Presumed Speed Limits

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 What are Presumed Speed Limits?

There are three basic categories of speed limit systems in the United States, including:

  • Absolute;
  • Presumed; and
  • Basic.

When an absolute speed limit is in place, it is against the law to drive above that speed limit for any reason. Basic speed limits mean that a driver should drive at a speed that is reasonable and prudent at all times.

In other words, drivers must sometimes drive slower than the posted speed limit. In contrast, a presumed speed limit means that there is a presumption that it is not safe to drive faster than the speed limit which is posted.

An individual may be accused of driving at an unsafe speed depending on the conditions at the time at which they received the ticket. States which have presumed speed limits include California and Texas.

In these states, it is generally legal to drive reasonably over the posted speed limit so long as the individual is driving safely. For example, if an individual is driving 60 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone, they may be presumed to be speeding.

If the situation is such that all drivers are traveling at the same speed and it may be dangerous to drive slower, it may be possible to convince a court that a driver was driving safely under those conditions. This is not absolute in every case but is a commonly used defense.

A presumed speed limit may also work against a driver. For example, if they were driving at the posted speed limit, but the roadway conditions caused even that speed to be dangerous, the individual may still be ticketed.

Examples of these situations may include when there is heavy fog or other hazardous weather conditions. A presumed speed limit system takes into account the driving conditions which were present at the time the individual was driving.

Because of this, it is important to be aware of an individual’s surroundings and conditions while they are operating a motor vehicle.

What Are School Zones?

A school zone is an area around a school where the posted speed limit is lowered in order to protect the children. The areas included in a school zone typically include:

  • Streets directly adjacent to a school;
  • Intersections near a school; and
  • Crosswalks in the vicinity of a school.

In the majority of states, the speed limit in a school zone is only lowered during the hours when students are going to and from the school. Some states, however, require motorists to reduce their speed when they are passing a school, no matter the time of day.

What Are the Penalties for Speeding in School Zones?

In the majority of states, the penalties for speeding and other violations that occur in a school zone are significantly greater than fines for a normal moving violation. In general, a motorist who is traveling more than 30 miles per hour over the speed limit in a school zone will face serious fines and possibly even incarceration.

Numerous states have anti-drug and weapon laws which are aimed at protecting youth. These laws usually enhance the penalties for the possession of drugs or weapons in a school zone.

Therefore, a motorist who is in possession of illegal drugs or weapons in a school zone may face more severe penalties. In certain states, even a motorist in lawful possession of a weapon may face criminal charges if they are on school property.

In addition, drunk driving in a school zone will likely carry a more severe penalty than drunk driving in other areas.

What are the Penalties for Speeding Violations?

The penalties imposed for a speed violation will depend on numerous factors. Most speeding violations may result in certain fines and other consequences, including mandatory completion of traffic school.

Other speeding violations may result in more serious penalties, including jail time. The penalty which is imposed for a speeding violation may depend on factors including:

  • The speed the driver was traveling at when they were cited;
  • The posted speed limit;
  • Whether the speed limit laws in that area involved an absolute, basic, or presumed speed limit;
  • Whether the area was a residential area;
  • Whether there were many pedestrians closeby;
  • Whether it was a school zone or some other type of area which requires careful driving;
  • Driving conditions, such as weather and time of day, especially in presumed speed limit areas;
  • Whether the individual was deemed to be driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time; and
  • Whether the individual had a history of speeding or was a repeat offender.

The factors listed above may cause a basic speeding violation to be treated more seriously and may increase the penalties or consequences imposed.

Are There Any Defenses to Presumed Speed Limit Violations?

If an individual has been charged with exceeding a presumed speed limit, it may be possible to defend against the charge by showing that they did not exceed the posted speed limit. An individual may also defend their speed by showing that they were driving safely in the conditions that existed at the time.

The higher the rate of speed, however, the more difficult it will be to show that the individual was driving safely than if they were going, say, 5 miles per hour over the posted speed limit. As with other violations, there are also other defenses which may apply.

For example, an individual may be able to present a defense that they were forced to drive at such a speed under the threat of violence or harm. For example, if they were held at gunpoint and told to drive at a higher speed.

What Should I Do if I Believe I Have Not Broken the Law?

If an individual believes they are not at fault for a presumed speed limit infraction, they should consult with an attorney. An individual can also return to the area where the violation occurred on a day with similar conditions and take pictures to provide additional evidence.

The individual will want to diagram the entire scene by showing:

  • Where they were;
  • Where the other cars were; and
  • Where the law enforcement officer was located at the time of the citation.

In addition, if there were any witnesses, the individual should try to obtain their statements as well. Any evidence that an individual gathers to show they were driving safely will be beneficial for their case.

Most importantly, an individual should be sure to appear at their traffic court hearing. It is important to appear at the hearing and present evidence to the court.

There is a chance that the law enforcement officer who wrote the individual’s ticket will not appear in court. If that happens, there is a chance the court will dismiss the ticket.

It is important for an individual to collect evidence to support their claim and to be present at their hearing if they believe they did not violate the speed limit.

Do I Need a Lawyer Experienced with Presumed Speed Limit Laws?

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of a traffic violation lawyer for any issues, questions, or concerns you may have related to a speed limit violation. Your attorney can review your case, determine if there are any defenses available to your ticket, and represent you when you have to appear in court.

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