NMA E-Newsletter #203: Understanding the Different Types of Speed Laws

When fighting a speeding ticket, one of the most important things to find out it is what kind of speed law you’re charged with violating. Believe it or not, there are several classifications of speed laws in force around the country. Knowing which type applies to you will help you determine your best defense. Let’s take a look.

Absolute Speed Laws

Most states have absolute speed laws on the books, and they’re pretty straightforward. These statutes set numerical speed limits that, if exceeded, result in a violation regardless of prevailing road conditions. If the posted speed is 35 mph and it can be proven you were going 36 mph or more, you are guilty of speeding.

To defend yourself under these circumstances, challenge the method used to determine your speed. For example, if the officer used a radar gun, was the gun properly maintained and calibrated? Did the officer have the requisite training to operate the unit correctly? If you can convincingly call into question the legitimacy of the evidence against you, you may win a dismissal. For more information on how to do all of this, consult the NMA’s e-book, “Fight That Ticket,” which is available at no charge to Supporting Members and costs $9.95 for others.

Another approach is to claim the officer stopped the wrong vehicle. In certain traffic conditions it’s possible the officer could target one car, lose sight of it and end up stopping the wrong car.

Finally, if you can show that you had to exceed the speed limit to avoid an accident or other hazard, you may win a dismissal. This is known as a defense of necessity.

Presumed Speed Laws

Presumed (or prima facie) speed laws are a bit more complicated but offer some additional defense strategies. Under these statutes, speed limits are presumed, which means driving faster than the speed limit is only evidence of unreasonable speed. If you can show you were driving in a safe and prudent manner for the prevailing conditions and the prosecution can’t refute your claims, your case should be dismissed.

For example, you receive a ticket for going 10 mph over the posted speed on the Interstate, but it was a clear morning, light traffic and the road was flat and straight. You could argue that you were driving in a safe and prudent manner for those road conditions and therefore your case should be dismissed.

In some states like Texas all speed limits are presumed. Other states like California use both presumed and absolute speed limits, depending on the type of road. Look here to find out which type applies to you. Click on the link to the actual state statute to get more specific information on the speed laws covering your state. A Google search for the violation code shown on the ticket is also effective. Understanding the specifics of what you’re charged with can be invaluable to your defense.

Basic Speed Laws

Some states also employ a basic speed law which means you can get a ticket for speeding even if you were driving at the posted speed limit or below. This applies when a police officer determines that your speed is unsafe for conditions—for example: driving at the 65 mph posted speed limit on an Interstate highway at night, in heavy traffic during a downpour.

Police routinely invoke the basic speed law after an accident. They point to the accident as evidence you were driving too fast, no matter how slowly and carefully you were actually driving. If you can prove that the accident could have been caused by other factors, such as the actions of another driver or an improperly marked intersection, you may still prevail.

Police also issue these types of tickets even when there is no accident. What then? Question the officer aggressively about how he determined you were driving unsafely. What proof does he have when there was no safety incident and you were driving within the posted limit?

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