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The story behind speed limits
Dear Street Smarts, Q: Why do we have speed limits? I find that by going the speed limit, I am actually an obstacle in the road for others to go around. People, in general, do not drive the speed limit. Gary Splawn via email A: "Speed limits are set by the California Vehicle Code," explained Lt. Michael Ridgway of the Watsonville Police Department. "They are governed by several factors." Factor No. 1 is California Vehicle Code section 22350, the Basic Speed Law, Ridgeway said. Under this law, "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 at no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property." "This is the section that is a catchall of speed violations," said Ridgway. "It includes more than just exceeding the posted speed limit. It leaves discretion to law enforcement based on their judgment." It also "can be used for a vehicle traveling slower than the posted limit if the officer can articulate what makes it unsafe, or dangerous," he added. The next speed law drivers need to know about is vehicle code section 22352(a) Prima Facie Speed Limits. This law sets speed limits to 15 mph in alleys, around railroad crossings and at blind intersections that do not have traffic signals or stop signs controlling them, explained Ridgway. It also sets a 25 mph speed limit in business and residential districts, as well as around schools and senior centers, when properly signed. "Several other sections dictate the maximum speed limit 65 mph or some instances 70 mph with the right conditions," he continued. "Local jurisdictions can raise or lower limits to anything in between 15 mph and 70 mph. However, they must support those moves with engineering and traffic surveys. Cities cannot lawfully lower a speed limit to address specific problems or complaints." But police departments do "not dictate speed limits," Ridgway asserted. "They may have a voice but the actual call is made by the state or local jurisdictions using the criteria mentioned above. Speed limits, like other controls stop signs, electronic controls, and direction of travel provide some basic order to our roads that aid traffic flow and provide a margin of safety to motorists and pedestrians alike." However, speed "enforcement is not simply due to exceeding the speed limit," he cautioned. Driving 26 mph in an area posted at 25 mph does not mean a speeding ticket will be issued. "It is usually a combination of factors that make that particular vehicles speed unsafe at the time," said Ridgway. "While there are exceptions, like 100 mph on an empty highway, it is usually a combination of traffic flow and road conditions that dictate enforcement action." Complaints from witnesses also play a role, he added. Happy New Year from Street Smarts If you plan to party it up to bring in the 2014, please be safe. Obey all traffic laws. Particularly, don't drive distracted and wear your seat belt. Designate a sober driver, make arrangements to spend the night at the party venue or call a taxi. And if you see someone you think is driving as though they were drunk, drugged, or otherwise dangerously, call 911.
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