You Can Get a Speeding Ticket Below the Speed Limit. The Basic speed law, explained.
You Can Get a Speeding Ticket Below the Speed Limit
Basic speed law, explained.
BY STEVE LEHTO
JAN 23, 2017
Most people assume that speed limits are bright lines. As long as you are driving slower than the posted speed, you're fine. Right? No. From time to time I hear about someone who got a ticket for speeding while driving below the speed limit. The notion of a "Basic Speed Law" is something many of us have not heard of or thought about since Driver's Education. But it is real and something you should be aware of.
Basic speed laws vary from state to state. Michigan's basic speed law is found in the vehicle code at MCL 257.627 and requires a driver to operate his or her vehicle at a "careful and prudent speed not greater than nor less than is reasonable and proper," particularly considering factors such as "traffic, surface, and width of the highway and any other condition then existing."
If a police officer observes you driving at any speed he or she deems to not be careful or prudent under the circumstances, you may be pulled over and cited for violation of the basic speed law. That's a moving violation and will cost you some money in fines. How do we determine what is careful and prudent at any moment in time? Tough call.
I've heard from clients who were awarded this ticket after an accident. After all, you may have avoided that accident–if you caused it–by going slower. And one can see the logic in that if the facts are right.
But I have also heard of the ticket being given to someone who had not been in an accident. A police officer merely observed them driving–below the speed limit–in conditions that called for a slower speed than usual. Say, icy, sleety, or any of the other conditions you hear mailmen complain about. If there is no resulting accident, how can the officer claim your reduced speed was still excessive? That's for a judge to decide. Keep in mind that this is a civil infraction which means that you don't get that wonderful "beyond reasonable doubt," burden of proof to defend you. All the officer has to show is that more likely than not you were driving too fast for the conditions. Then, you lose.
Careful readers will have caught that the basic speed law cuts both ways. In Michigan, it is also unlawful to drive too slow for the conditions. I'll admit that in 25 years of practicing law I have never seen or heard of a ticket being given to someone for this. But we've all seen cases that called for it. The first sign of snow in Michigan and half the drivers act like we've been hit with a Class 3 Killstorm, requiring them to drive at 5 MPH when they could easily–and safely–drive faster. I poked around and looked at basic speed laws in other states and found that some do not prohibit driving too slow, so you may want to do the research for your state and double-check this.
Obviously, you always need to drive as carefully and prudently as possible. But remember: The speed limit sign is not a guarantee that you can drive that fast all the time.
Steve Lehto is a writer and attorney from Michigan. He specializes in Lemon Law and frequently writes about cars and the law. His most recent books include Preston Tucker and His Battle to Build the Car of Tomorrow, and Dodge Daytona and Plymouth Superbird: Design, Development, Production and Competition. He also has a podcast where he talks about these things.