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How are speed limits determined across the country?

Have you ever been driving in an area and wondered why the speed limit was the way it was? Perhaps you thought, like some, that the speed limit was too low or maybe it was too high. Either way, you may have considered the question we're going to look at today: how are speed limits determined across the country?

Except for a period of time between 1973 and 1994, the responsibility of setting speed limits has always rested in the hands of state agencies. This means that each state can enforce speed limits it feels are appropriate for its jurisdiction. But how are these limits determined, you might ask? Let's take a look.

It is the belief of the Federal Highway Administration that when establishing speed limits, state agencies should take at least four factors into consideration:

  • The risk of crashes or collisions
  • Whether or not it falls within the context of current traffic laws
  • If it's reasonably enforceable
  • Whether it would be accepted by a majority of road users

Unfortunately, there is currently no standard methodology that every state uses for determining speed limits. State agencies must instead rely on traffic studies conducted within their own jurisdiction to determine what speed limits are appropriate for what areas and how these limits will be enforced.

Even though most state agencies, including our own here in California, do take these factors into consideration when determining speed limits, the same may not be true for drivers visiting from other states. Visiting drivers may be unaware of road conditions or vehicle and pedestrian traffic patterns that would warrant a slower speed in some areas. Thinking the limit is too low, they might drive too fast, increasing the risk of an accident involving injuries.

Whether an accident is the result of an out-of-state driver ignoring our state's carefully laid out laws or a local resident acting with the same negligence, victims do have the right to talk to a lawyer and seek compensation if the situation allows. This is something we hope our Sacramento readers will always keep and act on if necessary down the road.

Sources: The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, "Methods and Practices for Setting Speed Limits: An Informational Report," Accessed April 27, 2015

The Governors Highway Safety Association, "Speed Limit Laws," April 2015

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