California's Speeding Laws and Penalties

Read about California’s speeding laws and the costs of getting a speeding ticket.

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.

Basic Speeding Law

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.

Maximum Speed Limits

There is no trick to how California's absolute (maximum) 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:

  • 70 miles per hour on freeways posted for that speed
  • 65 miles per hour on freeways and other highways (not posted for 70 miles per hour), and
  • 55 miles per hour on two-lane, undivided highways (unless posted for a higher speed).

Most of the time, maximum speed limits are clearly posted.

Presumed Speed Limits

California also uses presumed speed limits (sometimes called "prima facie" limits). Presumed speed limits work a little differently 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:

  • 15 miles per hour at railroad crossings, in alleys, and highway intersections without 100 feet of visibility of approaching vehicles, and
  • 25 miles per hour in business and residential districts and school zones.

But remember, the main issue here (as with the basic speed limit) is whether your speed was safe given the conditions at the time.

Tickets for Driving Too Slow (Minimum Speed Limit)

It doesn't happen often, but it's also possible to get a ticket for driving too slow in California. You can get a ticket for obstructing traffic if you drive at such a slow speed that you block or impede the normal flow of traffic. It's also a violation if you stop in the middle of the roadway and block or impede traffic.

Costs of a Speeding Ticket

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.

Base Fines for Speeding Violations

The amount of the base for a speeding ticket depends on the driver's speed in relation to the speed limit.

100 Miles Per Hour or Under

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:

  • $35 for exceeding the limit or safe speed by 1 to 15 miles per hour
  • $70 for exceeding the limit or safe speed by 16 to 25 miles per hour, and
  • $100 for exceeding the limit or safe speed by 26 miles per hour or more.

Typically, the officer will write the driver's speed on the ticket. But, occasionally, officers will give a driver a break by writing down a slower speed, so the fine isn't quite as expensive as it could be.

Over 100 Miles Per Hour

Motorists who get caught driving faster than 100 miles per hour face enhanced consequences. The penalties for exceeding 100 miles per hour are:

  • First offense. For a first offense, the driver is looking at a maximum base fine of $500 and up to 30 days of license suspension.
  • Second offense. A motorist who's convicted of driving faster than 100 miles per hour for a second time within three years faces a maximum $750 base fine and six-month license suspension (or restricted license).
  • Third offense. A motorist who's convicted of driving faster than 100 miles per hour for a third time within five years faces a maximum $1,000 base fine and one-year license suspension (or restricted license).

However, like other speeding violations, driving over 100 miles per hour is an infraction.

Minimum Speed Limit Violations

The base fine for a minimum speed violation is $35.

Fees and Penalty Assessments for Speeding Tickets

In California, the base fine is just the starting point for figuring out how much a traffic ticket is going to cost. There are lots of fees and penalty assessments that the court will tack on to the total.

For example, if your base fine is $35, you can expect your total to come to about $230 once everything is counted. Generally, the total amount you have to pay is in the range of five to seven times the base fine.

Increased Penalties for Construction and Safety Zones

For violations that occur in designated safety, construction, and highway maintenance zones, the fines are higher. For example, if the fine would normally be $35, it goes up to $70 when committed in one of these special zones.

California's Point System

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.

Reckless Driving and Vehicular Homicide

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.

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