California bill would revise speed limit rule

August 18, 2021

Keith Goble


The method the state of California uses to set speed limits could soon be revised.

The Golden State observes the 85th percentile speed rule – the speed at or below which 85% of vehicles travel in free-flowing traffic.

Rule described as ‘outdated’

A bill halfway through the statehouse would give the state flexibility to round down the 85th percentile speed when necessary.

Sponsored by Assemblymember Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, the bill would authorize local authorities, when performing an engineering and traffic survey, to consider the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians.

Specifically, AB43 would authorize a local authority that finds the speed limit is “more than reasonable or safe” to reduce the speed limit by 5 mph by ordinance. The affected roadway must be designated as a high-injury street that generates high concentrations of bicyclists or pedestrians, as defined by the California Department of Transportation.

Friedman says speed limit reform is far overdue in California. Additionally, she says the 85th percentile is “outdated” and has led locals to increase speed limits at the same time traffic fatalities continue to increase.

“It has long been believed that (the 85th percentile) is the safest way to determine street speed, but the data and rising number of traffic-related injuries and deaths suggest otherwise,” Friedman stated.

The California Office of Traffic Safety has found that pedestrian fatalities have been relatively steady over the past five years. Fatalities have increased from 947 to 1,021 over the time period.

Excess speed is one of the factors cited by the office.

Need for change questioned

Critics say lowering speed limits too much can be problematic. They add that increased speed variance can also create more conflicts and passing maneuvers.

Additionally, opponents say lowering speed limits by itself will not reduce speed. Instead, it will criminalize normal behavior and will not make streets safer.

The Assembly voted 65-3 to advance the bill. AB43 is in the Senate Appropriations Committee. LL

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