California Speed Limits, Laws, and Fines

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Following is an overview of the laws, limits, and fines as they relate to speeding traffic violations in the state of California.

Speed limits in California

California has a very different way of setting its speed limits than most states. Traffic engineers use the percentile operating speed, which is determined by a traffic and engineering survey. This means that speed limits are determined according to the speed that no more than 15% of typical traffic exceeds, even if that speed exceeds the road’s design speed.

70 mph: rural freeways and interstate highways, excepting I-80

65 mph: urban freeways and interstate highways, and all of I-80

65 mph: divided roads (those which have a buffer zone or concrete median dividing lanes traveling opposite directions)

65 mph: undivided roads

55 mph: default limit on two-lane roads, unless otherwise posted

55 mph: trucks with three or more axles, and all vehicles while towing

30 mph: residential districts

25 mph: school zones (or as posted – may be as low as 15 mph)

There may be areas of reduced or increased speeds posted at various stretches along these kinds of roads – you must obey the posted limit even if it is lower than the general speed guideline.

California code on reasonable and prudent speed

Maximum speed law:

According to section 22350 of California vehicle code “No person shall drive a vehicle at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and surface and width of, the highway. In no event, shall a speed such as to endanger the safety of persons or property.”

Minimum speed law:

According to section 22400 of California vehicle code “No driver is permitted to drive on a highway at such a slow speed as to become a block or impediment to the normal and reasonable flow of traffic, unless the speed limit has been reduced by signs posted in compliance with the law.”

California has a mixed, rather than absolute speed limit law. This means the rules are a combination of absolute and prima facie (essentially meaning “presumed” or “at first look,” which allows for leeway in defending against a ticket). Prima facie rules are not applicable in the case of maximum speed limits. Maximum speed limit applies to roads with a posted or default limit of 55-70 mph. In cases other than maximum speed limit, drivers may appeal a charge on one of two Basic Speed Law defenses:

  • Technical – argument that police used impermissible methods to cite the driver.

  • Substantive – argument that the police were wrong about the driver’s speed.

Penalty for exceeding the speed limit in California

First-time violators may not be:

  • Fined more than $100

  • Have their license suspended for more than 30 days

Penalty for reckless driving in California

Speeding in California is automatically considered reckless driving at 15 mph over the posted limit.

First-time violators may be:

  • Fined between $145 and $1,000

  • Sentenced to between five and 90 days of jail time

  • Subject to license suspension of up to one year

There may be court or other costs on top of the actual fine. Speeding fines may vary between cities or counties.

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