In every state, a traffic ticket can be issued to drivers who violate laws restricting the speed at which a vehicle may travel. Generally, states carry two types of laws related to speed restrictions:
Laws that set specific maximum speed limits in certain settings. For example, a state may declare different maximum speeds at which a vehicle may be operated on a state highway (65 m.p.h.), on a residential street (35 m.p.h.), and in a school zone (25 m.p.h.).
Laws that require drivers to operate their vehicles at a speed that is reasonable under the circumstances. For example, even if the posted maximum speed limit on a rural highway is 65 m.p.h., driving on that highway at 65 m.p.h. in a torrential rainstorm at night could result in a speeding ticket, because driving at such a speed could be deemed unsafe based on the hazardous road and weather conditions.
If you want to fight a speeding ticket, understand the different types of speed limits and how to defend yourself.
All 50 states use three basic types of speed limits, called "absolute," "presumed," and "basic." Because each type of speed limit violation often requires a unique defense, it is key to understand which you are charged with violating.
"Absolute" Speed Limits
Most states have an "absolute" speed law. There is no trick to how this works: If the sign says 40 mph and you drive 41 mph or more, you have violated the law. There are not many defenses available for violating absolute speed limit laws, but some include:
Attacking the officer's determination of your speed. To do this you must discover what method the officer used to determine your speed -- like radar, laser, or pacing -- and then attack that particular method.
Claiming an emergency forced you to exceed the speed limit to avoid serious damage or injury to yourself or others. For instance, if you had to speed up to avoid a small plane making an emergency landing on a freeway, you would have a good case.
Claiming that the officer mistook your car for another car. With so many similar looking late-model cars, it is very possible that a cop could see a speeding car, lose sight of it around a corner, and then wrongly pick out your car further down the road.
"Presumed" Speed Limits
Being charged with violating a "presumed" speed limit means you are accused of driving at an unsafe speed, considering the conditions at the time you were ticketed. If you're accused of violating a "presumed" speed limit, you have two possible defenses:
Claim you weren't exceeding the posted speed limit, just as you would if you were charged with violating an "absolute" speed law.
Claim that, even if you were exceeding the posted limit, you were driving safely given the specific road, weather, and traffic conditions at the time.
§ 46.2-870. Maximum speed limits generally.
Except as otherwise provided in this article, the maximum speed limit shall be 55 miles per hour on interstate highways or other limited access highways with divided roadways, nonlimited access highways having four or more lanes, and all state primary highways.
The maximum speed limit on all other highways shall be 55 miles per hour if the vehicle is a passenger motor vehicle, bus, pickup or panel truck, or a motorcycle, but 45 miles per hour on such highways if the vehicle is a truck, tractor truck, or combination of vehicles designed to transport property, or is a motor vehicle being used to tow a vehicle designed for self-propulsion, or a house trailer.
Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this section, the maximum speed limit shall be 65 miles per hour where indicated by lawfully placed signs, erected subsequent to a traffic engineering study and analysis of available and appropriate accident and law-enforcement data, on: (i) interstate highways, (ii) multilane, divided, limited access highways, and (iii) high-occupancy vehicle lanes if such lanes are physically separated from regular travel lanes. The maximum speed limit on Interstate Route 85 shall be 70 miles per hour where indicated by lawfully placed signs, erected subsequent to a traffic engineering study and analysis of available and appropriate accident and law-enforcement data. The maximum speed limit shall be 60 miles per hour where indicated by lawfully placed signs, erected subsequent to a traffic engineering study and analysis of available and appropriate accident and law-enforcement data, on U.S. Route 29, U.S. Route 58, U.S. Route 360, U.S. Route 460, and on U.S. Route 17 between the town of Port Royal and Saluda where they are nonlimited access, multilane, divided highways.
(Code 1950, § 46-212; 1950, p. 881; 1952, c. 666; 1954, c. 244; 1956, c. 364; 1958, c. 541, §§ 46.1-193, 46.1-401; 1960, c. 153; 1962, c. 307; 1964, cc. 118, 408; 1966, c. 85; 1968, c. 641; 1972, cc. 89, 546, 553, 608; 1974, c. 528; 1975, c. 533; 1977, c. 577; 1978, c. 605; 1980, c. 347; 1986, c. 639; 1988, cc. 662, 897; 1989, cc. 276, 526, 727; 1992, c. 598; 1994, c. 423; 1996, c. 1; 1998, cc. 546, 560; 1999, c. 142; 2001, c. 298; 2002, c. 872; 2003, c. 838; 2004, c. 696; 2005, cc. 266, 267, 268; 2006, c. 213; 2007, cc. 222, 544.)