An Overview of California Speed Limit Laws
California’s speed limit laws are in place to protect everyone on the road from dangerous motor vehicle accidents. Still, many drivers disobey these laws and find themselves paying hefty fines and facing other penalties. Even worse, they leave the victims of speed-related accidents with serious car accident injuries, emotional trauma, and financial consequences.
A firm understanding of California’s speed limit laws can help drivers recognize the importance of compliance as a way to protect their own driving records and protect others who share the road. For victims of car accidents, knowledge of these laws may provide direction on their path to compensation. If you are a victim, the California car accident lawyers at Curtis Legal Group can help determine if speeding contributed to your crash and work to hold that speeding driver accountable for paying you damages.
California’s Speed Limits
California’s speed limits are designed to give motorists clear directives for driving at speeds that maintain a safe, organized, and orderly flow of traffic under normal conditions.
Drivers must adjust their speeds to maintain safe travel if weather, traffic, road, or other conditions warrant it.
California has two categories for its speed limits: absolute and “prima facie.”
Absolute Speed Limits
Absolute speed limits prohibit drivers from operating their vehicles at speeds higher than those permitted by law. Under Vehicle Code 22356, California’s drivers must obey the following speed limits:
- 70 miles per hour (mph) on freeways marked with this rate
- 65 mph on freeways or other highways not marked with the 70 mph limit
- 55 mph on undivided highways with two lanes unless these highways have higher speed limits posted
Drivers exceeding these limits are automatically recognized as speeding and in violation of the vehicle code under these “absolute” limits. It is also illegal for drivers to speed in construction zones under Vehicle Code 22362. Often construction zones have specific speed limits posted, sometimes as low as 25 mph. If drivers exceed the limit within 400 feet of a construction zone, they can be charged with a violation of this code.
Prima Facie Speed Limits
California also has prima facie speed limits. These “presumed” limits are established in Vehicle Code 22352. Under this law, unless otherwise posted, drivers must obey the following prima facie speed limits:
- 15 mph at railroad crossings, while driving through alleys, and in highway intersections that do not allow 100 feet of visibility for approaching vehicles
- 25 mph in residential and business districts
- 25mph “when approaching or passing a school building or grounds,” or when “passing a senior center or another facility primarily used by senior citizens”
When drivers break absolute speed limits, they automatically violate speed limit laws. However, driving over the limit in prima facie areas does not come with an automatic violation, as drivers can argue they did not violate California’s “basic speeding law.”
California’s Basic Speeding Law
Vehicle Code 22350 is commonly known as California’s basic speeding law. It is the law requiring drivers to operate their vehicles at reasonable, safe speeds under normal conditions. However, the meaning of “safe” and “reasonable” can change with driving conditions.
Under the basic speeding law, drivers must adjust their speeds based on these and other conditions:
- The presence of pedestrians or cyclists
- The presence of animals
- Proximity to railroad crossing
- Slippery or wet road surfaces
- Reduced visibility, such as from fog, smog, smoke, other natural conditions, or other view obstructions
- Sun glare, excessive sunlight, or the presence of other bright lights
- Traffic congestion
Drivers should also make necessary speed adjustments when traveling in crowded city areas, business districts, residential streets, remote and rural areas, or when driving over a hill. They must be aware driving at 65 mph on a freeway may be allowable on a clear morning, but would be a violation of the basic speeding law at other times of the day or in other conditions.
Rain, rush-hour traffic, or changes in road conditions may all be valid reasons to reduce speed. Failing to do so can be used by law enforcement to issue a ticket. If drivers can show they did not violate the basic speeding law—that their speed was reasonable—when driving over a prima facie limit, they may see the charges dismissed.
California’s Minimum Speed Limit Laws
Too-slow drivers can cause those around them to have to slam on their brakes, swerve to avoid a collision, and create other dangerous scenarios. California’s minimum speed limit laws work to prevent these situations, specifically through Vehicle Code 22400, included in California’s “other speed laws.”
This law states drivers cannot drive so slowly that they block or slow the regular flow of traffic. The reduced speed is only allowed if it is necessary for safely operating the vehicle, navigating the road grade, or complying with the law. The minimum speed law also prohibits drivers from stopping on a highway unless they need to in order to safely operate the vehicle or to comply with the law.
Determining whether a driver’s speed is so slow as to incur a violation requires consideration of the specific circumstances, including:
- The maximum speed limit, as posted
- Weather conditions
- Traffic conditions
- Roadway and driving conditions
- The number of lanes on the highway
- The time of day
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) classifies accidents as speed-related if any driver in the accident is charged with a speed-related offense. Typically, the police officers will make a note if they determine the driver was engaging in racing, driving too fast for the existing conditions, or going over the posted speed limit.
NHTSA data shows over the recent year, speed-related factors contributed to:
- 28% of fatal crashes, producing 12,330 deaths and representing an 8% increase from the previous year
- 13% of injury-involved crashes, leaving 328,946 injured victims
- 9% of property-damage-only accidents
Across the nation, speed issues accounted for 29% of all traffic fatalities. California ranked second-highest (after Texas) for the number of speed-involved fatalities, recording 1,509 deaths. California reported 4,285 traffic accident fatalities, with speed contributing to 35% of them.
Victims of California’s Speeding Law Violators
Drivers who ignore California’s speed laws often leave victims in their wake. Speeding can lead to accidents causing serious injuries or fatalities. Under California law, victims may seek compensatory relief for their losses, and a California personal injury attorney from Curtis Legal Group can help. A compassionate, experienced personal injury attorney will evaluate your losses with precision and fight to hold the at-fault driver accountable for paying you both economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages cover any financial costs or losses you have incurred from the accident, such as medical bills or income loss. Non-economic damages acknowledge your pain, emotional suffering, and reduced quality of life.
Too often, victims agree to a settlement before speaking to an attorney and without realizing the full impact the consequences of their injuries will have on their lives. Do not risk accepting less than you need and deserve. Reach out for superior legal representation from our successful team.
Get the “Heavy-Hitting” Legal Representation You Need
When someone else violates a speeding law and leaves you or someone you love injured or killed, you deserve serious compensation. The California car accident lawyers at Curtis Legal Group are “heavy hitters” and will fight tirelessly to get you the financial and emotional justice you need to recover and move forward. Call or send a message to set up a free consultation with an experienced, compassionate, and bold attorney who will manage your case with skill from start to finish.