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As a traffic-calming measure, the local police department will place portable "your speed is" radar units in various places. These have a display showing your current speed and, below it, an adjustable sign showing the speed limit. These signs do not always match the nearby fixed speed-limit signs: for example, a radar unit last used near a school (speed limit: 20 MPH) might be set up on an arterial (speed limit: 30 MPH) without adjusting the sign.

Are you legally required to obey the sign on one of these things? And if so, how should you handle encountering one where the sign displays "Speed limit: 0 MPH"?

  • school zones often have reduced speeds, you may have missed the sign – ratchet freak Nov 18 '15 at 9:25
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    @ratchetfreak, I know school zones have reduced speeds. My point is that if you set up one of these things in a school zone one day, and set it up on a major road the next day, you may forget to change the sign. – Mark Nov 18 '15 at 9:26
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    Have you actually seen this happen? I never have. – phoog Nov 18 '15 at 14:57
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    @phoog, yes, I have. – Mark Nov 18 '15 at 19:20
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    Speed limit: 0 MPH? Please take a photo of that. – Brandin Sep 26 '18 at 4:57
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I'm reasonably certain the answer is "no":

RCW 46.61.405, emphasis mine:

Whenever the secretary of transportation shall determine upon the basis of an engineering and traffic investigation that any maximum speed hereinbefore set forth is greater than is reasonable or safe with respect to a state highway...the secretary may determine and declare a reasonable and safe lower maximum limit...which shall be effective when appropriate signs giving notice thereof are erected.

RCW 46.61.410, emphasis mine:

(1)(a) Subject to subsection (2) of this section the secretary may increase the maximum speed limit on any highway or portion thereof to not more than seventy-five miles per hour in accordance with the design speed thereof (taking into account all safety elements included therein), or whenever the secretary determines upon the basis of an engineering and traffic investigation that such greater speed is reasonable and safe under the circumstances existing on such part of the highway.

(b) The greater maximum limit established under (a) of this subsection shall be effective when appropriate signs giving notice thereof are erected...

RCW 46.61.415, emphasis mine:

Whenever local authorities in their respective jurisdictions determine on the basis of an engineering and traffic investigation that the maximum speed permitted under RCW 46.61.400 or 46.61.440 is greater or less than is reasonable and safe under the conditions found to exist upon a highway or part of a highway, the local authority may determine and declare a reasonable and safe maximum limit thereon...

(5) Any altered limit established as hereinbefore authorized shall be effective when appropriate signs giving notice thereof are erected.

A speed-limit sign is necessary to give force to a speed limit other than the defaults in RCW 46.61.400, but it does not in and of itself create a speed limit.

However, from a practical standpoint, obeying one is a good idea, so long as it looks like a genuine speed-limit sign: RCW 46.61.050 places the burden of proof on the driver to show that the sign is invalid, rather than on the prosecution to show that it's valid:

(3) Whenever official traffic control devices are placed in position approximately conforming to the requirements of this chapter, such devices shall be presumed to have been so placed by the official act or direction of lawful authority, unless the contrary shall be established by competent evidence.

  • How is the variable sign not an “appropriate sign” that has been “erected”? – Dale M Oct 17 '18 at 8:59
  • @DaleM, the variable sign is not an "appropriate sign" because it doesn't match the established speed limit. As I pointed out in my answer, speed limits are created by declaration of the local authority. A speed-limit sign does not in and of itself create a speed limit, it merely gives legal force to one. – Mark Oct 17 '18 at 19:56
  • The signs were erected by the police who are agents of the secretary or the local authority as appropriate and are therefore determining the speed limit – Dale M Oct 17 '18 at 20:08
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    Tell you what - you blast past one of those signs and raise all this in court. Let us know how it works out. – Dale M Oct 18 '18 at 1:25
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    Even if your supposition that you need such a resolution signed by the city clerk is correct (which is not proven in any way here), you still haven't shown that these don't have legal force. It's entirely possible for such a resolution to be signed, but they still put out a portable speed limit sign. There is no evidence here that such signage wouldn't be "appropriate". – Chris Hayes Oct 26 '18 at 2:05

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