Vehicle Code 22354
Driving at an Excessive Speed on California's Freeways

Under California Vehicle Code Section 22354, the State can impose speed limits lower than 65 miles per hour on California freeways. It's excessive speeding if a motorist drives faster than these lower limits (when and where posted).

There are four important points to know about excessive speeding on California freeways.

  • A motorist is presumed to be in violation of California's basic speeding law if driving at an excessive speed. This presumption though can be rebutted if the motorist shows he was driving safe and reasonable.
  • The fine for a violation of Vehicle Code 22354 VC can range from $35.00 to more than $500.00, plus court costs and assessments.
  • A driver caught speeding excessively will receive one point on his DMV record. You risk getting a negligent operator license suspension if you get 4 points in 12 months, 6 points in 24 months or 8 points in 36 months.
  • Drivers cannot ignore California speeding tickets. This act will likely result in a charge of failure to appear, per California Vehicle Code 40508, which can be charged as a misdemeanor.

In the article below, our California personal injury attorneys will address:

1. Is it illegal to drive at an excessive speed under California law?

California's law on excessive speeding is outlined in California Vehicle Code Section 22354 VC.

This section gives California's Department of Transportation (DOT) the authority to:

  1. Lower the maximum speed limit of 65 miles per hour on state freeways; and,
  2. Lower this limit to either 60, 55, 50, 45, 40, 35, 30, or 25 miles per hour – whichever is the most safe and reasonable.1

It's excessive speeding when a motorist drives faster than any of these lower speed limits (once posted).

The lower limits under VC 22354 are "prima facie" speed limits. This means a motorist driving faster than the limit is presumed to be violating California's basic speeding law.2

If it's shown that a driver exceeded a "prima facie" limit, however, a motorist can still argue that he didn't violate the law. He can do this by asserting his driving was safe and reasonable in conformity with California Vehicle Code 22350 VC.3

2. Are there legal defenses if accused of violating Vehicle Code 22354?

There are legal defenses if a motorist is accused of violating VC 22354. It's in the motorist's best interests, though, to consult with an attorney before raising one.

2.1 What are the most common defenses? 

There are four common defenses if a person is accused of excessive speeding. These include:

  1. Showing that although excessive, you were driving at a speed that was safe and reasonable under the circumstances.
  2. Showing that you were driving at an excessive speed because of an emergency.
  3. The police made a mistake.
  4. There was inadequate or missing signage.

As to this last defense, California Vehicle Code 22355 VC states that when the DOT lowers the speed limit under VC 22354, the DOT must post signs that give motorist's adequate notice of the applicable speed limit.4 Thus, it's a defense if a driver can show no signage or inadequate signage.

2.2 Do I need an attorney?

Motorists can represent themselves when fighting a California speeding ticket. But, it's recommended that anyone charged with this violation hire an experienced lawyer to represent them.

It's advantageous to hire an attorney for three main reasons. These are:

  1. Prosecutors tend to offer better deals to defendants with lawyers.
  2. Defense attorneys are knowledgeable on how to get charge reductions and dismissals.
  3. Defendants with defense lawyers do not have to go to court.

3. What are the penalties if I drive at an excessive speed?

The possible consequences of a motorist driving excessively on a California freeway include:

  1. Receiving a speeding ticket and a possible driving license suspension; and,
  2. Getting points assessed to the driver's DMV driving record.

3.1 Do I get a speeding ticket or get my license suspended? 

A driver that violates VC 22354 will receive a speeding ticket and may get a suspension of his driver's license.

The exact amount of the 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 or safe speed by 1 to 15 miles per hour
  • $70 if faster than the limit or safe speed by 16 to 25 miles per hour
  • $100 if faster than the limit or safe speed by 26 miles per hour or more5

The penalties for driving faster than 100 miles per hour include:

  • A first offense results in a ticket with a base fine of $500 and up to 30 days of license suspension.
  • A second offense within three years of time results in a ticket with a maximum base fine of $750 and a possible license suspension of six months.
  • A third offense within five years of time results in a ticket with a maximum base fine of $1,000 and a possible license suspension of one year.6

3.2 How many points are put on my driving record?

Violators of Vehicle Code 22354 will receive one point on their DMV driving record.7  

Points assessed on a motorist's record are reported to that motorist's insurance carrier. The result is typically an increase in the driver's insurance rates for several years.

If a person accumulates a certain number of points within a 1-,2- or 3-year period in California, the DMV can declare that person a negligent operator. If this is done, the DMV can suspend or even revoke that person's driving privileges. Either action requires a California DMV hearing.

4. Do I have to attend traffic school if I violate 22354? 

Motorists that violate Vehicle Code 22354 VC do not have to attend traffic school.

Drivers, though, can voluntarily choose to do so. Generally, you can go to traffic school if:

  1. You have a valid driver's license;
  2. The offense occurred while driving a noncommercial vehicle; and,
  3. Your ticket is for an infraction that is a moving violation.

If a driver elects to go to traffic school, he must still pay his traffic fine.8 However, the driver generally should not get any points on his driving record if he completes the school.9

5. Is it a crime if I drive excessively on a California freeway?

It is not a crime if a motorist violates VC 22354.

These violations are infractions under California law and an offender is not subject to incarceration.

6. What happens if I ignore a California speeding ticket?

Two things happen if you ignore a speeding ticket. These are:

  1. You violate a new law, California Vehicle Code 40508 VC, for the failure to appear in court on a traffic citation; and,
  2. You may receive penalties for violating VC 40508.

6.1 What is the violation of Vehicle Code 40508 VC?

When you are issued a traffic ticket in California, the officer will have you sign a written promise to appear at the time and place specified.

If you willfully fail to appear as promised, you violate Vehicle Code 40508 VC.10   You willfully fail to appear when you are willingly a no-show. It doesn't matter if you didn't intend to break the law.11

Nor does it matter whether you're guilty or innocent of the underlying traffic citation.12  You violate Vehicle Code 40508 just by breaking a promise to:

  • Appear in court,
  • Appear to pay bail,
  • Pay bail in installments,
  • Pay a fine within the time authorized, or
  • Comply with any condition of the court.13

6.2 What are the penalties for violating Vehicle Code 40508 VC?

Violation of Vehicle Code 40508 VC is a misdemeanor. The penalties are:

  • Up to six months in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $1,000.14

7. What is the effect of a speeding violation on a personal injury lawsuit? 

A driver who speeds in a California construction zone, and thereby causes an accident, is likely to be found negligent in a personal injury lawsuit.

California law defines "negligence" as the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or to others. In the context of an auto accident, the negligent driver is at fault for the accident. Further, the negligent driver may have to pay for any damages caused.

Proving negligence in a personal injury case is sometimes difficult. In California though, a driver is considered "negligent per se" if he violates a statute.

Negligence “per se” is a legal theory in which negligence is presumed based upon a defendant's violation of a statute or ordinance

This means a driver would be negligent per se if driving excessively since he would be in violation of VC 22354.

Also know that if a driver is in violation of Vehicle Code 22354 VC, he also is technically in violation of California's basic speeding law. And, California courts have ruled that a violation of the basic speeding law is negligence as a matter of law.15

Please note, however, that even if a driver is negligent per se, or negligent as a matter of law, the driver may still be able to recover for any damages he incurs. This is because of California's comparative fault laws.

8. Are there laws related to VC 22354?

There are three laws related to speeding on California's freeways. These are:

  1. Speeding in violation of California's basic speeding law;
  2. Speeding in violation of California's "prima facie" speed limits; and,
  3. Driving over 70 miles per hour on California's freeways.

8.1 What is California's basic speeding law?

California's basic speeding law is found in California Vehicle Code 22350 VC.  This code section reads:

No person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic

on, and the surface and width of, the highway, and in no event at a speed

which endangers the safety of persons or property.16

The basic speeding law in California, therefore, requires motorists to drive at a reasonable and safe speed. What a reasonable and safe speed is will depend on the circumstances or facts of a case.17

A motorist found in violation of VC 22350 will face the same penalties as a violator of VC 22354.

8.2 What are California's "prima facie" speed limits?

California's "prima facie," or presumed, speed limits are set forth in California Vehicle Code 22352 VC. According to this section, and unless otherwise posted, the "prima facie" speed limits are:

  • 15 miles per hour at railroad crossings, in alleys, and highway intersections without 100 feet of visibility of approaching vehicles; and,
  • 25 miles per hour in business and residential districts and school zones.

If a driver is driving faster than a "prima facie" speed limit, it doesn't necessarily mean that he is speeding and in violation of the law.

As with Vehicle Code 22354's "prima facie" limits, a driver can still be found not guilty of speeding if he can show that he was driving safe and reasonable under California's basic speeding law.18

A motorist found breaking California's "prima facie" speed limits will face the same penalties as a violator of VC 22354.

8.3 What is driving over 70 miles per hour on a California freeway?

It's illegal in California for a motorist to drive faster than 70 miles per hour on a freeway where the speed limit is set at 70 miles per hour.

Section 22356 of California's Vehicle Code permits the California Department of Transportation to increase the speed limit on the State's highways from 65 miles per hour to 70 miles per hour.

According to Vehicle Code Section 22356 (b):

No person shall drive a vehicle upon that highway at a speed greater than 70 miles per hour, as posted.19

The 70 miles per hour speed limit imposed is an absolute speed limit. This means a motorist violates the law simply by driving one mile per hour more than the speed limit.

A motorist found driving over 70 miles per hour will face the same penalties as a violator of VC 22354.

Were you accused of excessive speeding on a California freeway? Call us for help…

If you or someone you know has been cited for speeding, or has been injured in an accident in California, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LAW-FIRM (855-529-3276).

Legal References: 

  1. California Vehicle Code 22354 VC.
  2. See same.
  3. See same and California Vehicle Code 22350 VC.
  4. California Vehicle Code 22355 VC.
  5. See DMV.org.
  6. See same.
  7. See same.
  8. See California Courts website.
  9. See same.
  10. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC.
  11. CALCRIM 2240, endnote 1: Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose. It is not required that he or she intend to break the law, hurt someone else, or gain any advantage.
  12. See same.
  13. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC, endnote 1.
  14. California Penal Code 19 PC.  Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both.
  15. People v. Lett (1947) 77 Cal. App. 2d 917.
  16. California Vehicle Code 22350 VC.
  17. People v. Farleigh (2017) 221Cal. Rptr. 3d 253.
  18. California Vehicle Code 22351 VC.
  19. California Vehicle Code 22356 (b).

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