California has three types of speeding laws: a “basic speeding law,” “presumed speed limits,” and “absolute speed limits.” This article explains the differences between the three and the consequences of a speeding violation.
California’s basic speeding law prohibits driving 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.” In other words, motorists must always drive at a safe speed. What a safe speed is will depend on the circumstances. For instance, on a certain road, 55 miles per hour might be safe on a bright, sunny day. But if it’s dark and the road is wet, going 55 miles per hour could be dangerous and a violation of the basic speeding law.
There is no trick to how California’s absolute speed limits work: If the absolute speed limit is 70 miles per hour and you drive faster than that, you’ve violated the law. California’s absolute speed limits prohibit motorists from driving faster than:
California also uses presumed speed limits (sometimes called “prima facie” limits). Presumed speed limits work a little different than absolute limits. If you exceed a presumed speed limit it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re guilty. You still have the opportunity to prove in court that your speed was safe. If you’re able to do so, the judge is supposed to find you not guilty. And if a cop clocks you at a speed that’s under the presumed limit, there’s a presumption that you’re not in violation of California’s basic speeding law (see above).
Unless otherwise posted, California’s presumed speed limits include:
Below, we list the “base fines” for speeding violations. But that’s not all you’ll pay for a speeding ticket. Lots of fees and “penalty assessments” are added to the base fine to get the total. For an estimate of the total cost of a speeding ticket, see our California traffic ticket chart.
A motorist who exceeds the speed limit or safe speed, but isn’t going faster than 100 miles per hour, is looking at a base fine of:
Motorists who get caught driving faster than 100 miles per hour face enhanced consequences. The penalties for exceeding 100 miles per hour are:
Depending on the circumstances, speeding could lead to a “reckless driving” conviction. California defines reckless driving as operating a vehicle “in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” A standard first offense carries five to 90 days in jail and/or $145 to $1,000 in fines. And if a speeding violation results in the death of another person, vehicular manslaughter or homicide charges are a possibility.
Typically, a speeding violation will add at least one point to a motorist’s driving record. Accumulating too many points can lead to license suspension.