California Legislature backs speed rule revision

September 14, 2021

Keith Goble


The California Legislature has approved a bill that is touted to permit cities to prioritize safe speed limits.

The Golden State observes the 85th percentile speed rule – the speed at or below which 85% of vehicles travel in free-flowing traffic. Speed limits must be rounded to the nearest 5 mph.

Assembly lawmakers voted last week to back minor Senate changes to a bill to give the state flexibility to round down the 85th percentile speed when necessary. The vote cleared the way for the bill to head to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.

If signed into law, the California Department of Transportation and local authorities would be authorized 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 safety corridor that generates high concentrations of vulnerable roadway users, as defined by Caltrans.

‘Outdated’ rule change touted

Assembly member Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, 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 Additionally, she says the 85th percentile is “outdated” and has led locals to increase speed limits at the same time traffic fatalities continue to increase.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 recently said.

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 doubted

Critics say lowering speed limits too much can be problematic. They add that increased speed variance also can 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. LL

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