If you plan on driving in Tennessee, you should know the state's speed limit laws. Failing to obey the speed limit might lead to a ticket—or worse, a reckless driving charge. This article gives an overview of Tennessee's speeding laws and the consequences of violating them.
Tennessee has two types of speeding laws: "absolute limits" and a "basic speeding law."
Tennessee's absolute speed limits are simple. If the absolute speed limit is 55 miles per hour and you drive faster than that, you've violated the law. Typically, absolute limits are posted on speed limit signs along the road.
Tennessee has standard absolute speed limits that are the default limits for specific types of roads. The standard absolute speed limits are:
The standard speed limits aren't the only speed limits in Tennessee. The state department of transportation and local governments can create different absolute speed limits for safety purposes. So, local roads often have speed limits of less than 55 miles per hour. (Tenn. Code § 55-8-153 (2023).)
Tennessee's basic speeding law is stricter than the absolute limits. It requires motorists to always drive at a safe speed. A safe speed could be lower—but not higher—than the absolute limit.
What a safe speed is will depend on the circumstances. For instance, 55 miles per hour might be safe on a bright, sunny day. But if it's dark and the road is icy, going 55 miles per hour could be dangerous and a violation of the basic speeding law. (Tenn. Code § 55-8-136 (2023).)
A speeding ticket in Tennessee will generally result in a fine, administrative fees, court costs, and increased insurance rates. Multiple speeding tickets could lead to a suspended license.
The cost of a speeding ticket in Tennessee depends on where the violation occurred and by how much the driver exceeded the speed limit. But generally, a fine for a speeding violation will cost up to $150. (Assuming the driver doesn't successfully fight the ticket.)
The total cost of a speeding ticket includes more than fines. Local fees and court costs generally will be included in the total cost. Also, a speeding ticket will likely increase your auto insurance rates—which can cost you a lot of money in the long run.
Typically, a speeding violation will also add points to a motorist's driving record. The amount of points for speeding depends on how fast above the speed limit a driver was going. Adults who get 12 points or more in a one-year period will have their Tennessee license suspended.
Someone who's convicted of speeding can get the points removed by completing a state-approved driving course. But the speeding conviction will remain on a driver's record even if the points are removed. A driver can take only one course in a four-year period to remove up to a maximum of five points. (Tenn. Code § 55-8-207 (2023).)
Depending on the circumstances, speeding can lead to a reckless driving conviction. And if a speeding violation results in the death of another person, it's possible to be convicted of vehicular homicide (covered below).
Tennessee defines "reckless driving" as driving a vehicle with a "willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property." Reckless driving is a Class B misdemeanor—which carries up to six months in jail. (Tenn. Code § 55-10-205 (2023).)
Speeding alone usually won't count as reckless driving. A driver generally will need to be going significantly above the speed limit to be charged with reckless driving. Other circumstances that could turn speeding into a reckless driving charge include:
Vehicular homicide in Tennessee is the reckless killing of another by operating a vehicle in way that creates a substantial risk of death or serious injury. Driving at excessive speeds can qualify as that kind of dangerous driving.
If you are charged with vehicular homicide, you should consult with an attorney who is licensed in Tennessee. Vehicular homicide is a serious charge that can carry a lengthy prison term.
Vehicular homicide also includes killing:
Vehicular homicide caused by excessive speeding or drag racing is a class C felony (class B if the driver was intoxicated). A class C felony generally carries a prison term of 3 to 15 years and up to a $10,000 fine. (Tenn. Code § 40-35-111 (2023).)
Vehicular homicide caused by intoxicated driving is a class B felony, which generally carries a prison term of 8 to 30 years and up to a $25,000 fine. Vehicular homicide involving the death of construction worker in a construction zone is a class D felony. A class D felony generally carries a prison term of 2 to 12 years and up to a $5,000 fine.
A vehicular homicide conviction also will result in a 3-to-10-year license suspension. (Tenn. Code § 39-13-213 (2023).)