With budgetary restrictions forcing many cities to cut back on every expense that is not urgently related to immediate public safety, our office has found it is not uncommon for speed limit signs to be invalid. This is so because, under Vehicle Code § 40802, a posted speed limit must be based upon a traffic survey of the area conducted in the last five years. A traffic survey costs money, so cities and counties often forego such expenses, making the speed limit signs invalid over time.
We consequently find it is a good practice to verify the currency of a traffic survey whenever a client is stopped by police for exceeding the posted speed limit. Sometimes, we also find that the survey is of an area of the same road, but where the width or curvature is fundamentally different.
Summary: Palos Verdes Estates, client speeding (Vehicle Code § 22350), case dismissed by judge when speed limit sign shown invalid due to its corresponding traffic survey being of a fundamentally different area.
A traffic survey is a study over a few days of the number of cars and their speed when passing a certain area of road over time. The survey is often done for twenty-four hours per day. Someone records the speeds of vehicles and the number of vehicles that pass each hour, calculating an average speed for each hour, from which a safe speed is calculated.
Based on the width of the road, the type of road (dirt, asphalt, concrete), the neighborhood type (residential, commercial or urban), the terrain (mountainous, flat) and the curvature of the road, this safe speed is established. As traffic volumes and road widths do change over time, speed limits are adjusted to fit current conditions to be currently safe and realistic. Sometimes, speeds are decreased to make the road safe; other times, the speed limit is increased.
Our client, a mother of three, was issued a speeding ticket under Vehicle Code § 22350 along northbound Palos Verdes Drive West in Palos Verdes Estates. She did not know what to do. The Palos Verdes Estates police officer told her she was going 50 miles per hour in a thirty-five mile per hour zone. The speed limit sign for that area of roadway indeed said 35 miles per hour.
She contacted Greg Hill & Associates, who researched the locations and dates of the most recent speed surveys for northbound Palos Verdes Drive West and found that the most recent speed surveys were conducted for areas of road miles away from where our client received her ticket, however, the speed surveys were conducted within five years of the date of the ticket.
Greg then prepared a trial brief for the client, presenting the judge with Palos Verdes Estates’ most recent traffic surveys for Palos Verdes Drive West, a discussion of speed limit signs and how the Vehicle Code requires a traffic survey to justify such a sign. Greg then showed, via color Google Earth maps where the traffic surveys were conducted in Palos Verdes Estates and how they were so far away that they could not be extended or extrapolated to apply to the area where our client received her ticket.
Greg compared the road conditions where the traffic survey was taken, local businesses nearby, how the area had no center divider, no bike lane nearby and no residences nearby, to where our client received her ticket, which was entirely residential in nature with a large, wide center divider and a wide bike lane to the right side of the road. In other words, the two areas of road were fundamentally different, so the traffic survey could not be used for both areas. Due to these significant differences, the safe speed for the area of roadway where our client’s ticket was issued had to be much higher than the speed limit for the area where the traffic survey was conducted.
The Torrance court judge agreed with our analysis and dismissed the case.
Our client was quite happy, as her driving record remained clean, with no convictions.
For more information about improper traffic stops, click on the following articles:
- Good Faith Exception to Officer’s Execution of an Improper Search Warrant Does Not Have Similar Application to an Improper Traffic Stop
- Traffic Stop Ruled Improper and Evidence Seized by Police Suppressed When Officer Lacked Reasonable Suspicion to Stop Driver
- Drug Evidence Suppressed When Police Improperly Stop Vehicle