The Basic Speeding Law in California
(Vehicle Code 22350 VC)

Police Officer pointing his radar gun
The basic speeding law in California essentially requires motorists to drive at a reasonable and safe speed

California's basic speeding law is found in California Vehicle Code 22350 VC.  The section makes it illegal for a person to drive faster than is safe for the given circumstances. VC 22350 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.1

(emphasis added).

There are five key things to know about traffic tickets under this section:

  1. The fine for a violation can range from $35.00 to more than $500.00, plus court costs and assessments.
  2. A person cited for speeding under VC 22350 can (a) pay the fine, (b) do traffic school (once every 18 months) or (c) fight the ticket in court.
  3. If you complete traffic school or fight the ticket successfully, you will avoid getting points on your DMV record. Otherwise this is a "one point" violation. 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. 
  4. An attorney can be hired to handle the case in court. If so, the client does not need to be present in court.
  5. Ignoring the ticket (neither paying the fine nor going to court) will likely result in being charged with failure to appear per Vehicle Code 40508. Although speeding is just an infraction, failure to appear can be charged as a misdemeanor crime. 

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

1. What is reasonable and safe under Vehicle Code 22350 VC?

The basic speeding law in California essentially 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.2

The courts in California have identified many specific circumstances that are important in determining whether a speed is reasonable and safe. These include whether: 

  • The road that the driver was on was in a crowded urban or remote rural area.3
  • There were pedestrians near the driver.4
  • There were animals nearby.5
  • The driver was close to, or driving over, a railroad crossing.6
  • The street the motorist was on was slippery or wet.7
  • The driver's view of the road was obstructed or limited in any way.8
  • There was excessive sunlight or bright lights at the time the motorist was driving.9
  • The motorist was driving over a hill.10

Example: On Monday, John is driving 55 miles per hour on a city highway. The time is late morning and there are only a few other drivers on the road. The weather is overcast. 

On Tuesday, John drives on the same section of highway. His speed is again at 55 miles per hour. It's rush hour though and many other drivers are on the road. An afternoon snowstorm has caused the road to become slippery, even icy in some areas.

John's driving on Monday is perfectly within the limits of Vehicle Code 22350 VC. His speed of 55 miles per hour is both reasonable and safe given the relaxed driving conditions. However, John is likely violating the law on Tuesday. A speed of 55 miles per hour is indeed dangerous and unreasonable since there is heavy traffic and the road conditions are slick and icy.

2. Comparing specific speed limits vs the basis speeding law

California has two types of speed limits.

  1. Absolute speed limits
  2. "Prima facie" speed limits 

Whether or not a driver is in violation of the law while driving, is treated differently between these two types.

2.1 Absolute speed limits

California's absolute speed limits prohibit drivers from driving faster than:

These limits are considered absolute because if a motorist is driving faster than the limits, then he is automatically considered speeding and in violation of the law. California's basic speeding law doesn't apply. Note that Vehicle Code 22362 makes it illegal to speed in a construction zone

2.2 "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.12

These speed limits are different than absolute speed limits. 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.

A driver can challenge a prima facie speeding citation by showing that he was not in violation of the basic speeding law. This means he must show that his speed was safe and reasonable under the given circumstances. If the driver cannot do this, he is in violation of California Vehicle Code 22352 VC.13

3. What are the penalties if I violate 22350 VC or California's speed limits?

There are three possible consequences if a driver violates Vehicle Code 22350 VC or drives in excess of a speed limit. These are:

  1. Speeding tickets and driving license suspension
  2. Points to a driving record
  3. Possible negligence in any resulting auto accident

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

A driver that is found guilty of breaking the basic speeding law, or of driving in excess of a speed limit, 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 or is driving unsafe, but wasn't driving in excess of 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 more

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.14

3.2 Will points go on my driving record?

A driver will receive points on his driving record if he drives faster than a speed limit or violates 22350 VC. One point will get added. 

If a driver sustains

  • 4 points in a 12 month period,
  • 6 points in 24 months, or
  • 8 points in 36 months,

he faces being designated a negligent operator and thus a drivers license suspension. 

3.3 Am I negligent for any accidents?

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. 

Note that we raise the issue of negligence because excessive speed can sometimes cause auto accidents. These accidents can cause injuries that form the basis of personal injury lawsuits; and, proving negligence in a personal injury case is sometimes difficult. 

If an accident occurs, and a driver was found to be driving unsafely, he could be held liable for any possible injuries and damages resulting from the accident.15 Courts have ruled that a violation of the basic speeding law is "negligence per se" under California law. This means the court automatically treats it as negligence.16

It's critical to contact a California car accident lawyer if you were involved in an automobile accident.

4. Are there legal defenses if accused of speeding or violating 22350 VC?

There are three common defenses if a person is accused of speeding or violating Vehicle Code 22350 VC. These include:

  1. Showing that you were driving at an excessive speed because of an emergency.
  2. If in the case of the basic speeding law and the "prima facie" speed limit, showing that your speed was reasonable and safe.
  3. Finding fault in the way an officer found that you were speeding.

4.1 Can I fight a speeding ticket in California even if a radar was used?

Police officers typically use radar devices to show that a driver was speeding. A strong legal defense then is showing that the radar device produced an inaccurate reading.

There are three ways to show this. These are:

  1. Showing that objects interfered with the radar beam (such as trees, trucks or other cars).
  2. Proving that the radar device was not calibrated properly.
  3. Demonstrating that the officer using the device did so incorrectly.

As to the first showing, 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. Is it a crime if I violate 22350 VC?

It is not a crime if a person violates the basic speeding law.

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

6. Are there any laws related to Vehicle Code 22350 VC?

There are three California laws related to the basic speeding law. These include:

  • The minimum speed law;
  • Reckless Driving; and,
  • A DUI sentencing enhancement for excessive speed

6.1 The Minimum Speeding Law

California's minimum speed law is set forth in California Vehicle Code 22400 VC.

Vehicle Code 22400 VC reads:

No one person shall drive upon a highway at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic unless the reduced speed is necessary for safe operation, because of a grade, or in compliance with the law.17

This section also states that:

No person shall bring a vehicle to a complete stop upon a highway so as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic unless the stop is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.18

A person found guilty of violating this section will receive a ticket in the amount of $238. Points will also be placed on the motorist's driving record.

6.2 Reckless Driving

California's Reckless Driving law makes it a crime to drive with a wanton disregard for the safety of people or property.19

If no one other than the reckless driver is injured, violation of this law is a California misdemeanor. It can be punished at most by:

  • Five to ninety days in jail, and/or
  • A fine of between $145 and $1,000.20

The possible jail sentence and fine increase if the reckless driving causes an injury. In this case, the reckless driving can also get charged, but doesn't have to, as a felony. This is where California's reckless driving becomes a California "wobbler" offense.

6.3. DUI sentencing enhancement for excessive speed

California Vehicle Code 23582 VC is what's known as a DUI "sentencing enhancement."21 It increases the punishment of a wrongdoing if:

  • A person is convicted of DUI; and,
  • The enhancement is found to be true.

The additional penalty is a minimum 60-day jail term added to your DUI sentence and a requirement that you participate in a drug and/or alcohol education program (also known as California DUI school).

To sustain the excessive speed enhancement, prosecutors must show that the person: 

Note that a prosecutor must prove all three of these facts to sustain the enhancement.

Call us for help…

Female operator smiling
Call us for help

If you've been charged with a crime or are the victim of an accident, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. 

To schedule your free consultation, call us at 855-LAWFIRM (855-529-3476) or submit the form on this page.

Legal references:

  1. California Vehicle Code 22350 VC.
  2. People v. Farleigh (2017) 221Cal. Rptr. 3d 253.
  3. Washam v. Peerless Automatic Staple Machine Co. (1941) 45 Cal. App. 2d 174.
  4. Burton v. Los Angeles R. Corp. (1947) 79 Cal. App. 2d 605.
  5. Gambrel v. Duensing (1932) 127 Cal. App. 593.
  6. Lazzarotto v. Atchison, T. & S. F. R. Co. (1958) 157 Cal. App. 2d. 455.
  7. Green v. Uarte (1948) 87 Cal. App. 2d 75.
  8. Bingham v. Greenamyer (1938) 25 Cal. App. 2d 467.
  9. Meads v. Deener (1932) Cal. App. 328.
  10. Falasco v. Hulen (1935) 6 Cal. App. 2d 224.
  11. See California Vehicle Code 22349 VC and California Vehicle Code 22356 VC.
  12. California Vehicle Code 22352 VC. 
  13. See California Vehicle Code 22351 VC.  
  14. See California Vehicle Code 13355 VC and California Vehicle Code 22348 VC.
  15. Hert v. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. (1935) 4 Cal. App. 2d 598.
  16. People v. Lett (1947) 77 Cal. App. 2d 917.
  17. California Vehicle Code 22400 VC. 
  18. See same.
  19. California Vehicle Code 23103 VC. 
  20. Vehicle Code 23103(c) VC. 
  21. California Vehicle Code 23582 VC. 
  22. See same.

Free attorney consultations...

Our attorneys want to hear your side of the story. Contact us 24/7 to schedule a FREE consultation with a criminal defense lawyer. We may be able to get your charges reduced or even dismissed altogether. And if necessary, we will champion your case all the way to trial.

Regain peace of mind...

Shouse Law Defense Group has multiple locations throughout California. Click Office Locations to find out which office is right for you.

Office Locations

Shouse Law Group has multiple locations all across California, Nevada, and Colorado. Click Office Locations to find out which office is right for you.

To contact us, please select your state:

Call us 24/7 (855) 396-0370