Vehicle Code 40801 is the California statute that prohibits police from using speed traps in arresting, or assisting in the arrest of, a person for any vehicle code violation. This includes an arrest for speeding, per Vehicle Code 22350.
The most common definition of a “speed trap” is a section of a highway where the speed of a vehicle is calculated by counting the time it takes the car to travel between two marked points.
Under California law, the speed of a vehicle cannot be admitted into evidence if the speed was obtained or determined by use of a speed trap. This prohibition includes a ban on using the speed as either circumstantial evidence or direct evidence.
Please note that while authorities cannot use speed traps in California, it is still legal for police to use radar devices to show that a driver violated one of California’s speeding laws. Some of these laws include:
- driving over 70 miles per hour,
- driving over 100 miles per hour on the freeway, and
- speeding in a construction zone.
Note that drivers can challenge a California ticket for speeding by raising a legal defense. It’s best, though, for drivers to consult with an experienced California defense attorney before doing so.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. What is the law under Vehicle Code 40801 VC?
- 2. What is a “speed trap” under California law?
- 3. Speed traps and can the speed of a vehicle be admitted into evidence?
- 4. Can police use radars to issue tickets for speeding?
- 5. What are California’s “speeding laws?”
1. What is the law under Vehicle Code 40801 VC?
Vehicle Code 40801 is the California statute that provides a prohibition on law enforcement personnel from using “speed traps.”
In particular, VC 40801 prohibits two things. The code section says that police cannot:
- use a speed trap in arresting, or assisting in the arrest of, any person for any vehicle code violation; and,
- use a speed trap in securing evidence as to the speed of a vehicle for the purpose of making an arrest.1
2. What is a “speed trap” under California law?
California Vehicle Code 40802 VC says that a “speed trap” is a section of a highway where either:
- the speed of a vehicle may be calculated by counting the time it takes a vehicle to travel between two marked points; or,
- there is a marked speed limit that is not justified by an engineering and traffic survey conducted within five years prior to the date of the alleged violation, and enforcement of the speed limit involves the use of radar.2
Please note that with regards to the second definition of a speed trap, the language does not apply to a local street, road, or school zone.3
2.1. What is the legal definition of a “local street or road?”
According to California Vehicle Code 40802(b)(1), a “local street or road” is a street or road that mainly provides access to a residential property and meets the following three conditions:
- has a roadway width of not more than 40 feet,
- is not more than one-half of a mile in uninterrupted length, and
- has no more than one traffic lane in each direction.4
2.2. What is the legal definition of a school zone?
According to California Vehicle Code 40802(b)(2), a “school zone” is an area that meets all of the following conditions:
- is an area approaching or passing a school building or school grounds,
- the area borders or touches a roadway, and
- the area is marked with a “SCHOOL” warning sign when children are going to or leaving the school either during school hours or during recess.5
3. Speed traps and can the speed of a vehicle be admitted into evidence?
Per California Vehicle Code 40803(a), the speed of a vehicle cannot be admitted into evidence if the speed was obtained or determined by use of a speed trap.6 This means it cannot be used as either circumstantial evidence or direct evidence.
The above rule applies to the trial of any person in any prosecution under the vehicle code upon a charge involving the speed of a vehicle.7
4. Can police use radars to issue tickets for speeding?
While authorities cannot use speed traps in California, it is still legal for police to use radar devices to show that a driver violated a California speeding law.8
Please note, however, that even if a person receives a speeding ticket because of the use of a radar, the person can still challenge the ticket. They can do this by showing that the radar device produced an inaccurate reading.
There are three ways to prove this. These are:
- by showing that objects interfered with the radar beam (such as trees, trucks or other cars),
- by proving that the radar device was not calibrated properly, and
- by demonstrating that the officer using the device did so incorrectly.
As to the first method of proof, note that a radar device measures speed by shooting out a beam at a target (here, a speeding car). The width of this beam increases with distance. As it increases, it’s possible that the path of the beam will include other cars and objects. The result is that a car might appear as traveling faster than it actually was.
5. What are California’s “speeding laws?”
“Speeding laws” refers to those California laws that impose penalties on motorists if driving too fast. Some of these include:
- the basic speeding law
- absolute speed limits9
- “prima facie” speed limits10
- driving over 70 miles per hour
- driving over 100 miles per hour on the freeway
- speeding in a construction zone
- excessive speed on a freeway
- speeding on a bridge or tunnel
- trucks speeding over 55 miles per hour
Penalties for violating these speeding laws typically include a fine and one point assessed on the motorist’s DMV driving record. A driver risks getting a negligent operator license suspension if he receives 4 points in 12 months, 6 points in 24 months, or 8 points in 36 months.
As to fines, the exact amount of a speeding ticket will depend on the speed at which the driver was driving. The amount will also include a base fine, fees, and penalty assessments.
If a driver exceeds the speed limit, but wasn’t driving more than 100 miles per hour, then the base fine of a ticket will be:
- $35 if faster than the limit by 1 to 15 miles per hour
- $70 if faster than the limit by 16 to 25 miles per hour
- $100 if faster than the limit by 26 miles per hour
- California Vehicle Code 40801 VC. This code section states as follows: “No peace officer or other person shall use a speed trap in arresting, or participating or assisting in the arrest of, any person for any alleged violation of this code nor shall any speed trap be used in securing evidence as to the speed of any vehicle for the purpose of an arrest or prosecution under this code.”
- California Vehicle Code 40802 VC.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 40802(b)(1) VC.
- California Penal Code 40802(b)(2) VC.
- California Penal Code 40803(a) VC.
- See same.
- People v. Beamer (1955), 130 Cal. App. 2d Supp. 874. See also In re Beamer (1955), 133 Cal. App. 2d 63.
- For example, California Vehicle Code 22349 a VC establishes two absolute speed limits of 65 and 55 miles per hour on California freeways.
- For example, California Vehicle Code 22352 VC establishes two “prima facie” speed limits of 15 and 25 miles per hour.