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What does the Basic Speed Law Mean?

Speeding - NTHSA

The Meaning of the Basic Speed Law

The basic speed law means you must drive at a speed that is reasonable and prudent at all times. You must adjust your speed to both actual and potential hazards.

The basic speed law overrides a posted speed limit when conditions require a lower speed.

This means that a police officer may stop and give you a ticket under certain circumstances – even you were driving at the posted speed limit.

Basic Speed Law - Uniform Vehicle Code

When an Officer may Decide You Were Speeding

Some of the situations when an officer may decide that your speed was unreasonable include:

  • Using an unsafe speed when going around a tight curve.
  • Traveling too fast when approaching the crest of a hill.
  • Going too fast upon any narrow or winding roadway.
  • Driving at the speed limit in fog or other low-visibility conditions.
  • Going too fast during a heavy downpour or storm.
  • Not adjusting your speed when road conditions were slick or unsafe.
  • Traveling much faster than traffic around you.
  • Your speed created a potential hazard for pedestrians or children along the side of the road.

Going too fast through an intersection or railway crossing can also result in a ticket.

When you approach an intersection or railroad crossing, make sure you slow down enough to see clearly in all directions.

Attitudes about Speeding

Unfortunately, not all drivers use good judgment.

A survey by NHTSA showed that 16 percent of American drivers think that “Driving over the speed limit is not dangerous for skilled drivers”.

17 percent agree with a statement like “If it is your time to die, you’ll die, so it doesn’t matter whether you speed.”

Source: National Survey of Speeding Attitudes and Behaviors



Crashes Related to Speeding

It is important to remember that speeding:

  • Reduces your ability to steer safely around curves or objects in the roadway.
  • Extends your braking distance.
  • Increases the distance your vehicle travels before you react to a dangerous situation
  • Can interfere with the flow of traffic and endanger the life of others.

In 2007, speeding was a contributing factor in 31 percent of all fatal crashes. More than 13,000 lives were lost in speeding-related crashes.

Basic Speed Law on Your Driver’s Exam

Even if your driver’s manual doesn’t mention the basic speed law by name, there are many situations when you must adjust your speed and drive slower than the posted speed limit. Scan your manual and try to find them. Chances are that one or two exam questions are based on these chapters.

A posted speed limit of 55 mph doesn’t mean that you can drive 55 mph in every situation.

Read more: What is a Safe Speed on Freeways?

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