Why Did It Take Nearly 30 Years To Fix A Simple Speed Limit Sign?

In a case that illustrates just how few drivers stand up for their rights in court, a woman in Milwaukie, Oregon successfully got her traffic fine erased after figuring out that the speed limit was posted incorrectly. The road was marked with a 25 MPH sign for the last 30 years even though the speed limit is and had been 35 MPH.

Why didn’t they fix the sign earlier or post it at the correct speed limit to start with? Because then they wouldn’t be able to write as many speeding tickets using their automatic ticketing machine — a speed camera placed on that same underposted road.

Here’s an excerpt from the story on OregonLive.com:

On a spring evening last year, Lalita Miles turned east onto King Road after shopping at Safeway and pointed her 2001 Volkswagen Beetle toward home. Shortly after, the city of Milwaukie snapped her picture.

In that instant, Miles’ perfect driving record vanished. Most people would probably consider that a good run, pay the fine and move on. Not Miles.

She contended that for nearly 30 years Milwaukie has illegally ticketed people on that short stretch of King Road — and a Clackamas County judge agreed.

The state-designated speed limit for the road is 35 mph, but the city’s signs in the stretch that got Miles her ticket said 25 mph. The signs have since been corrected.

“The whole reason why I’m doing this is to help thousands of people who were nailed for the same thing,” Miles said.

Miles was successful in fighting her ticket, but the judge was unwilling to drop the issue completely. Instead Miles was charged with going 2 MPH faster than the speed limit but not issued a fine:

Miles said she couldn’t believe she was going much faster than 35 mph, and she was right. The citation said she was doing 37. But what really caught her eye was the posted speed listed on the ticket — 25 mph. Miles had never noticed that the stretch of King Road between 44th and 53rd avenues was posted as 25 mph.

At her first court date, she became suspicious when others were there for speeding tickets in the same area. She went home, did some research and discovered the city had posted the wrong speed limit signs in that section since 1980.

The city eventually found Miles guilty of speeding but issued no fine. Miles, however, wasn’t satisfied and appealed the ruling to Clackamas County Circuit Court.

Larry J. Blake Jr., the city’s prosecutor, argued in filings that the Oregon Speed Control Board’s designated speed of 35 mph was not enforceable because the city had not changed the signs. He also told Judge Kathie Steele that tickets were issued only for people going faster than 36 mph.

Steele didn’t buy Blake’s argument.

“Surely, 29 years is sufficient for the city to erect the correct signs,” Steele wrote in her decision last month.

Although Steele agreed with Miles that the signage was incorrect, she also found Miles guilty of exceeding the correct speed limit by 2 mph. Steele followed the city’s lead, though, and didn’t impose a fine.

This case shows the power of drivers fighting their traffic tickets but it’s sad that it took nearly three decades before anyone in Milwaukie stood up for themselves in court.

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