No speed limit sign

August 23, 2015
An image of an open speed

speed limit 1.JPGPress News Service File Photo

Today we tackle one of those topics that could fill multiple columns: speed limits. But we'll try to focus on just a few issues to keep it manageable.

First we hear from a reader named Nancy. She and her husband have a longstanding debate:

I was taught that Michigan is a 25/55 mph state. My understanding is if the speed limit is not marked, the speed limit is 25 mph in a residential area and 55 mph in rural and less populated areas including non-paved roads. My husband insists the maximum for unmarked roads is 45 mph. Please help me settle this once and for all! The 10 mph makes a huge difference when you have a child screaming in their car seat. We have dinner out riding on this, so it is really important to us.

Of course we turned to Michigan State Police Sgt. Mike Church for the answer. And we received a little extra help from First Lt. Thad Peterson. However, Nancy's debate may not be able to be settled.

“Nancy and her husband are both wrong, ” Church said. “But Nancy can take solace because she is less wrong than her husband.”

(Personally, Nancy, I think you should take that as a win.)

Church said the process by which Michigan establishes speed limits changed in 2006, and that may be the source of the confusion. For information on how the state does it now, check out this video starring Peterson:

A person operating a vehicle on a highway shall operate that vehicle at a careful and prudent speed not greater than nor less than is reasonable and proper, having due regard to the traffic, surface, and width of the highway and of any other condition then existing. A person shall not operate a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than that which will permit a stop within the assured, clear distance ahead.

That statute goes on to outline speed limits for business districts, public parks, etc.

“HOWEVER, ” Church stressed, “those speed limits are only enforceable if property posted. The only unposted speed limits that are enforceable under this law are subdivisions, which are 25 mph, and the basic speed law.” (see above)

“So, the maximum unposted speed limit on public roadways is 55 mph except in subdivisions, ” Church said. “But every driver must keep the basic speed law in mind: you must always drive at a careful and prudent speed.”

Church said he's only talking about passenger cars, “not commercial motor vehicles, buses, low-speed vehicles, etc.”

Peterson summed it up this way: “Most everything, if unposted, is a 55 if it's not a freeway. If it's a freeway, it's a 70. If it's in a true subdivision, then it's a 25. … If you're in an unposted area, those will have you pretty much correct.”

OK, Nancy, I hope you enjoy your dinner. Next we go to a reader named Jack wonders about the black and yellow speed limit signs:

Speed limit signs are white with black letters/numbers. But, sometimes as you are approaching an intersection or a curve or something that might be invisible the signs are yellow with black letters or numbers. My first thought is this might be an advisory and you might want to slow for safety reasons. Are the yellow signs "official" speed signs?

Church said the yellow signs are not mentioned in the Michigan Compiled Laws. For those you have to go to the trusty MMUTCD – the Michigan Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. And there you will find that they are not enforceable speed limits, merely an advisory, he said.

“A motorist should not receive a citation for driving above the speed limit on a yellow sign, ” he said. “But don't forget about the basic speed law! If you drive off an embankment (on a curve marked with a yellow speed sign) you will probably receive a speeding citation even if you were below the limit on the white and black sign.”

There you go, Jack. Looks like the yellow signs are giving you advice on how to comply with the basic speed law. Our last question comes from Brian, who wonders when exactly the speed zone changes from lower posted speeds to higher posted speeds and vice versa.

“Does it take effect when you see the … sign? Or when you are level with or pass the sign?” he said.

This is what triggered the query:

About a year ago I was on Holly Road in Grand Blanc and the road goes from 35 to 45 - I started increasing speed and by the time I passed the 45 mph sign, I was at 45 - I got lit up by a GBPD officer for doing 45 in a 35 zone and I asked him the same question: "Does the speed limit go into effect when I see it? Or when I pass it?" He stopped, thought for a second... "I don't know, " he said, handing me my license and registration back and said. "Have a good day." No warning, no ticket.

Well Brian, according to Sgt. Church, it looks like the officer could have given you a ticket: The speed limit starts at the sign, not when you see the sign. Church again went to the MMUTCD.

“The manual says, 'Speed Limit (R2-1) signs, indicating speed limits for which posting is required by law, shall be located at the points of change from one speed limit to another.' (Section 2B.18), ” Church said.

“Before people complain, ” he went on, “this works both ways. You may not speed up to a higher speed limit until you reach the sign, but you also are not required to slow down until you reach the lower speed limit.”

And that, dear readers, wraps up another edition of Traffic Talk. It also brings to an end the participation of our wonderful expert Sgt. Mike Church. After so much discussion about road rules, he wanted to get back to enforcing them. Readers in the Jackson area may find him cruising the highways there as he is now stationed out of that State Police post.

Personally, I cannot thank him enough for his wisdom and the clarity of his explanations. But the good news is that First Lt. Thad Peterson has graciously agreed to help us out in the future, and he is a self-described “traffic geek.”

No speed limit sign
No speed limit sign
YY08 OSC Close overtake, breaking speed limit and no signal.
YY08 OSC Close overtake, breaking speed limit and no signal.
Palmer Texas: No speed limit signs posted on I-45 N
Palmer Texas: No speed limit signs posted on I-45 N
Share this Post