Lorry with new cars driving on motorway, Logistics background

The National Transportation Safety Board has said for years that speed kills. They said cars speeding on United States roads increase the chances of a deadly crash. Then, there’s California. An old law in California requires cities to set speed limits based on how fast people are already driving on that stretch of road. That’s the case regardless of whether that speed is safe or whether the street has a history of wrecks, according to a Los Angeles Times editorial.

Speeding makes a crash more likely. In a speeding crash, drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists are more likely to suffer severe injuries and more likely to die. Robert L. Sumwalt, who was then acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, made those remarks at a board meeting in 2017, according to StreetsBlog USA.

Nearly 37,000 more people died on highways from 1993-2017 than would have been the case had 55 mph been maintained nationwide, a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed in 2019. The 55 mph speed limit ceased being the nationwide standard in 1995.

Each 5-mph increase in speed increases the distance a car travels from the moment a driver detects an emergency to the time a driver reacts. It increases the distance needed to stop a car once the driver starts to brake.

Why won't CA reform its speed limits?

The Golden State’s law in question was adopted more than 60 years ago. The law’s intent was to prevent cities from setting speed traps and arbitrarily issuing pricey tickets. The law works like this:

In order for police to use radar guns or other electronic devices to help enforce speed limits on a particular street, cities have to conduct regular surveys of traffic there.

The limit must then be set at a speed exceeded by only 15 percent of the vehicles surveyed. That number is rounded to the nearest 5 mph. The mandate means one thing. If cities want to enforce the speed limit on a street where drivers routinely speed, they often have to raise it to a level where most of that behavior would be legal.

Zelzah Avenue in the San Fernando Valley. It is one of the most dangerous streets in Los Angeles for pedestrians and cyclists. City officials have had to raise the speed limit twice over a decade from 35 to 45 mph. They did this so police could use radar guns to more easily catch and ticket speeders.

The LA Times’ editorial asked, why is California clinging to such a backward way of setting speed limits?

Questioning the standard assumption

The standard California officials have been using in determining speed limits is based on an assumption. This belief is that most drivers will drive at a safe and reasonable speed. So, officials think that it’s safer to set speed limits that reflect the “natural” flow of traffic.

Research suggests drivers don’t naturally choose prudent speeds and, in fact, they frequently underestimate how fast they’re driving.

The Zero Traffic Fatalities Task Force was established in 2018. The task force recommended that state legislators give cities more flexibility to set lower speed limits. Californians’ history is to fight reforms that could slow their commutes, however.

Contact the Law Offices Of Daniel C. Carlton in Costa Mesa for cases involving speeding accidents, and help with other car, truck and motorcycle crashes.

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Dan Carlton and his team are dedicated, down-to-earth, compassionate personal injury attorneys committed to helping victims of traffic accidents, personal injuries, dog bites and more. Serving Los Angeles and the entire Orange County area, including Anaheim, Tustin, Irvine, Garden Grove and Santa Ana, for over 40 years, we have handled thousands of cases.

Daniel C. Carlton