Highway speed limit

I have never understood this: Why is it a normal occurrence for people to drive faster than the speed limit on the highway? Doesn’t it defeat the point of having a speed limit if people routinely violate it, and are even expected to violate it?

I can see this as a reasonable explanation for people exceeding the speed limit regularly—it’s safe to do so. However:

If I’m reading this correctly, you can go as fast as you like as long as it’s safe, and as long as you don’t exceed 65 mph.


Doesn’t this mean the CHP can just pull over anyone, anytime, in the fast lane (where the speed is typically well over 65) by citing the maximum speed law?

Yes, if you’re going faster than the speed limit, you can be pulled over. AFAIK, it’s a primary offense in all states (i.e. that can be the reason they pull you over, unlike seatbelt laws that are secondary in some states).

It may defeat the point that people are “expected” to violate it, but remember that speed limits are designed for the 78 year old man with cataracts and a hearing aid to drive is '69 Chevy with bald tires when it’s raining. Hyperbole, yes, but they are certainly set to the lowest common denominator.

Originally they were supposed to be set at the 85th percentile (the speed which at least 85% of drivers were driving at or below) but in reality they never are.

I’ve been driving for almost 35 years and have driven in 49 states (as of this November it’ll be 50 states) and have yet to be on a street or highway where I felt the speed limit was too fast. And this is coming from a law enforcement point of view considering the utmost safety of all drivers.

You’re certain an older vehicle with a full load and a mediocre suspension should really be going 70 on the twisty parts of the W.Va turnpike?

There’s a huge psychological component. People tend
to drive no more than 10 mph over the speed limit, whatever the speed limit is. Just posting a speed limit controls the overall speed of traffic. The few outliers are a danger and they’re the ones that the police concentrate on.

Police can ticket you for going over the speed limit, anywhere, anytime. Not sure why that is a surprise to the OP. Some people attempt to use the defense that “everyone else was speeding, so the cop shouldn’t have picked on me.” But that just doesn’t work.

There is on most major roads an unwritten concept of the “real” speed limit, the one that is enforced. Cops won’t pull you over for doing 1 MPH over the limit, but may have guidelines to pull you over if you’re 10 over, or in “flagrant violation” which is a judgment call. Police departments are always trying to trade off budget and how much staff they have against where they will get the most bang for the enforcement buck, and getting people to drive 55 in a 55 is just a lost cause.

The psychology varies, IME. If a limit is set realistically high, people don’t feel the need to speed; sometimes there is a speeding culture that shows no awareness of the legal limit.

When I drove in Utah last year and the speed limit on the interstate was, I don’t remember, at least 75, I found very, very few drivers exceeding the speed limit by any significant amount. When I drove in France two years ago, I found speed limits much higher there than for comparable roads in the U.S., and speeding was rare. You didn’t *have *to speed, the speed limits made sense.

However, I drive on the Capital Beltway all the time. I would say at least 75% of traffic moves faster than 65, conditions permitting. The speed limit is 55, the *average *speed is well over 65, nobody blinks if you’re doing 70, and 75 is common. Occasionally I’ll see someone hitting 80 (sometimes even 85 but IMO that’s too dangerous for the road and traffic under nearly any conditions). I would guess that if the speed limit were raised or lowered by 10 MPH, it wouldn’t affect driving habits at all, unless vigorously enforced. It is rare IME to see anyone pulled over on the Beltway, and I have never seen parked police cars shooting radar.

They don’t reduce the speed limits on the twisty parts of roads in W.Va?

[del]You guys really -are- backwards. ;)[/del]

Next time you’re in the Carolinas, I invite you to visit I-95. :slight_smile:

EM is in New York. They’ve got a bit of 95 up there too, y’know.

Oh, I know. Because all the cars I’ve seen passing me doing 100 on I-95 have New York plates. :slight_smile:

I have. One of my aunts lives on a twisty turney hilly gravel road in a rural part of Ohio. Nobody’s ever bothered to post a speed limit on it, and in Ohio, the rule is that a road with no marked speed limit defaults to 55 miles per hour. I was once in a vehicle on that road going the speed limit… The vehicle occasionally actually made contact with the road.

This means that under normal conditions, the posted limit (65 MPH or whatever) is considered reasonable and prudent, but under some circumstances when the road conditions aren’t so good, you could be cited for speeding even if you’re under 65. If there’s patches of black ice on the road and it’s pouring rain with thirty foot visibility, the “reasonable and prudent” speed for even a superhighway might only be 10 or 15 MPH.

Incidentally, for that brief period a decade ago when Montana didn’t have numerical speed limits, we did still have the “reasonable and prudent” law in place. They put back the numerical limits (albeit higher than most of the country) after a couple of years, when it became apparent that too many drivers didn’t have any notion of what constituted “reasonable and prudent”.

I seem to recall that at one point the Michigan statute actually read such that you were only speeding if you were exceeding the speed limit AND driving at unsafe speeds.
I assume they fixed that.
At least one defendant hired a lawyer who got his speeding ticket thrown out…

We have statutory limits (which are absolute limits) on surface roads, and prima facie limits (which are marked limits) on the limited access freeways, and so it doesn’t take a lot to argue your way out of a ticket from having sped on the freeways. Obviously the just can enforce the ticket based on the prima facie evidence, but it also gives him an excellent reason to dismiss the case if you’re not a jerk and weren’t doing something stupid, and especially if you’re going to pay the fine as “court fees” anyway.

Because I’m talking about SE Michigan anyway, you’ve got to be going an unreasonable speed to even get pulled over in the first place. I just whipped by a state cop on I-275 at 85 mph today, and he had me dead to rights, but chose not to stop me. (And yes, it was safe, and no, it wasn’t my cruising speed, thankyouverymuch mom.)

It was only recently that our populated area limits were raised to 70. They say it was based on a 90th pecentile, but they’re liars; 70 is waaay to slow to be 90th percentile.

I have. There’s one right here in the Harrisburg, PA area that’s very twisty and hilly, and I barely feel safe driving 30 on it even when the road is dry, but the speed limit is inexplicably 45MPH. I would honestly have a hard time staying on the road at that speed.

e: If you or anyone else cares to know the name of the road, I can ask my roommate when he gets home from work; I don’t remember it off the top of my head, but I know he does.

Just to be all crazy eddie here, my recent long-distance driving experience (mostly driving to SCA events in Wisconsin) has been that (a) I drive the posted limit and (b) I don’t get passed much, and those who pass me are for the most part going maybe 5 mph faster than I am, or, very rarely, way faster. Very few people in these parts seem to go 10-20 mph over the speed limit.

Might have something to do with all the radar guns in Wisconsin, I think…

Did the average speed increase when they raised the limit?

I’ve driven on 75 mph expressways in Florida and New Mexico. Nobody was exceeding the speed limits by significant amounts, but there were numerous cars going 80-85. OTOH, on 65 mph expressways, 80 is considered fast and faster traffic travels at 75. These are generalizations, of course, and a small percentage of cars do go faster. But traffic flow never does.

Earlier this month I drove I-95 from Connecticut across NYC and into New Jersey. Traffic was at a dead halt in three lanes the entire way. Fortunately I was going west instead of east. Slowly. You’d have to be a movie stunt driver to be able to get a car up to 100 mph on I-95 in NY.

My answer will be very subjective based on what traffic flow feels like to me, but I’d venture that no, average speed didn’t increase when they raised the limit; everyone still drives 80.

Let me further qualify that – by everyone, I mean the general flow of traffic. I can get into a lane (or lanes) of cars, drive at 80, and only a few people will pass, and we don’t have to do a lot of lane negotiation in order to pass.

Or you haven’t taken an adequate sample. I’ve lived here my entire life and have driven between Milwaukee & Wausau a jillion times and between Milwaukee and Madison a zillion times. Speed limit has been 65 since circa 1987. The few “obeying” the speed limit are still driving 70, the majority are going 75, and I’d estimate about 15% are going faster than that.

And then there’s U.S. 53 going north of Chippewa Falls. I drove that road once a week for almost 5 years. Once you get into the rural area people are flying. And I don’t blame them. It’s easy to go 80 and feel like you’re standing still.

I’m surprised because I didn’t think so many people would still go over the limit knowing this. This means that CHP officers can have their pick of violators anytime and write tickets all day long if they were so inclined. It annoys me that I’m basically sitting in a slaughter pen and at the whim and mercy of some cop.

I can always drive at the limit of course, but that’s kind of lame.