How Fast Do You Have to Go Before You’re “Speeding”?


My most recent contribution to PJ Media concerns Oriana Farrell, that mom in the mini-van who landed herself in a New Mexico calaboose after what started out as a routine traffic stop for speeding.  In the piece, I take issue with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, who, in his commentary on the matter, assigned all the blame to the police, ignoring the fact that if Farrell had but signed the speeding ticket she had earned, none of the unpleasantness that followed would have occurred. O’Donnell opined that the initial stop, for going 71 miles an hour in a 55 mph zone, was unwarranted. Farrell was stopped near Taos, O’Donnell said, “on a road where, like all roads in New Mexico, no one drives 55 miles an hour.”

Which may be true, but it ignores the point. Even if most drivers do go faster than 55 on a given stretch of road, few of them are going faster than 70 — and anyone who does and gets caught can expect to be pulled over and ticketed. And if he drives off from the traffic stop, he can expect to be arrested (but probably not shot at, as happened to Farrell).

So, how fast is too fast? A rule of thumb I’ve always employed, one shared by most of my colleagues, is that under ordinary conditions drivers are given a 10-mph buffer over the posted speed limit. Anything faster than that that will likely get you stopped. And if you’re 15 over the speed limit, spare me your sad stories – your goose is cooked and you can tell it to the judge.

Buckle up and drive safely. And stay off your damned phone.

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive

    Was it always thus, this massive allowance, or did that come from the silly 55mph national limit back in the 1970s?

    Here in Australia there is no realistic expectation of an allowance. In metric terms you wouldn’t be surprised to be pulled over going 10kph over the limit (say, around 3mph), and you’d certainly be pinged by a speed camera for 5kph.

    When I was a general duties cop thirty years ago our culture was to allow a 20kph buffer. Anyone who booked someone for less than that was considered to be aspiring to a career in the Traffic Division.

    • #1
  2. Profile Photo Inactive

    “Can you tell me why you were going that fast?”. Sigh,”Well it’s called an internal combustion engine and this gas pedal right here will make it generate more power. What other questions do you have?”. OK, I don’t say that.

    • #2
  3. Profile Photo Member

    What other laws do You not uphold, but swore an Oath to do so?

    • #3
  4. Profile Photo Contributor

    Last time I got stopped for speeding I was clocked at 46 mph where the speed limit was 30 mph.  I was astonished because I glanced at the speedometer when I saw the officer with the radar gun. The speedometer was under 25mph, and I was relieved I wasn’t over 30.  Next thing I know – flashing lights in my rear-view mirror.

    No, the speedometer wasn’t broken.  Nor had I been going 16 miles over the limit.  I had turned onto the street 2-1/2 blocks before running into the speed trap in an old Dodge van with anemic acceleration.  Even the officer said it did not look like I was going 46, but that is what his radar said. (The cop’s radar gun was working properly, too.) 

    I figured out what happened later that day.  Fought the ticket and won.  The officer agreed with my explanation, too.  So, assuming everything I said previously is true, and the officer was honest and not trying to trap me (he was – I knew the guy), what happened?

    A hint:  I was going downhill (a pretty steep grade) and the front fender was dented.  Officer Dunphy, any guesses?


    • #4
  5. Profile Photo Inactive

    In Louisiana I once got a ticket for 48 in a 45 mph zone, at 3 am when there were no other cars around.  A local Perish cop, and I was from another Perish (raising funds maybe?).  A few years ago I go another one for going 65 in a 60 MPH zone by a State Cop in Indiana.   I consider both to be legitimate.  In both case, I was guilty. 

    • #5
  6. Profile Photo Inactive

    70 is perfectly safe for most people, so is 75, or 80.  The speed limit laws aren’t about safety, they’re about control (as are most of the traffic laws).

    Many European countries have higher speed limits than we do and better safety records.  Or just observe what happened in the US when the 55-mph limit was dropped: traffic accidents went down.

    I regularly see State Troopers in various states pass me doing 80/90-mph without their warning lights on.  If it’s dangerous, why do they do that?

    “And stay off your damned phone.”

    Another line of BS for the gullible.  Here are a couple of charts: one is of the US traffic rate, the other is cell phone use.  I’ll summarize for you: cell phone use went from 0% to darn near 100%, and the accident and fatality rate went down. 

    Follow-up to “Driving While on Your Cell Phone Saves Lives!”

    • #6
  7. Profile Photo Member

    I watched that whole darned video. Can we talk about the culture of victimization and irresponsibility for a minute here?

    “I cannot make a decision.”  — two choices: sign the citation or appear in court within 30 days.

    “I’m just trying to get my children to (location X)…” — or to paraphrase, “Just leave me alone, don’t you have any compassion now that I’ve broken the law and am expected to make a decision about the consequences I’ll face?”

    Don’t get me wrong. I believe this woman when she says “I’m just trying to be honest.” The tragedy is, her capacity for right-judgment, taking responsibility, and making decisions has been crippled — destroyed, really — by a culture which gives her victim status and only expects something from her when there’s a reward involved.

    It may seem like I’m speculating about her, but I’m gleaning a lot from the behavior of her son, particularly, and her children in general. 

    Everything in modern society seems geared toward mitigating natural consequences, from Obamaphones, to contraception, to abortion. We’ve inculcated an expectation that there should be no suffering, and that the rules don’t apply to_me.

    • #7
  8. Profile Photo Member
    James Lileks: 2nd time: 

    Second time: highway patrol had pulled over car on the shoulder. I couldn’t get over to clear the lane next to the shoulder, which is the law.  · 6 hours ago

    Some police agencies here have been particularly aggressive in enforcing the “move over” law, which has caused drivers to execute some particularly dangerous lane changes, and a number of accidents when traffic suddenly stops as 2 lanes of highway traffic try to consolidate into one lane. I understand the rationale for the law, but perhaps it is just moving the risk from one place to another.

    • #8
  9. Profile Photo Member

    The unreasonable but usually unenforced speed laws are symptomatic of the proliferation of laws and regulations that make it hard to function without violating them (see the Encounter Book, Three Felonies a Day). Among the problems this creates is erratic enforcement that leads to fear, because the law might be enforced at any time. If an officer decides for any reason (he doesn’t like my car, he had a bad breakfast, he had a fight with his wife, whatever) to write me up for driving 60 mph on a road posted for 55 mph, that I was just keeping up with traffic is not a defense.

    It also made it hard to teach my son driving (among other things). How could I teach him about obeying the law when we say, well except for this law because if you drive 55 mph on our local 2 lane each direction limited access highway marked for 55 mph you will be slower than everyone else on the road, creating a traffic hazard. When he also saw school rules inconsistently enforced, it only heightened his cynicism towardanylaws or rules. 

    • #9
  10. Profile Photo Member

    On the more fun side, for a few years recently I drove an ex-police car (white Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor), complete with spotlight on the driver’s side windshield pillar. It was often entertaining to watch the reactions of other drivers around me. Taking passengers was also fun, since the rear interior door handles did not operate. 

    • #10
  11. Profile Photo Contributor

    In NJ they give you a 14 mph buffer and it is tied to the point system.

    14 mph over the limit and you get 2 points on your license.  15 over and you get 4 points.

    In court, it is routine to amend by plea bargain the 4 point ticket down to 14 mph over so you get 2 points.  Thusly, no officers bother with 14 mph over as an initial ticket.

    Pretty good system from the driver’s perspective –  you get a lot of breaks.

    I figured it was like this everywhere.

    • #11
  12. Profile Photo Coolidge
    And stay off your damned phone.”

    Another line of BS for the gullible.  Here are a couple of charts: one is of the US traffic rate, the other is cell phone use.  I’ll summarize for you: cell phone use went from 0% to darn near 100%, and the accident and fatality rate went down. 

    Follow-up to “Driving While on Your Cell Phone Saves Lives!”” · 1 hour ago

    This statistic makes so much sense – if cell phone use actually caused accidents, our insurance rates would have risen ten times over the last twenty years.

    Anecdotal evidence is no substitute for statistics, and the insurance industry keeps all these statistics, so they know what to charge.

    A bad driver with a cell phone is just another bad driver.  A good driver with a cell phone is just another good driver.  Leave my cell phone alone!

    • #12
  13. Profile Photo Thatcher

    In GA, the locals cannot ticket you with a radar gun for anything less than 10. The GSP can do what it wants, but they also tend to abide by the 10mph rule.

    In SC, I understand, to make money, they will now pull you over for 1, “But it won’t go on your record”. That is all about money.

    Last time I was pulled over for speeding, It was one of those straight highways that look like an interstate but have a 45mph speed limit. They are an invitation to speed. I was going with traffic. I turned onto a side road and saw lights behind me and pulled over to let him pass. I was astonished to see him pull up behind me. I could honestly say, “I don’t know. Was I speeding?” to the “Why did I pull you over” question.

    Anyway, I heard a “All units” call on his radio and he told me to slow and and took off. Whew.

    • #13
  14. Profile Photo Inactive

    I can tell you as a New Mexico resident that the best plan is to stick to the speed limit in my state.  Speed limits are generous and anything beyond the posted speed is pushing prudence.  You will also get no slack from the tribal police insofar as speeding fines are merely a revenue generator for the tribes.  Enforcement from aircraft is also common, and it’s rumored that drones are on the way.  The state also features automated speed traps; the fine appears in your mailbox.  Residents often refer to the Land of Enchantment as the Land of Entrapment.  You have been warned.  

    • #14
  15. Profile Photo Inactive

    The last time I was pulled over for speeding was 1988, and I’m pretty sure the guy just wanted to make sure I was old enough to drive. I drive the speed limit as much for my own conscience as I do for the joy of the jackwagon behind me. If you tailgate me expect my speed to match your following distance.

    • #15
  16. Profile Photo Inactive

    This seems reasonable to me.

    • #16
  17. Profile Photo Inactive

    Yes, please do stay off the phone.

    • #17
  18. Profile Photo Inactive

    One of my proudest moments was being pulled over in Wyoming doing 115 in a 70. I thought I was cooked. But when the trooper pulled me over and I told him I had a dozen guns and on my way to a new duty station, he was more interested in what types of guns I like and where I was going. Never even mentioned the speed. Just said to take it easy on the steep hills.

    • #18
  19. Profile Photo Inactive

    I thought we could only go 4 mph over the speed limit without risk of being pulled over.  Are you telling me that I’ve been losing 6 mph for nothing?

    • #19
  20. Profile Photo Inactive

    1) Speed limits, save those in school zones, are little more than effective revenue generators for fiscally and morally bankrupt local/state governments. I’ll take a driver who speeds, but observes correct following distance and good decision-making, over a driver that is following the posted speed limit but driving like a jerk. (Speeding tickets also are an excellent way to put someone in debtors’ prison: You must pay the fine before you can even go to court in many jurisdictions. Can’t pay the fine? You’ll do the time.) 

    2) The entire group of police are not to shoulder their portion of the blame. That honor is reserved for the officer who discharged his weapon multiple times. He should be dismissed immediately. 

    I would like to give the benefit of the doubt to police officers. Unfortunately, in a world where a truck with two old ladies gets filled with bullet holes because it passively resembles Chris Dorner’s, a world where people are apparently anally violated for hours on end following traffic stops…in a world where police break down the door for nothing, and shoot your dog… they have lost that benefit of the doubt. Permanently. 

    • #20
  21. Profile Photo Podcaster

    I had a county sheriff tell me that the popular phrase among LEOs was “Nine you’re fine, ten you’re mine.”

    • #21
  22. Profile Photo Inactive

    I read recently of a town in Germany that did away with all traffic signs and presumably many of the laws. The accident rate dropped fantastically. We have too many traffic laws and far too many traffic signs in this country. Mark Steyn has written some hilarity about the “stop sign ahead signs”

    • #22
  23. Profile Photo Contributor

    I saw the video, and read Jack’s assessment. He’s spot on:   Unless the officer was shooting perfectly-aimed non-lethal tire-deflation bullets that also stabilized the vehicle, that was stupid. I don’t know why the mom was thinking. I certainly don’t know what the son intended to accomplish. “I think I’ll calm down this fractious interchange by coming around the back of the vehicle, giving the officer the choice between looking at me, the driver, or anyone else in the dark recesses vehicle while he attempts to establish control.” Not wise.

    I have been pulled over twice in the last ten years. Hit the cabin lights, hands at 10-2, glad car interior is pristine.  1st time: do you know why I pulled you over? “Because I was speeding.” It was a periodically-manned speed trap designed to show the flag; a wide road right off the highway, posted at a ridiculous 30 MPH. Every three months they put a B&W on a side street to put the fear of God into people. My admission bought me a citation for “unreasonable acceleration,” which didn’t go on my license. 

    • #23
  24. Profile Photo Contributor

    2nd time: 

    Second time: highway patrol had pulled over car on the shoulder. I couldn’t get over to clear the lane next to the shoulder, which is the law. As soon as I passed he revved out and lit me up, and he was peeved. I suspected the stop had been annoying, and me blasting past was just another  example of Drivers Who Don’t Get It. I explained that the traffic on my left was thick, and I had a choice between speeding up to get around, or braking hard to get behind, and neither option seemed safe. (The officer was in his vehicle when I passed him on the shoulder.) This satisfied him and he let me go.

    The ID on shirt said his last name was MANHOOD. Which I imagine makes some drivers hesitant to question his assertions.

    • #24
  25. Profile Photo Member

    C’mon, Westy, this is me. Of course I watched it. Just watched it again, up to the 13 minute mark, to get a couple of timings.

    First: yes, the woman was completely at fault right up to the 6 minute mark. That’s where the officer first shows a failure of professionalism. He’s clearly losing his temper at that point, – after opening the door he tells her to “get the f*@#” out of the vehicle. He knows he’s losing it, too, because he catches himself a little – you can barely make out the vulgarity, like it only made it partway past the filter.

    He needed more manpower around him at that point. He was not in control of the situation.

    The behavior of the woman was reprehensible, of course. Her kids, not so much – they were doing what kids do. But nevermind that the officer was the first one out of control, he was right to pull a (non-lethal) weapon on the kid, and again was right not to use it.

    Despite losing his temper, he was right – right up until 12:40. That’s when he started beating on the door with his baton.


    • #25
  26. Profile Photo Member

    … 201

    At that point, everything changes, and it is completely the fault of the policemen.

    That cop who shot at the vehicle deserves jail time. Cops do not get to shoot you just because you aren’t doing what they tell you. Cops get to shoot you to defend themselves and protect the citizenry. Period, the end, that’s all there is to it. The guy firing the gun in that video is a criminal in uniform, not a policeman.

    Odd that it was the arrival of his support that provided the final trigger. That young policeman needs a lot more training, and a long period of seasoning with an experienced partner, before he should be allowed to operate solo again.

    • #26
  27. Profile Photo Member

    Yeah, we’re all in agreement on the trigger happy cop, I think. Although the young cop was obviously unseasoned, I thought he did a pretty good job of keeping his cool and repeating her options to her, despite her irrationality. She was simply incapable of dealing with the choices she was given. I’m not sure what else he could have done, given how uncooperative she was. 

    And, Barfly, no kid in my large, extended family would even think of treating an authority figure that way. That’s at least partly because their parents would never behave like that woman. The apples don’t fall far from the tree.

    • #27
  28. Profile Photo Inactive

    This is odd – I usually don’t see that many, well, dumb comments on Ricochet.

    First – cell phones. I don’t know where the folks defending cell phone use while driving live but around here, the cell phone yappers are always the ones poking along in the left lane, gesturing, while cars have to pass on the right… or merge onto the freeway, so engrossed in their call, that they fail to see the cars already on the road. And so on.

    Second, this stop may not have been ideal police procedure (and shooting at the vehicle sure seems inappropriate whatever PD policy in NM is) but she was speeding (when you drive, you agree to the traffic laws… if you don’t like them, write your reps) and she made a mountain out of a pebble. Either challenge the citation or pay the $2.

    • #28
  29. Profile Photo Member

    Sure, that woman is stupid. Entitled and full of herself to think she could dictate the terms of the situation. That, and stupid. Probably insists on getting her “respect”.

    As for the young man – well, I’d have done the same in that situation. Not if she’d submitted quietly, but if somehow things had gotten to the point we see here, then yeah. I’d have gotten tazed for it (or shot), but don’t put your hands on my Mom. I like that kid.

    Forget about instant submission to authority; there is no basis for that in a free society. Police deserve courtesy, obedience, and the benefit of the doubt, but I didn’t even give my Mom that kind of unquestioning deference.

    As for what the officer could have done – that is easy. This situation bore no threat of violence, no immediate need for resolution. He could have waited. Easy.

    And the arriving cruiser could have blocked the path of the van. That was a real tipoff that we were in Keystone, NM.

    176 …

    • #29
  30. Profile Photo Member

    … 177

    But that’s all beside the point. Policeman have to deal with everyone, good citizens and trashy. That’s why they get cars, guns, training, nice pensions, and training. We hold them to the highest standard, and when they fail – that means they are a failure.

    When policemen beat on windows and shoot at cars because they’re embarrassed or angry, they are criminals. The shooter in that video is the real problem here.

    • #30

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