What constitutes speeding?
April 7, 2006 3:46 PM   Subscribe

I have always known (or been told) that you wont get a ticket if you were to exceed the freeway speed limit by 5-10 miles. Why is that?

If cops are mainly after the revenue, why dont they ticket anyone and everyone that exceeds the limit even by say 1 mile (if they can accurately determine that). I usually see people driving 75-80 on the freeway and cops never seem to bother. They only go after people that are traveling over 80. I usually set my cruise control to 75 and see CHP pass me everyday without batting an eyelid.

Is it because its hard to tell the difference [i.e the margin of error] between 65 and 70 (or 65 and 75)?

Or is HP really looking out for our safely and keeping the blatant violators in check?
posted by special-k to Law & Government (38 answers total)
Car speedometers aren't 100% accurate. So if your speedometer said you were going at the speed limit, and you were actually going 1 mph faster, it wouldn't be fair to charge you.
posted by matthewr at 3:49 PM on April 7, 2006

I think in the UK you're allowed 10%.... for the speedometer...apparently....
posted by RufusW at 3:58 PM on April 7, 2006

I'd always thought there was a range of error in which cops figure that people are more likely to contest the ticket in court, making the tickets less likely to be worth the bother. But I'd also always thought that might just be a rumor (it doesn't stop me from going exactly 5 over, though).
posted by Tuwa at 3:58 PM on April 7, 2006

Uhh, don't put too much stock in this urban myth. I've gotten ticketed for going 7 miles over limit (prevailing speed of traffic: 12-15 miles over limit), and 8 miles over limit (with not another car in sight for miles). The fines were over $100 a pop. Bleh.

It's true that speedometers are imprecise, and also that cops choose to let many smaller infractions slide. But anytime you're over the limit, they can--and will--ticket if they feel like it.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 4:08 PM on April 7, 2006

Don't count on it! You can SURE be pulled over for going anything over the limit. They commonly give some leeway, but they don't have to.
posted by The Deej at 4:10 PM on April 7, 2006

Especially if they have to meet their quota performance goals.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:11 PM on April 7, 2006

Yea, I've gotten a ticket in Missouri for 3 MPH over the limit.

I was just in Arizona two weeks ago, got pulled over doing 86 in a 75. I got a warning. I'm pretty sure had it not been my birthday I'd have gotten nailed.
posted by FlamingBore at 4:17 PM on April 7, 2006

tend to be tighter about it during holidays. Was in Nashville over Xmas and the place was crawling with cops pulling people over, I got a ticket for 10 over on a deserted stretch of road (except for the cop I guess) at 1am. conversely I have been PASSED by highway patrol when going 10 over and they didn't seem to be in a particular hurry.
posted by edgeways at 4:18 PM on April 7, 2006

In most states (and by most I mean the three I've lived in) the fines for going 1-9 miles over the limit are much less than the fines for going 10 - 19 miles over the limit which, in turn, are much less than the fines for going 20 - 29 miles over the limit, etc.

From a revenue gathering standpoint, it's a more efficient use of a cop's time to wait for the big fish. I wouldn't be surprised if they had an actuary look over the data and assign hard and fast rules for when to pull someone over.

(This is speculation, I have no magic cop knowledge. Also, all numbers have been made up)
posted by alan at 4:27 PM on April 7, 2006

From what I hear, not only are speedometers inaccurate, so are the radar guns. So if a radar gun say's you're going 75, you could only be going 65 or something.

I dunno.

Also, enforcement varies a lot between states.
posted by delmoi at 4:28 PM on April 7, 2006

I expect you'll find a significant correlation between lax ticketing of mild speeding and areas in which substantial fines don't kick in until 10 MPH over the limit. In other words, if cops are in fact mainly after the revenue, it may be worth more to pull over one guy going 20 MPH over the limit than to pull over three people going 5 MPH over the limit, depending on the laws of the particular state.
posted by kindall at 4:52 PM on April 7, 2006

I'm pretty sure had it not been my birthday I'd have gotten nailed.


Once on my birthday, I got a ticket for doing 38 in a 35. Small town cops are sometimes bored...
posted by jdroth at 4:58 PM on April 7, 2006

An Iowa State Patrol officer told me to keep it under 60 in the 55 he ticketed me for. I live in Minnesota now, and I read in the paper once there's a little-known law that in 55 zones, anything under 65 isn't counted in some manner. I don't remember the exact wording, but it was part of article talking about how some zones were being increased to 60 limit zones, but with greater enforcement of even small amounts (1-2mph) of speeding. It's going to vary based on the location, no matter what. The only way to tell for sure is to ask the officer when you get pulled over.

That said, I generally drive about 5 over. 10, if I'm going to work.
posted by cellphone at 4:59 PM on April 7, 2006

Sometimes bored, jdroth? I'd say being bored is part of the job description. As is being a complete ass if the cops in my small town are in any way indicative of small town cops in general.
posted by Jawn at 5:08 PM on April 7, 2006

Also, enforcement varies a lot between states.

And towns! There are some small towns on big roads who basically raise all their funds by ticketing people driving through.
posted by clarahamster at 5:15 PM on April 7, 2006

special-k wrote...
If cops are mainly after the revenue [...]

As far as I can tell, anal retention about the speed limit is the easiest way to tell if cops are revenue driven or not.

Like most people here, I've seen enforcement vary widely. I don't have hard numbers, but it has seemed to me that the smaller and more cash strapped an area is, the tighter the speed limit is enforced.
posted by tkolar at 5:24 PM on April 7, 2006

A NY State Trooper told me, after telling me "I'm not supposed to tell you this", that he wasn't supposed to issue tickets for less than 10% over speed limit. A contested ticket meant at least a half-day lost duty for the issuing trooper so they were discouraged from issuing tickets that might be fought. This was many years ago so take it for what its worth but I've never been ticketed although I usually speed but rarely more than 10% over the limit.
posted by TimeFactor at 5:25 PM on April 7, 2006

I learned this in (California) traffic school:

5 miles (over the speed limit) = can pull you over.
10 miles = should pull you over.
15 miles = must pull you over.
posted by blahtsk at 5:46 PM on April 7, 2006

A lot has to do with what you're driving and who you are. When I was in my teenage years and driving around at night I'd always go exactly the speed limit. I've heard of countless stories and have seen friends get pulled over for the most minor infractions. The district attorney or someone in the department had a huge beef with white suburban kids drinking (lost his kid to a drunk driver I heard), and would pull over kids for anything. I know black friends who get pulled over all the time for minor infractions. It's an excuse to search the car. Most teenagers at 3AM driving with friends are either drunk themselves, have drunk friends or have alcohol somewhere in the car, and black people get pulled over because they're black. I've only been pulled over once and routinely go 10mph+ during rush hour and during the daytime. Night time is worse and I never exceed 5MPH because cops are looking for any excuse to check for a DUI.

Sorry not to get on the cops bad side, I'm sure most cops are completely honest, it only takes one or two traffic cops to make everyone's life miserable.

The general rule though, and I've been told by a cop, is that anything less than 7MPH will get thrown out of court and the judge will get pissed off that the cops are wasting their time. This is obviously in a city so judges have more to deal with than traffic violations. Small towns are rough.

Though recently I have noticed highway patrol in lightly marked trucks and even vans, usually even in different colors than the standard police vehicles in the area. Tricky those cops are.
posted by geoff. at 6:05 PM on April 7, 2006

Wow, are none of you thinking this through? Speeding tickets generated $2.3 billion dollars of revenue in 2003 - and that's at the state level only, not counting local jurisdictions, which take in at least as much. If they pulled over everyone who was speeding, no one would speed, and there'd be no ticket revenue. They have to make a game of it, or no one would play. Didn't it ever occur to anyone why, when radar detectors came to market, the cops didn't just put radar beacons every mile or so down the side of the road? Because the dedicated speeder is their best customer! Or why on the turnpikes they don't just let cars speed by, note their plate numbers, and hand every speeder a ticket at the next tollbooth? Isn't it obvious that preventing speeding is the last thing they want to do?
posted by nicwolff at 6:33 PM on April 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

(Sorry, that first sentence sounds snarky but I am just amazed not to see this point already made!)
posted by nicwolff at 6:41 PM on April 7, 2006

As someone who was just convicted of excessive speed (a class 3 misdemeanor), I can tell you that the cops in question are well aware of their speedometer's performance. They will present you with calibration records and let you know exactly how they factor into your violation.

My friend is a cop in Mesa, a growing city that has a high level of economic disparagement, and so he's busy all the time. He doesn't care if you're doing 10 over, but he knows other officers on the force that do pull people over for 5-6 over. Start pushing 15, and he'll nail you.

The officer that got me going "100 in a 65" told me that if I "keep it under 80," they'll generally let it slide on the freeway (US 60, Arizona). Ironically, the very next day, I was going 78 down the same stretch and got stopped again by a different officer. Imagine my happiness there, having followed the advice of the officer the night before, which I actually cited to the second guy. He let me off with a warning, thank God.

I think nicwolff's right, but also remember that they do have to prove the violation occurred. This isn't a problem with overwhelming evidence of 100 in a 65 or some such, because the court considers it'd be near impossible for a cop to make such a mistake, especially when pacing someone, but when you get closer to the limit, it becomes harder and harder. For a criminal violation, they're required to prove it beyond all reasonable doubt. For a civil citation, the requirement is much less strict.

Frankly, I don't think Arizona cops (with the exception of DPS, highway officers) are looking to generate revenue. I've never been stopped for doing 50-55 on surface streets with a 45 limit, but I never go faster than that on surface streets. I know my friend is busier with real work, and let's the motorcycle traffic cops handle the traffic problems.
posted by disillusioned at 7:02 PM on April 7, 2006

I dunno, maybe because they have better things to do than ticket people who are just keeping up with traffic? Highway police not only have to deal with fatal and non-fatal accidents, they also deal with those fender-benders you always hear about, drug deals under the overpass, and idiots who drive drunk on the expressway. They have much better things to do than ticket those people who drive 60 MPH rather than 55. At least, that's my completely unofficial experience based on discussion with a number of Illinois State Troopers.
posted by MeetMegan at 7:17 PM on April 7, 2006

I'm surprised nobody's mentioned this already. Many states have laws on the books that prevent local cops from ticketing at +9 MPH or less. Only state police can ticket that low. This is to prevent local cops from harrassing constituents. You know, Driving While Black, fishing for bribes, retaliating for cheating wife, et cetera.

I'd love to see a source on this, though, I just pulled it out of my as^H^Hhead.
posted by intermod at 7:32 PM on April 7, 2006

I was pulled over on I-80 near Harrisburg, PA for doing 80 in a 55 last summer (around where the speed limit goes from 65 to 55), and the officer told me that he'd been following me to see if I'd slow down; he would have given me up to 15 over the limit without pulling me over.

I don't think that's any sort of law or rule, though, and it comes down to individual officers.
posted by Godbert at 9:47 PM on April 7, 2006

Here in AU they're revenue-mad. South Australia is getting worse but we still allow 10% for speedometer accuracy since that's what the Aus Design Rules say the car has to conform to. In Victoria though you can be busted for 3km/h (that's < 2MPH) over.
posted by polyglot at 10:06 PM on April 7, 2006

Almost always, going ANY speed over the limit entitles an officer to ticket you. However, as an officer acquaintance of mine put it:
"it takes the same amount of time to write a $115 ticket (under 10 kph over) as it does to write a $345 ticket (over 20 kph over), so why not wait for the latter type of speeder, since they're always around."
posted by birdsquared at 10:12 PM on April 7, 2006

in michigan, the law says that you can offer as a defense in speeding cases the fact that you were going as fast as the general flow of traffic ... meaning that people in moderate to heavy traffic who are going 0-10 mph over the limit, especially on the freeway, have nothing to worry about

be aware that not all states allow this defense ... also there are certain small towns around here that have 25 mph speed limits and it is ruthlessly enforced

and if you get into an accident when you were speeding, even by 5 mph, forget it ... you're getting a ticket
posted by pyramid termite at 10:32 PM on April 7, 2006

These are the actual laws by state. It looks like it's a little weak on California's laws, though.

I've been told that "it's legal in Georgia to go 10 over". In actual fact, it's not, but 5-10 over is just a $25 fine. So mostly, they won't bug you about that, it's not worth it.

That site doesn't seem to link to the California fines, and I'm not coming up with them quickly. I think you might have to do some digging to find them. That will probably answer the question better than anything else.... at what point does the fine become large enough to bother stopping you?
posted by Malor at 12:51 AM on April 8, 2006

I know the Virginia speeding laws, and they have three tiers of speeding penalties based on the number of mph over the limit. 0-9 mph yields a 3 point violation, while 10-19 yields a 6 point violation. More than twenty over or more than 80 period is reckless driving, which is a whole other world of hurt.

The variations must impact the motivation level of the officer.

Another factor is the fact that selective enforcement empowers the officer. If everyone speeds because the posted speeds are unrealistically slow, then the officer is empowered to use speed violations to hassle whoever they want. Selective enforcement is the prerequisite for officers to engage in racial harassment, hassling of teen drivers, etc.
posted by NortonDC at 8:19 AM on April 8, 2006

Kinetic energy is proportional to the square of velocity. Minimum stopping distance is proportional to initial kinetic energy. So if you're travelling at 65, you're going to need about 40% more road for a crash-free emergency stop than you would at 55.

Just sayin'.
posted by flabdablet at 8:56 AM on April 8, 2006

why on the turnpikes they don't just let cars speed by, note their plate numbers, and hand every speeder a ticket at the next tollbooth

Have you never driven the NJ Turnpike, nicwolff? If you have a Fastrak, and it gets read at successive toll booths in a period of time short enough to prove you must have exceeded the speed limit, you get a ticket by mail.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:50 AM on April 8, 2006

Of course, if you drive the speed limit, you'll never get a speeding ticket. And you never have a reason to tense up when you see a cop.
posted by faceonmars at 11:35 AM on April 8, 2006

...other than those outstanding warrants.
posted by tkolar at 2:26 PM on April 8, 2006

In NC any person driving over 15 over in a 55 mph zone and any person driving over 10 over in a 60 mph or a 65 can have his/her license suspended. In large part becuase of this rule I've found that on highways in cities and otherwise busy highways most highway patrolmen/women do not pull people traveling at the speed of traffic and non-aggressively within the range where the driver would get a ticket but not a face possible suspension.
posted by smash at 4:19 PM on April 8, 2006

If you have a Fastrak, and it gets read at successive toll booths in a period of time short enough to prove you must have exceeded the speed limit, you get a ticket by mail.

I believe you, although I'd have expected Google to find something about it for Fastrak "speeding ticket" "new jersey". And I hadn't heard about it here in NYC. How long as this been going on?

Anyway I don't think it refutes my assertion that states will avoid any speed enforcement method that would catch all speeders. Are Fastrak users always getting tickets for any average speed over 65? Of course not - voters would go insane if they were getting tickets for 67 MPH. (which would also contravene the federal FHA/NHTSA recommendations, which say The enforcement threshold should never be less than 5 mph above the new posted speed limit.) So there's room for risk-taking, and the game goes on.

And even if they were ticketing everyone whose average speed was over 65, this would leave plenty of Fastrak users who, having stopped for gas or food at a turnpike rest stop, might then speed right into a trap figuring that they'd still have a legal average speed.

Besides, this could have been done just as well right along, by checking the timestamp on the paper turnpike tickets - this would be fairer, in fact, since they'd be ticketing the driver (who's actually liable) rather than the owner of the car. The fact that this wasn't done substantiates my point.
posted by nicwolff at 5:48 PM on April 8, 2006

a) Silly me; they're called FasTrak in California. On the Eastern seaboard they're called E-Z Pass, of course.

b) After a careful search, I conclude that the whole thing about tollbooth-to-tollbooth speeding tickets is an urban legend. NH and MA both are on record as denying that it happens, for instance, and it's not included in the 4 ways you can get a violation with an E-Z Pass in New Jersey.

You can receive a violation for speeding through the E-Z pass lane, but there's nothing about tollbooth-to-tollbooth tickets, although I've spoken to many people who knew someone who claimed to have received one. (And in fact, the several times I drove to Atlantic City, I was very careful to keep my average speed under 65mph for this reason - usually stopping for cinn-a-bons.)
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:25 PM on April 9, 2006

After a careful search, I conclude that the whole thing about tollbooth-to-tollbooth speeding tickets is an urban legend.

I believe it was discussed out here on the correct coast as a possibility but didn't survive the re-election test - many people think poorly of having their government organization-issued electronic tracking device used to um, track them.

(I ain't saying I like the idea either but I wasn't as shocked and aghast as many people seemed to be by the proposal)
posted by phearlez at 2:47 PM on April 10, 2006

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