Criminal Offense of Driving at an Excessive Rate of Speed

What is Considered Driving at an Excessive Rate of Speed?

A speeding offense constitutes the operation of a motor vehicle at a speed in excess of that permitted under the state statutes, local ordinances, or highway or traffic commission regulations. The typical speed statute prohibits driving in excess of a specified number of miles per hour. In addition to setting forth the specified maximum rate of speed, the speed statutes usually contain provisions prohibiting driving at a speed greater than is ”reasonable and proper” or ”reasonable and prudent” under the prevailing conditions or having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing, or words of similar import.

In some jurisdictions a speeding violation is a misdemeanor criminal offense. In other jurisdictions, it is viewed as a traffic infraction, and not a “crime.” Because driving in excess of the speed limit, by itself, establishes a prima facie case of a speeding violation, it is only necessary for a prosecutor to introduce sufficient evidence to establish that the motorist was speeding; the exact speed or the exact location at which the motorist was observed speeding need not be proven. Even if a motorist is driving at or below the posted speed limit, the motorist may commit the offense of excess speed if the motorist is driving at a speed greater than reasonable or prudent under the circumstances.

Defense for Driving at an Excessive Rate of Speed

Because speeding statutes do not require a showing of criminal intent, the evidence must only show that the motorist’s driving at the excessive speed was voluntary. (Excessive speed would be “involuntary,” for instance, if caused by a sudden mechanical malfunction.) Also, it is unnecessary to show intentional disregard of the safety of others or recklessness where a motorist is charged with the offense of driving at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the circumstances.

Some jurisdictions may allow a “legal justification” defense in a speeding case. Legal justification may include:

  • self-defense,
  • defense of others,
  • entrapment,
  • coercion,
  • necessity,
  • or emergency.

Know Your Rights

In the prosecution of a speeding offense, the state must prove the motorist’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In states, such as New York, which uses an administrative adjudication procedure, the burden of proof is the less stringent clear and convincing standard. Because the offense is considered “criminal” or at least “quasi-criminal,” the motorist has certain constitutional rights. For instance, a motorist has a right to notice of the charges; a simple traffic information would be sufficient for notice purposes. Also, the usual road side questioning of a motorist stopped for speeding does not constitute a custodial interrogation qualifying for Miranda warnings. Other constitutional rights are not afforded the accused motorist such as the right to the assignment of counsel or the right to trial by jury.