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Types of Speed Limits and How To Fight a Ticket

To put up the best defense possible to challenge a speeding ticket, it is important to know which type of speeding law you violated.

All 50 states have three different types of speed limits included in their traffic laws for moving violations. These different speed limits are:

  • Absolute: These are the most common and transparent type of speed limit. If the posted speed limit sign states 55 mph, driving at 56 mph or faster violates the law.
  • Presumed: These speed limits are more flexible. In ideal conditions, it can be legal to drive over the posted limit as long as you are driving safely. Not every state has this type of speed limit in their traffic laws.
  • Basic: These speed limits come into play during inclement weather or non-ideal road conditions. You can be cited for speeding even if you were driving below the posted speed limit if the officer deems your speed unsafe for current conditions.

Speeding violations can be costly. Besides just a hefty fine, they can also increase your car insurance costs. In severe cases, they can even lead to a driver's license suspension. Read on to learn about the common defenses for each type of speed limit.

Defenses to Absolute Speed Limit Infractions

An absolute speed limit is straightforward. If the posted limit is 40 mph, that is the absolute limit. If you are driving 45 mph, you are breaking the speed limit.

There are limited defenses for such a ticket, but some of them include:

  • Speeding Because of an Emergency: The emergency must have warranted speeding to avoid serious injury to yourself or others. An example of a good defense would be if you were forced to speed because you had to outrun a firestorm raging down the road.
  • The Determination of Your Speed: A traffic ticket should include your tracked speed, and you have the right to challenge this statement. First, you must determine what method the officer used to determine your speed. Common speed detection methods include laser, pacing, sight, and radar guns. You can then either challenge the method itself or how the officer used it. Examples are challenging the officer's training with the radar gun used, or the calibration of their squad car's speedometer.
  • Mistaken Identity: Some motor vehicle makes and models look similar. This can make it easy for an officer to mistake your vehicle for one similar in appearance traveling close by you. This can happen if they lose sight of a speeding vehicle over a hill, or if you were traveling next to the speeder.

Fighting a Traffic Ticket Under a Presumed Speed Limit

If you have been cited for violating a presumed speed limit, this means that the officer believes you were driving at an unsafe speed for the present conditions. There are two general defenses for this type of ticket:

  • Were You Speeding? The first possible defense is questioning the officer's claim that you were driving above the posted speed limit. This is similar to how you would challenge an absolute speed limit violation.
  • Was Your Speed Safe? The second possible defense is to claim that even though you were driving above the posted limit, you were driving safely for the present conditions. For example, if you were ticketed for going 45 mph in a 35 mph zone, you could claim that you were still driving safely given the conditions. If traffic around you was driving at 75 mph and you felt that your safety was at risk traveling at 55 mph, you may convince a traffic judge that your speeding was justified.

You will have the burden of proving that the speed you were driving was safe given the conditions. It is generally assumed that the posted speed limit is the safest maximum speed for any given stretch of road. This means you must overcome this presumption to succeed.

For instance, it could be possible to show that driving 35 in a 25 was safe given the road conditions. If the road is very wide and straight and the citation was issued during daylight hours, you could have a strong argument.

Challenging a Basic Speed Limit Violation

Basic speed limit laws mandate drivers to always drive at a safe speed, even if the posted limit is higher. This means you can be cited for violating a basic speed law for driving at or under the posted limit. This can happen if an officer deems your speed unsafe per the current road or weather conditions, or if they believe your speed contributed to an accident.

Driving at or Below the Speed Limit

The general premise of a basic speed limit law works in favor of law enforcement. Police officers can ticket you for driving at a speed under the posted speed limit if the conditions make it so that your speed is unsafe. Officers may lean on subjective conclusions, using their own judgment to determine if a violation has occurred. Since the officer can be influenced by their personal opinion of safe driving, you may be successful in convincing a judge you are not guilty of the alleged violation.

Law enforcement may argue that the posted speed limit is too fast given the present conditions. Rain, snow, and wind can reduce visibility and decrease traction, making driving more dangerous. In situations like this, an officer can use their interpretation of the conditions to reduce a presumed speed limit. They have the discretion to ticket motorists for driving at or below a posted speed limit if weather or road conditions make that speed unsafe.

If you have been ticketed for driving at or below the posted speed limit, you will be afforded extra protections if you challenge the ticket. The most significant difference is that instead of having to prove that you were driving at a safe speed, the officer must instead prove that your speed was unsafe given the conditions. This may be difficult to do if you were not involved in an accident. After all, the legal presumption is that the posted speed limit is safe to travel.

Car Accidents

Police often cite drivers involved in car accidents with speeding tickets according to the basic speed limit. The assumption is that some type of unsafe behavior such as speeding contributed to the collision. This logic is inherently flawed, as there can be other reasons for the accident, including another driver's error or uncontrollable circumstances like a deer running across the highway.

If an officer accuses you of violating the basic speed limit and uses the accident as proof, ask them if there could have been other factors that caused the accident. These could include:

  • An act of nature, like a gust of wind that blew over the truck next to you, or a falling tree you had to swerve to avoid
  • The reckless driving or negligence of another driver
  • A road defect such as a pothole, a missing stoplight, or a stop sign that had been recently stolen

What Evidence Will I Need?

To build a strong defense, it is helpful to present certain evidence to the judge. Some material you can collect that may help your case includes:

  • Photos: Return to the scene of the ticket at the same time of day you were cited and take pictures. Include photos from various angles and vantage points, like from the sidewalk and the driver's point of view. The more you can show it is safe to go above the speed limit on a certain stretch of road, the better.
  • Demonstrative Evidence: Try to diagram the section of road you were ticketed and demonstrate any other factors that could benefit your case. For instance, if you can show that you were cited on an open stretch of road instead of in a busy downtown area, you have a stronger chance of proving your speed was safe given the situation.
  • Witness Testimonies: Ask any bystanders, pedestrians, or other stopped motorists for their contact information, if possible. Any witnesses who are willing to testify you were driving safely can help convince a judge that the officer's observations were incorrect.

Other Options Besides Fighting the Ticket

While simply paying the fine is the most straightforward way to settle your speeding ticket, this is akin to pleading guilty to the infraction. This may be the best choice if you don't have a reasonable defense that will stand up in traffic court. However, there may be other ways you can reduce penalties and preserve your driving record that doesn't involve challenging the ticket.

Some jurisdictions offer the option to attend traffic school or driving school to either first-time offenders or for minor traffic violations. Attending traffic school can keep the offense off your record, reduce or dismiss a fine, and prevent a spike in your insurance rates. Some insurance companies even offer policy discounts for completing traffic school or a defensive driving course. While you generally have to pay a fee for these courses, they are usually relatively short and sometimes can be completed online.

Some states even allow complete dismissal of speeding tickets under some circumstances. Reach out to your state's DMV office or local county clerk to see if this is a possibility for your citation. If your municipality offers this option and you have a clean driving record, it is worth looking into.

Speeding Tickets: Get an Attorney's Help

A speeding ticket can equal points on your driving record. It can even impact your driving privileges and auto insurance premiums. If you've received a traffic citation for speeding and want to know your options, speak to a traffic ticket lawyer for legal advice. An experienced traffic ticket attorney can help you determine the best defense to challenge your ticket.

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