The Common Law
Can I avoid a speeding ticket because there were no speed limit signs?
I recently got a speeding ticket on Enfield Road (between Downtown and MoPac) while driving to work (going 40 mph in 30 mph zone, or so they say). My plan is to challenge the ticket in traffic court. A big part of my defense focuses on the fact that there were no posted speed limit signs on the stretch of road where I was observed and ticketed. Can I win with this argument? – P.T. Leadfoot
Probably not. The starting point for determining the appropriate speed limit is to look to the posted signs. But the absence of speed limit signs is not an open invitation to do your best rush hour imitation of Mario Andretti.
Texas law sets out specific speed limits in various situations if no speed limit signs are posted. For example, section 545.352(b) of the Texas Transportation Code creates a universal speed limit of "30 miles per hour" in urban districts where no specific speed limit signs are posted. An urban district is defined as any area improved with structures that are used for housing, business, or industry, separated by distances of less than 100 feet for a distance of at least one-quarter mile.
Enfield Road definitely qualifies as an urban district, which means that, even if there were no speed limit signs, the default speed limit would be 30 mph. Texas law states that speed in excess of 30 mph in this scenario is "prima facie evidence" (i.e., evidence sufficient to sustain a judgment unless contradictory evidence is submitted) that the speed is not reasonable and prudent, and is therefore unlawful. Arguing the fact that there were no speed limit signs at traffic court likely will not help your defense. Instead, you will need to show that you were traveling at 30 mph or less, or that your speed was reasonable and prudent under the circumstances.
Check out future "Common Law" columns to learn more about other ways to challenge your speeding ticket in traffic court.