The Safe Way to Avoid a Speeding Ticket

C.H. Rehm is a judge of the Municipal Court, Los Angeles Judicial District. In future columns, judges of the court will review specific cases to illustrate general topics of interest

Uh-oh! You just noticed the red lights in your rearview mirror. You are getting pulled over. What is this all about? You didn't do anything wrong. Did you? Let's take a little quiz.

True or false?

* It is OK to speed if you are late and on your way to the airport.

* The maximum speed limit does not apply between 1 and 5 a.m.

* You can't get a speeding ticket if you are going only 10 mph over the limit.

* The big green-and-white sign over the Harbor Freeway that says "110" is the speed limit, not the freeway identification number.

If you answered "false" to all of the above, you already have a knowledge or sense about some of California's speed laws. On the other hand, if you answered "true," you may have been watching a typical day in the Los Angeles Municipal Court's Metropolitan Branch. Here, a number of people--who seem otherwise sensible and reasonable--wrongly answer "true" to these and similar questions when they appear on their traffic cases.

Before you read any further, let's see if we can save you some time. If you are looking for advice on "How to Beat a Traffic Ticket," stop here. This is not about "beating" tickets. If you are hoping for "The World's Funniest Stories From Traffic Court," stop here. There is nothing funny about traffic violations--too many of which cause destruction, injuries and death.

This is about driving in compliance with the California Vehicle Code, or CVC; it is about driving safely.

California has hundreds of laws regulating the ownership and operation of motor vehicles. Most but not all of our driving laws and "rules of the road" are set out in the CVC, which has more than 1,000 pages. It can be purchased at any office of the Department of Motor Vehicles for $3. The CVC is also available at law libraries, at most public libraries and online (at Most of what a passenger-car driver needs to know about the rules of the road for everyday driving is contained in the DMV's California Driver Handbook. This understandable and illustrated booklet is available in English and many other languages free of charge from the DMV.


Let's take a quick look at California's speed laws. For most passenger cars, under most conditions, there are generally two applicable speed laws in this state:

* First, there is the so-called maximum-speed law. On most highways, the maximum permitted speed is 65 mph. Drivers must be alert, however, because there are some places--including portions of the Los Angeles freeway system--with maximum speed limits of 55 mph, and there are a few places where the maximum is 70 mph. Always watch for the signs showing the maximum speed limit (CVC Section 22349[a]).

* Second, there is the basic speed law: No person shall drive upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent, having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic and the surface and width of the highway. Under no circumstance can a person drive at a speed that endangers the safety of people or property (CVC Section 22350).

A speed not in excess of the applicable limit (for example, driving 25 mph in a 25-mph zone) is presumed to be lawful unless clearly proved to be in violation. A speed in excess of the applicable limit is presumed to be unlawful unless the driver establishes that the excess speed was not a violation under the existing conditions (CVC Section 22351).

The basic speed law specifies certain speed limits that apply unless a different speed limit is set by posted signs (CVC Section 22352). Those are called prima facie limits, and the most common are 25 mph (in any business or residence district other than on a state highway; in a school zone; or when passing a senior citizen facility) and 15 mph (in any alley and when traversing an intersection or railroad grade crossing with a limited view).


The more you know about California's driving laws, the less likely you'll be to see those red lights in your rearview mirror and a police officer with a foot on your bumper writing you a traffic ticket.

Please drive safely.

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