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Basic Speed Laws in the State of California
THE BASIC SPEED LAWS (CVC § 22350), THE PRIMA FACIE SPEED LAWS (CVC § 22349) AND THE MAXIMUM SPEED LIMITS
VEHICLE CODE SECTION 22350 - BASIC SPEED LAWS
Regarding Speeding - CVC 22349/CVC 22350, the Statute: CVC § 22350 is known as the basic speed law. It provides:
No person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, the highway, and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property.
This statute means that, regardless of any speed limit, one may not drive so fast as to be "dangerous" on a roadway. (CVC § 22358.5). Before someone may be found guilty of a violation of CVC § 22350, there must be “substantial evidence from which a fact finder could conclude either that the defendant drove at a speed that endangered people or property or that he drove at a speed that was unreasonable for the driving conditions.” People v. Behjat (2000) 84 Cal.App.4th Supp. 1, 3.
REGARDING SPEEDING - CVC-22349/CVC-22350
A motorist driving within the posted speed limit is not always free of negligence. Wilkins v. Sawyer (1965) 232 Cal.App.2d 458. All speed regulations are referable to primary demand that all vehicles shall be operated at a careful and prudent speed not greater than is reasonable and proper, and that they shall not be operated in such way as to endanger life, limb, or property of any person. Cowan v. Market St. Ry. Co. (1935) 8 Cal.App.2d 642.
When radar evidence is used in the prosecution for a violation of the basic speed law, the people bear burden of establishing that engineering and traffic survey justifies posted speed by producing that survey. People v. Smith (1981) 118 Cal.App.3d Supp. 7. The State could not rebut the presumption a speed trap was utilized, which arose due to use of radar to enforce prima facie speed limit, by producing a summary of the current engineering and traffic survey for the relevant segment of the roadway. The state was required to produce the original survey or certified copy of the survey. People v. Ellis (1995) 33 Cal.App.4th Supp. 25.
Regarding Speeding - CVC 22349/CVC 22350, a prima facie speed limit establishes the point at which the defendant’s speed is presumed to be unsafe under the basic speed law described in the above-referenced section.
If it is proved that the defendant exceeded the prima facie limit, the burden shifts to the defendant to show that his or her speed was safe under CVC § 22350. In this regard, CVC § 22351, subdivision (b) states the following:
The speed of any vehicle upon a highway in excess of the prima facie speed limits in Section 22352 or established as authorized in this code is prima facie unlawful unless the defendant establishes by competent evidence that the speed in excess of said limits did not constitute a violation of the basic speed law at the time, place and under the conditions then existing.
But proof of a speed below the prima facie limit may also prove a violation of CVC § 22350. CVC § 22351, subdivision (a), provides:
The speed of any vehicle upon a highway not in excess of the limits specified in Section 22352 or established as authorized in this code is lawful unless clearly proved to be in violation of the basic speed law.
Prima facie speed limits are set in one of two ways: by survey or by statute.
For instance, CVC § 22354 uses the survey method to set a speed limit, authorizing the setting of a prima facie speed limit at some speed below the maximum speed limit on any road where an engineering and traffic survey justifies that speed limit established by the survey or by the applicable statute relating to the prima facie speed limits.
Regarding Speeding - CVC 22349/CVC 22350, maximum speed limits are best described as the highest speed limit allowed on certain roads where high speeds are permissible, and they establish the maximum permissible speed on other roads with lower, prima facie speed limits.
There are three maximum speed limits in California: 55, 65 and 70, depending on various factors. CVC § 22349 sets a maximum speed limit of 65 mph throughout the state (except for the 70 mph limit on some freeways). CVC § 22349(a) reads:
Except as provided in Section 22356 [70 mph on some freeways], no person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than 65 miles per hour.
The CVC § 22356 referred to above allows a 70 mph speed limit if justified by an engineering and traffic survey where a 65 mph limit would otherwise be applicable.
Regarding Speeding - CVC 22349/CVC 22350, in any action involving the question of unlawful speed of a vehicle upon a highway which has been signposted with speed restriction signs of a type complying with the requirements of this code, it shall be presumed that existing facts authorize the erection of the signs and that the prima facie speed limit on the highway is the limit stated on the signs.
This presumption may be rebutted, but where a speed limit is signposted, there are two applicable presumptions: (1) the particular facts related to the road and its conditions authorize the posted limit, i.e., the speed limit is validly established; and (2), the sign accurately states the established speed limit. Where a speed limit is posted, the person accused of violating it has the burden to prove it was not valid. See: Reynolds v. Filomeo (1951) 38 Cal.2d 5, 12-13, and Guerra v. Brooks (1951) 38 Cal.2d 16.