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I am travelling in California this month with my car. I noticed that while the speed limit on highways is 65 MPH in most sections, people typically drive at 75-80 MPH. What's the actual speed limit on highways in California above which we get taxed speeding tickets?

marked as duplicate by choster, Gayot Fow, Kate Gregory, CGCampbell, SpaceDog Jun 21 '15 at 3:27

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    There is really no way that this could be answered. Normally 5 miles above is considered within the margin of error but I've seen traffic in CA going 85 on 101 with no issues but then you could get someone having a bad day and get a ticket @72. – Karlson Jun 19 '15 at 19:00
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    In practice it can get complicated. You can improve your luck by adding the legal term "prima facie" to your search... try "california prima facie speed limit" – Gayot Fow Jun 19 '15 at 19:16
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    See jpatokal's answer about driving in the fast lane in California; How to find out the speed limit in the US? and Do any States in the US give traffic tickets for 5 mph above the speed limit? may also be of interest. – choster Jun 19 '15 at 19:24
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    Enforcement is stricter during holiday weekends. I knew someone pulled over for 70 on a 65 mph stretch of I-5 (straight, flat, middle of nowhere); heavy traffic for a holiday. Generally if you are going with the flow of traffic of the #2 lane on a 3-or-more-lane freeway, you will be OK. My driving experience, BTW, is that special curve speed limits for California correspond more closely to the speed you want to go than in Oregon, where they were much lower than necessary for safety. – Andrew Lazarus Jun 20 '15 at 0:08
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    @FranckDernoncourt - that may be a good question for skeptics.stackexchange.com: "Are speed limits used mainly as a tax and decrease the public's trust in law enforcement", if you can cite some claims supporting it. I'm skeptical that it's true, of all the things that make me lose trust in law enforcement, speeding enforcement doesn't make the list. – Johnny Jun 20 '15 at 0:19

What the law says

In California, as in most jurisdictions, exceeding any posted speed limit is considered speeding. You can be ticketed for going 1 MPH above, and I've seen it happen. You can also be cited for speeding if you are driving faster than a reasonable speed for the conditions, even if it's slower than the posted speed limit.

In practice

It's all about staying "street smart".

Exceeding the posted speed limit is extremely common on California freeways, even in the right lane. In fact, driving at the posted limit slower than the flow of traffic is likely to be unsafe. If you drive no faster than the surrounding traffic, and you stay alert and slow down for the Highway Patrol, you are unlikely to get ticketed. Everyone follows the same reasoning, counting on "safety in numbers".

If you are the first car in a pack or the fastest car on a wide-open road, you are definitely at risk for a speeding citation.

That said, if you do get cited for speeding, "going with the flow of traffic" is a defense that is not likely to work in court.

None of what I said above constitutes legal advice.

  • "In California, as in most jurisdictions, the posted speed limit is the maximum allowable speed." This is not true. California has two speed laws. 1) The Maximum Speed Law says you cannot drive faster than 65, or 55 on a two-lane undivided highway, except where posted as 70. 2) The Basic Speed Law says you cannot drive faster than is safe for the conditions. Neither law refers to the "posted speed limit" (except for the 70 exception). – user102008 Jun 23 '15 at 19:25
  • "as in most jurisdictions" — as in most US jurisdictions. For example in European jurisdictions a degree of tolerance for error is included. It's practically impossible to get ticket for speeding 5km/h or less in Europe. – vartec Jul 2 '15 at 20:29
  • @vartec A tolerance is widely understood to apply in the US as well, but it's not written in law. My understanding is that the tolerance is a matter of enforceability due to measurement accuracy. Can you provide a citation in a European legal code that says that there is a "hidden" speed limit that is higher than what is posted? – 200_success Jul 2 '15 at 20:43
  • In US "tolerance is usually up to the discretion of the arresting officer". Meanwhile in Europe these are codified standards. For example Germany it's at least 3km/h or 3% on top of whatever tolerance for inaccuracy of measurement. In Poland the law specifies that inaccuracy of measurement with a single radar is to be assumed at 10 km/h. In Spain AFAIK, it's 10 km/h or 10%, whichever is greater. etc. See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speed_limit_enforcement#Tolerances – vartec Jul 2 '15 at 23:08

If the speed limit is 55, you shouldn't drive more than 7 below or they can ticket you. Its the same with going over. Technically they can pull you for going 56 in a 55 but not many police officers are that picky. If you are obviously standing out, not going with the flow of traffic, they can pull you because if everyone around you is going 60 and you are going 45, it is dangerous to other drivers and yourself. The max speed limit is whatever is posted on the road sign at that locale. The minimum speed is 7-10 mph lower than that before you get pulled usually.

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    The OP seems to be looking for hard evidence, not opinions. I can't find any law in California that sets an explicit minimum speed 7 mph below the maximum. The closest is VC 22400: "No person shall drive upon a highway at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, unless the reduced speed is necessary for safe operation, because of a grade, or in compliance with law." – Nate Eldredge Jun 20 '15 at 1:36
  • @NateEldredge: so VC 22400 concedes that "complying with the law" (driving at the speed limit) is a valid reason to impede "the normal and reasonable movement of traffic" Neat! – DJohnM Jun 20 '15 at 1:55
  • The question was about the maximum not the minimum. – Karlson Jun 20 '15 at 2:55

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