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Speed Limit Laws in DC

The speed limit is the maximum speed a vehicle can legally operate on a specific road. Drivers must follow the speed limit or they are in violation of DC traffic laws. If you have been charged with violating the regulations of the road, contact a DC traffic lawyer to learn of possible defenses that fit your case.

Types of Speed Limits & Their Differences

The difference between absolute, basic, and presumed speed limits is that with an absolute speed limit, the state is required to prove that the individual was operating his or her vehicle at a rate that was greater than the posted speed limit. With a presumed and basic speed limit, the state is required to prove that the individual was operating his or her vehicle at an unreasonable speed depending on the circumstances.

Absolute Speed Limits

An absolute speed limit means that when it is exceeded, it is per se illegal regardless of whether the driver was operating their vehicle in a safe manner. If one drives one mile per hour over the speed limit in DC, they are breaking the law.

In DC, the absolute speed limit is 55 miles per hour on interstate highways and 25 miles per hour on all other roads unless otherwise designated.

In alleys, it is 15 miles per hour. On roads in school zones, the speed limit is 15 miles per hour when the school zone sign is flashing. When there is no time indicated on the school zone sign, it is 15 miles per hour during recess or when children are coming to or leaving the school.

Presumed Speed Limits

If a person is alleged to have violated a presumed speed limit, they are required to prove that they were operating their vehicle in a safe manner given the road and weather conditions. In states with presumed speed limits, they are presumed to be breaking the law if they are traveling above the posted speed limit. However, this standard creates a rebuttable presumption that the driver is then able to challenge. DC does not have presumed speed limit laws.

Basic Speed Limits

In states with basic speed limits, a driver is not permitted to drive faster than is safe for the current road and weather conditions. In these instances, a person’s speed depends on the road conditions, whether it is smooth, wet, gravel, et cetera; whether bicyclists or pedestrians are in the vicinity; the number and speed of other vehicles; and the weather conditions, such as rain or fog. DC does not have a basic speed limit law.

Defenses for Exceeding the Speed Limit

Some defenses for exceeding the speed limit include showing there was an emergency, such as a pregnant woman who is close to giving birth, a person’s vehicle was mistaken for another vehicle that was actually speeding, they were not the driver of the speeding vehicle, or the officer who issued the speeding ticket was outside of his or her jurisdiction.

There are mitigating circumstances for speeding, such as an emergency forcing the driver to exceed the posted speed limit to avoid serious injury or damage to yourself or others.

Common Myths About Speed Limits in DC

These are the most common myths that DC traffic lawyers hear about the District’s speed limit laws. All are false, and it is important to understand how it can affect a person’s traffic violation defense or everyday road safety.

Myth #1: Driving Less than 10 mph Over the Speed Limit is Okay

In DC, officers usually do not pull someone over for going 10 miles per hour or less over the posted speed limit. However, it is up to the officer’s discretion because of the absolute speed limits in DC. By driving just one mile over the posted speed limit, a driver is in violation of the DC traffic regulations.

Myth #2: It Is Not Your Fault If You Can’t See a Sign

DC traffic regulations set specific speed limits that must be followed in various areas, even when no speed limit sign is posted. Therefore, the fact that there was no speed limit sign posted is not a defense.

Myth #3: The Speed Limit is set 10mph Below What is Safe to Drive

When speed limits laws are reviewed and set by the District of Columbia, the goal is to create a speed limit that 15 percent of drivers exceed and 85 percent of drivers drive at or below. It is not set at 10 mph below the speed of what is safe to drive.

Speed Limits on DC Highways

The maximum speed limit on urban freeways and interstates in DC is 55 miles per hour. One of the risks of speeding on highways is that the faster a person is driving, especially when they are speeding, they have less time to avoid a collision and increase the likelihood of being involved in an accident. Additionally, if an accident does occur and the driver was speeding, it increases the severity of the crash. Furthermore, the dangers of speeding on highways increase when there are bad weather conditions.

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