A city council suffers speed limit regret

It was otherwise an ordinary story about a reluctant California city forced to comply with the speed trap law.

One thing stood out. Santa Monica councilors wanted to repeal a speed limit set based on an engineering study and replace it with a lower statutory speed limit.

Obviously they shouldn’t do that. But can they?

This is the same situation as the Minnesota speed trap I wrote about. Both states have the same law: once speed zoned, a street can’t be reset to the statutory speed limit without an additional engineering study.

Existing ordinance set a 35 mph speed limit. Vehicle Code section 22357 says once a speed limit has been raised from 25 it may not be altered except based on an engineering study. City politicians might regret raising the speed limit, but once raised the law says fact takes priority over opinion.

This is separate from the speed trap law, which says except on “local” streets the city has to produce a recent engineering study to make a ticket stand up in court. (“Local” streets are defined by federal aid highway planning maps.)

If the speed limit on a local street has always been 25 the city doesn’t need to justify it with an engineering study. If you show the speed limit used to be higher, then the city has to justify the reduction.

I suspect this was just a mistake by the city’s engineering consultants. They made a list of 25 mph streets that didn’t need studies done and inadvertently included a 35 mph street that did. The city council’s vote was simply to ratify the engineer’s report. I pointed out the mistake to the city council. We’ll see what happens.

This does happen deliberately too. I read about another city that wanted to cut speed limits to 25 by reclassifying all streets as “local”. That’s not how California law works. The city would not have to do engineering studies going forward, but would not be able to lower existing speed limits without a legal engineering study.

So keep an eye on these stories. Speed limit changes are not quite as inevitable as death and taxes.

The opinions expressed in belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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