Article written by Attorney Ryan Pauley with input by Speeding and Traffic Ticket Attorney Dan Samas. Ryan’s practice www.pauleylawgroup.com focuses on plaintiff’s personal injury, virtual general counsel services, and litigation.
This last Memorial Day my family and I made a trip out to Donnelly, Idaho to spend time with our family. As I’m sure you probably guessed by the title of this article I was pulled over when we were driving in Donnelly. However, the circumstances were interesting and made me think about this topic. So here is what happened.
I drove out from a gas station parking lot onto Highway 55. The speed limit in town was 25 mph, which I was going for a short period of time. About 500 yards later, I saw a speed limit sign in the distance which said 35 mph. I began to speed up in the 25 mph zone so that I would be going 35 mph when I passed the 35 mph sign. As I got to about 35 mph, I passed a police car that was parked on the side of the highway. I was immediately pulled over. The police officer was very polite, but tried to get me to admit that I was speeding. My response, “Officer I know the speed limit is 25 mph, if I was speeding, which I don’t think I was, it was only because I wanted to be driving 35 mph when I reached the 35 mph sign.” The officer paused for a second, shook his head and explained that isn’t the law. I didn’t say anything about being an attorney but I did say, “I just didn’t want to be traveling under the speed limit after I passed the 35 mph sign because if I did that then I could be pulled over for going to slow.” The police officer didn’t agree with me, but DID NOT issue me a ticket. Whew.
When we drove off, I started thinking about what just happened and I wondered, “Was the police officer right? Does the speed limit start at the sign? Or, are you supposed to be going the speed limit at the sign?”
We all understand the notion that driving above the speed limit is illegal. Fun fact—In the UK, drivers are given what is known as “the 10% rule,” which states drivers may generally get away with exceeding the speed limit by approximately 10%. Unfortunately we don’t have this exception, however whether or not issue a speeding ticket is up to the officer’s judgment.
But what about driving under the speed limit? Under Washington State Law, it is illegal to drive your car under the speed limit if it slows down traffic. Of course, the exception here is if you are driving under the speed limit for safety reasons. However, what does the law say about this anticipatory speed increase? After a bit of research, we discovered that there is no buffer zone or grace period from when you see an upcoming speed increase; the new speed limit zone does not take effect until you reach it. So, if you see an upcoming speed limit sign increasing the speed limit, you’d best wait until you reach it to begin accelerating.
I was talking this topic over with Blake, our new reliable law clerk and he brought up an interesting point. He told me to flip the facts a bit and think about speed reduction zones. He reminded me that these zones have signs warning drivers of the upcoming reduced speed limits (i.e. school zone ahead). Blake explained that the idea is to give drivers time to prepare for the new speed zone so they don’t have to slam on their brakes, sort of a mental buffer zone to start reducing speed early. With this in mind Blake explained that a good argument is that the same should apply to increasing speed. (Great argument Blake! I knew we hired you for a good reason). Meaning, a buffer zone should exist which allows drivers to increase speed and thus exceed the speed limit.
As interesting as this argument is, it still doesn’t change the fact that the speed limit starts at the sign. But why is that? Why isn’t there a buffer zone to allow drivers to increase speed. I think it all comes down to safety. There is probably much less of a safety risk if you start increasing your speed at the sign as opposed to speeding before the sign, even if it is somewhat justified. On the flip side a buffer zone for decreasing speed before the sign also promotes safety. If a driver is going 60 mph and entering a 35 mph, we want the driver to being slowing down before the sign, as opposed to slamming on the brakes when the reduced speed limit is reached. Could you imagine if this wasn’t the case? People would be slamming on their brakes all the time which would probably lead to more collisions, injuries, etc.
I also reached out to my friend and colleague Dan Samas. As you might remember, Dan’s a successful traffic and speeding ticket attorney in Seattle. Here is his take on the situation:
These are some very interesting points. My overall perspective is that judges and prosecuting attorneys tend to look at things in black and white. Unfortunately, some excuses that may sound rational to non-lawyers may be looked at as an admission by certain judges and prosecutors. For example, if you crossed double yellow lines with no oncoming traffic in order to safely pass a bicyclist, you are still committing a traffic infraction. Same thing If you are alone and swerve into a HOV lane to avoid an accident.
Similar logic applies to speeding…if the front of your vehicle is still within the last 10 feet before the end of a school zone when approaching an officer and you are going slightly over the 20-mph speed limit because you think there no longer is a safety risk, you are still committing a speeding infraction.
I typically do not use these types of excuses in front of a judge. I generally look for technicalities or other outs. On the other hand, if there aren’t any technicalities, I may be able to selectively bring these kinds of explanations up with reasonable prosecutors (to nudge them to offer a non-moving or in some cases agree to dismiss “in the interest of justice”). For example, the speed limit at the end of SR 520 in Redmond goes from 60 to 40 within a short distance. There is a warning sign, but some motorists are not slowing down quick enough. I had a situation where my client was clearly decelerating, but still going around 50 mph about 40 feet after the zone changed. I would never bring that up before a judge, but I can mention this situation in negotiations with certain prosecutors with the objective of a better deal. Inventive arguments such as these can backfire without experience and may be deemed an admission to a judge or police officer (who is deciding whether to issue a ticket). Therefore, they should only be used when the situation warrants.
So after all of this, I agree with the officer who pulled me over. However, I like to think that I didn’t get the ticket because of my creative argument.
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