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How Slow Is Too Slow?

Must a medium-sized city like Oceanside go through the same process to modify its speed limits as a larger town like Bakersfield?

The Oceanside Planning Commission recently considered a dozen changes to speed limits in the city. Assistant traffic engineer Teala Cotter pointed out that the changes were needed to comply with California law. She cautioned the panel that “If we don’t go by the standards laid out in the California Vehicle Code, the Oceanside Police Department will not be able to enforce the speed limits on these streets.” The engineers recommended ten speed limit increases and two decreases.

The Commissioners voted down the two speed limit decreases and refused to follow one recommendation for an increase, citing the high number of pedestrians on two roads and the high number of crashes on a third one.

Setting the Speed Limit in California

Ms. Cotter was right. If the speed limit is not set properly, it violates VC 40802, which is the speed trap law. To set the speed limit, cities, counties, and other governments must follow two basic rules:

  • 85th Percentile: Officials must measure the speed of the vehicles and set the speed limit to match the velocity of 85 percent of the traffic. The final number is rounded up or down to the nearest 5mph increment, so if the 85th percentile speed is 61mph, the speed limit can be 60 or 65mph.
  • Conditions Not Readily Apparent to Drivers: These conditions include road-specific items like high pedestrian traffic or high crash rates, along with statutory items like school or hospital zones. Typically, unless there is a controlling law, there may only be a 5mph reduction from the 85th percentile for non-apparent conditions.

The supporting study must also be current, which in most cases means that it is no more than three years old, if there is a deviation from the presumed speed limits.

Getting Legal Help

The aggressive lawyers at Bigger & Harman, APC, are committed to giving individuals a voice when dealing with speeding and traffic tickets. Call today at 661-859-1177 or email attorney@markbigger.com to receive the personal professional attention you deserve. En español, llame al 661-376-0214.