Understanding California’s Basic Speed Law

fast-car-1561464Have you been in an auto accident and the investigating officer finds that while the accident is primarily the fault of the other driver, you also were a contributing factor?   That is, your speed also contributed to the accident.  The officer writes in his report that you violated  California’s basic speed law.  You think, “Wait a minute! I was only doing 40 in a 45 mph zone, and now the guy’s insurance company wants to find me 30% at fault for the collision?”

Let’s start with the definition of California’s basic speed law as found in Vehicle Code Section 22350.  It states:

“No person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, the highway, and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property.”

So here is the scenario.  Its a dark rainy January day. You are driving in the curb lane at a speed of 40 MPH in a 45 MPH speed zone.   A red Mustang pulls out of a gas station intending to turn right into the curb lane. He fails to see you approaching and slams into your passenger door. The driver of the Mustang gets out, approaches your vehicle and says: “Didn’t you see me exiting the gas station?”  He says: “And you were speeding through that construction zone.”   You reply: “I was only going 40. Don’t you see the speed limit is 45.”

In breaking down the language of California Vehicle Code 22350, one must read it carefully. It states that you shall not drive “at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic…the surface and width, of the highway…”

Here, its a dark rainy day.  The law states that “weather” is one of the factors to be taken into consideration when determining speed as a contributing factor to an auto vs. auto collision.

Moreover, there are road repairs being done in the area with orange cones and barriers up with reduce speed signs. The basic speed law goes on to state: “…and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons…”  When the curb lane driver barrels through a construction zone with cones and barriers up, it clearly was at a speed that potentially endangered the safety of other drivers.  Had that driver seen the Mustang begin to exit the gas station he may have not been able to stop in time to avoid the impact.

It is worth mentioning that the driver of the Mustang is the “Primary Factor” (see second page of police report) in causing this collision for his violation of Vehicle Code Section 21804. That Section states:

“(a) The driver of any vehicle about to enter or cross a highway from any public or private property, or from an alley, shall yield the right-of-way to all traffic… approaching on the highway close enough to constitute an immediate hazard, and shall continue to yield the right-of-way to that traffic until he or she can proceed with reasonable safety.”

In our scenario, the driver of the Mustang attempted to enter the roadway (highway) from a gas station (private property) and he did not “yield the right-of-way to all traffic” when that traffic was close enough to constitute an immediate hazard.  The Mustang instead darted out into the curb lane and created a hazard leading to this collision.

So the next time you’re driving at the speed limit, ask yourself: “Although I’m traveling at the posted speed limit, am I still driving at a speed that endangers the safety of others?”



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