provide that “every person shall drive at a safe and appropriate speed when approaching and crossing an intersection or railroad grade crossing, when approaching an going around and curve, when approaching a hill crest, when traveling upon any narrow or winding roadway, and when special hazards exist with respect to pedestrians or other traffic or by reason of weather or highway conditions.” See Uniform Vehicle Code §11-801.
Minimum Speed Rule. The Minimum Speed Rule prohibits a person from operating a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic. However, in order to avoid a possible conflict with the basic speed rule, the law normally provides that a slow speed is permissible when “reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.” See Uniform Vehicle Code §11-805(a).
Racing on the Highway. “Racing on the highway” is usually defined as driving “any vehicle in any race, speed competition or contest, drag race or acceleration contest, test of physical endurance, exhibition of speed or acceleration, or for the purpose of making a speed record.” See Uniform Vehicle Code §11-809(a).
Drag Racing. Either as part of the offense of highway racing or as a separate statutory crime, the offense of “drag racing” is normally defined as “the operation of two or more vehicles from a point side by side at accelerating speed in competitive attempt to outdistance each other, or the operation of one or more vehicles over a common selected course, from the same point to the same point, for the purpose of comparing the relative speeds or power of acceleration of such vehicles or vehicles within a certain distance or time limit.” See Uniform Vehicle Code §11-809(b).
Reckless Driving. “Reckless driving” is normally defined as driving “any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” See Uniform Vehicle Code §11-901(a). Note: Speed is not necessarily a factor in this offense.
Statutory Speed Limit. A “statutory speed limit” is one specifically provided for under a State’s traffic code (rules of the road). Such limits may vary by highway type (e.g., interstate) or by location (e.g., urban district). State laws may or may not require that these limits be posted.
Posted (Maximum) Speed Limit. Even thought specific speed limits may have been established via legislation, State laws usually allow either State or local authorities to set highway speed limits above or below the statutory ones. Prior to taking such action on any portion of a highway, the law normally requires that governmental authorities conduct a study to determine the safe speed limit for that part of the highway. State laws may also allow such authorities to specify different speed limits on all or selected highways (or portions thereof) either for various times of the day or for various types of vehicles (e.g., trucks).
Speed limits established under these laws are not effective until appropriate speed limit signs are posted on the highway. Caution: This Summarydoes not report the speed limits that have been established via such laws.
Speed Law Sanctions. Except as noted, the criminal and administrative (licensing) sanctions given are the same for any offense listed under the heading “Basis for a Speed Law Violation.” Important: The fine sanctions listed in this Summary do not include court costs or bail schedule forfeitures.
Highway & Street. In order to insure that the terms “highway” and “street” are synonymous and interchangeable, many State laws defined both as “[t]he entire width between the boundary lines of every way publicly maintained when any part thereof is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel.” See Uniform Vehicle Code §§1-127 & 1-183.
In most of the US, speed limit signs are posted which indicate the maximum and minimum rate of speed at which a motorist may travel in that designated “zone”. Individual states, provinces, or communities set the speed limit to suit their specific needs. Typical speed limits include a low limit for downtown driving, a higher one for highway driving, and a maximum speed for freeways and throughways. If no speed limit is posted where speed laws exist, national law should be used as a guideline: for example, if the motorist is driving on a two lane highway, the national speed limit for a highway should be complied with.
Specific wording of a basic speed law varies, but essentially it states that a motorist should not travel at an unsafe rate of speed given prevailing traffic conditions such as visibility, number of cars on the road, weather, or the type of road. In many cases, a basic speed law will also add that no driver should drive at a rate which would be considered reckless. Reckless driving is usually defined as a driving in a way which endangers life or property.
What a basic speed law means is that someone who is, for example, traveling at a posted speed limit during foggy weather could receive a speeding ticket. The citing officer could argue that the posted speed limit was not a safe rate of speed for the driving conditions. On the flip side, someone who was exceeding the posted speed limit on an open highway with no traffic and clear visibility could successfully beat a speeding ticket by arguing that the rate of speed was perfectly safe.
Most drivers are familiar with the concept of a “speed trap”, though they question the fairness of law enforcement agencies issuing a large amount of speeding tickets in areas where most of the traffic is exceeding the speed limit anyways. The issue appears to be whether or not a speed trap and subsequent large volume of tickets generated is for the greater cause of reducing speed and thus accidents, or to generate revenue for the municipality and reach ticket quotas.
The majority of speed limits are set after thorough analysis by transportation agencies. Law enforcement officials believe that drivers who exceed a posted speed limit are putting themselves and other drivers at risk. If hazardous driving conditions are present, such as ice, snow, fog, or rain, and a driver is traveling at an excessive rate of speed, the argument presented by law enforcement agencies is that a speed trap could save lives by making drivers more cautious and aware of their present rate of speed. Speed limits are set for the safety of motorists or pedestrians. Speed limits in heavily trafficked downtown areas, for example, are set low to prevent drivers from inadvertently hit pedestrians or other motorists. In other areas including the open highway and freeways, speed limits are set higher to reflect the movement of traffic and traffic conditions.
A speed trap is a section of highway or road along which traffic laws are heavily enforced. Usually, speed traps are located in areas where motorists tend to speed, for example because the area is a straightaway or has a downhill incline. In some cases, law enforcement may decide to set up a speed trap in an area where there have been numerous traffic accidents. A police officer will park next to the speed trap and radar traffic to apprehend speeders.
Speed traps are typically set up in areas that include downhill inclines, areas where the speed limit changes, or locations such as schools and playgrounds. As locals frequent those areas and become familiar with their locations, in certain instances the offender will be a driver who is not from that area, or out of town.
In a survey done by the NHTSA(National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration) which addressed self reported speeding behavior approximately three quarters of all drivers surveyed reporting that they drove over the speed limit on all types of roads within the past month and one quarter or more reported speeding over the limit on the day of interview. Self reported speeding behavior in the past month and most recent day include speeding on:
- Multi-lane interstate highways (78% in past month, 25% today)
- Two lane roads (78% and 31%)
- City, town or neighborhood streets (73% and 33%)
- Non-interstate multi-lane roads (83% and 31%)
A majority of drivers of all ages admit to speeding, however:
- Younger drivers are most likely to report at least speeding monthly, with at least eight of ten speeding on each road type.
- Males are generally 50% more likely than females to drive over the posted speed limit.
- Of those age 65 or older, at least 6 in 10 or more report speeding on all road types.