2

I was given a ticket for speeding in a school zone. I was unaware that there was a school zone because as I was traveling in the left lane there was a rolling road block of several trucks that were turning onto a street right after the sign. The sign is a flashing light that says "speed limit 25 when flashing" and I had no knowledge the sign existed because it was impossible to have seen it with the trucks that obstructed it from my view. Is there any case law about this or what would I say to the judge to explain that I am not liable as it was not possible to have known due to the sign being blocked. After I was ticketed I went into the neighborhood and found the trucks (there were several large moving trucks, so I had reason to believe they were still there loading or unloading) and I took a picture showing them and also the street sign was in the picture showing the location. I also had another person in a different vehicle several hundred feet behind me that was able to see the sign and was a witness to the trucks creating a rolling road block. This is in Michigan if it makes a difference. Thanks!

Edit: The road I was traveling on the speed limit is 45mph which is what I was doing. There was a single sign that flashes a light only when the school zone is in effect. There was no reason to believe it was not "prudent" to travel at 45. There was also no reason to believe there was a school zone as it was impossible to see the ONLY sign indicating such. I have a witness traveling behind me that can contest to the inability to see such a sign and I went back and took pictures of the moving trucks in the neighborhood to show what it was that prevented me from seeing the sign. The only way for anyone to know there was a school zone in effect was seeing a flashing light which was not visible with the trucks traveling next to me.

By rolling road block I did not mean any sort of construction vehicle or anything such that would warn of any changes or anything. It was simply several trucks in the right lane which obstructed my view of a sign on the other side of the trucks. Not like the trucks that have flashing lights behind workers filling potholes or anything. Just a giant vehicle directly to my right that prevented me from seeing the only sign informing me the speed limit had changed.

4
  • I fear you are about to find out.
    – PMF
    May 23, 2022 at 16:48
  • 1
    As they say: "Tell it to the judge." It this were me I'd be sure to have a well documented case with pictures and diagrams showing how you were blocked from seeing the school zone signs. If you can build a convincing case, the judge may decide in your favor.
    – jwh20
    May 23, 2022 at 22:26
  • "I had no knowledge the sign existed because it was impossible to have seen it with the trucks that obstructed it from my view. " - that only would work if the sign was permanently obstructed...
    – Trish
    May 25, 2022 at 9:20
  • Note that speeding in school zone may carry quite a few points, and does not look good on permanent driving record. May want to invest in lawyer, at least to plea it down to equipment violation.
    – paulj
    May 25, 2022 at 10:32

5 Answers 5

3

If the judge is kind, yes

However, this is at the discretion of the judge. Even if the judge believes every word you say, you still broke the law.

The speed limit in Michigan is “a careful and prudent speed not greater than nor less than is reasonable and proper” and that is not “greater than that which will permit a stop within the assured, clear distance ahead.” (MCL 257.627(1)). The posted speed limit is an upper bound on what is “careful and prudent”.

Given you description of trucks obstructing your view, it’s arguable that the speed you were travelling at was not “careful and prudent”.

The speed limit in school zones may be set at “not more than 20 miles per hour less than the speed limit normally posted but shall be not less than 25 miles per hour.” (MCL 257.627a(2)). And the speed limit on a local street in an area zoned for residential use is 25 mph “unless another speed is fixed and posted.” If you were in a residential street, the school zone speed is no different from the normal speed - the lights just serve to warn drivers that children are about.

Finally, you are responsible for knowing the law. You are on that road at that time, it’s your duty to know what the posted limit is as well as determining what speed is “careful and prudent”. It doesn’t matter if it’s hard to know, the law presumes you know it.

All that said, if you catch the judge in a good mood, they might give you a break. You don’t have a legal right to one so ask, don’t demand.

4
  • Finally, you are responsible for knowing the law. This is false. Otherwise, there would be no need for any traffic control signs.
    – paulj
    May 24, 2022 at 10:37
  • 1
    See my edit above. There was no way to know there was a school limit in effect as the sign was on the other side of the truck that was directly to my right. Literally the only way to know it was in effect was the light that flashes only during those times. If it was not possible to see the sign one would think they could not enforce this. The law recognizes that if a sign is blocked by a big tree branch that one is not properly informed. It's different if it's just a normal speed sign because those are placed everywhere, but this is a single sign that only flashes at certain times.
    – West Side
    May 24, 2022 at 13:35
  • 1
    "The posted speed limit is an upper bound on what is “careful and prudent”." <- citation needed. Many speed signs are unnecessarily low. Apr 3, 2023 at 15:17
  • If you could see a school, and you could see a truck that could hide traffic signs, then you should have realised that there might be signs, and you should at least have reduced your speed. If the speed limit was 40 everywhere but 25 at the school, and you reduced your speed to 32, then as a judge I would be tempted to let you get away with it. If you drove at 40, no.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 2, 2023 at 11:33
2

The flashing sign does not create the legal obligation, the statute (MCL 257.627a) does. The crucial terms "Regularly scheduled school session", "School" and "School zone" are defined without reference to any environmental markings. Para 2 defines the school zone speed limit in the statutorily-defined context, without reference to markings or notification. There is a requirement to post notification that a school is an "All Year School", if that is the case.

Para 6 says that

Louvered signs, digital message signs, and flashing lights may be installed to supplement or replace permanent signs required under this section. Signs erected and maintained as required under this section shall conform to the Michigan manual on uniform traffic control devices.

But such a sign is not required (may, not shall), and there is no provision that such a sign overrides the statutory obligation. The flashing sign is a helpful additional indicator, and not a statutory trigger.

1
  • 1
    "installed to -->supplement or replace permanent signs<-- required under this section." So a sign is required, just not a flashing sign.
    – paulj
    May 25, 2022 at 17:59
1

Possibly

I am a civil engineer by trade, but do not have much traffic experience myself. But I do know that the installation of roadway signage is actually very carefully prescribed by something called the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. It is for this reason that, in general, you do not have a a litany of different stop sign designs (there actually are several, but they all follow the same rules regarding shape and dimensions; but ultimately are all a red octagon).

That said, I am aware that when municipalities install new signage, they are obligated to ensure the signage is installed in conformance with the latest version of the MUTCD. Failure to do so might serve as a defense in a legal proceeding because there is an obligation on the municipality to create consistent signage for drivers.

Presuming the MUTCD at the time of installation obligates additional signage beyond just the single flashing sign described in your question might serve as a valid defense because whatever local ordinance was passed to create the school zone would have been contrary to the federal requirements (since MUTCD is published pursuant to 23 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 655, Subpart F).

5
  • That is a different argument from "I couldn't see the sign' - it's "the sign does not comply with the regulation of YYYY", which might backfire spectacularly if that sign was erected in the 60s.
    – Trish
    May 25, 2022 at 15:37
  • 1
    @Trish as I stated, if the MUTCD at the time of install has different requirements than what was actually installed it can be a valid defense. Signage like that is passed via some kind of municipal ordinance, but said ordinance is invalid if it conflicts with federal requirements. You're correct if the ordinance and sign were installed in the 60s it'd probably fail as an argument; but I'm pretty sure flashing lights have been a requirement more recently than that. (1/2) May 25, 2022 at 16:42
  • 2
    @Trish Regardless, if the MUTCD requires 2 flashing signs and the municipality only installed one then, "I couldn't see it due to <foreseeable traffic condition> is a valid argument." Though perhaps the more correct argument is, "The basis for this charge is Municipal Ord. XXX," which is invalid for failing to comply with CFR... which stipulates compliance with the MUTCD ver XX which was in effect at the time of passage." (2/2) May 25, 2022 at 16:45
  • Where you are at the problem with the argument: you need to know when the sign was erected first so you can quote the correct version - which in case of old signs might actually be a case of sinking your own ship.
    – Trish
    May 25, 2022 at 20:21
  • 1
    @Trish this could be determined via a discovery request. You are permitted continuances in a traffic court while a motion for discovery is being fulfilled. May 25, 2022 at 20:42
0

Depends. A traffic control sign that is not displayed in a proper fashion is no traffic control signage at all.

"Any official traffic control device placed pursuant to the provisions of this chapter and purporting to conform to the lawful requirements pertaining to such devices "

e.g. Don't put a one way traffic control device in the middle of a block.

However, if the last sign you saw was 45 mph, and there was a rolling road block, and you kept traveling at 45 mph, most likely this would not be considered a prudent speed. I presume this roadblock had signs and flashing lights as well, yes?

1
  • By rolling road block I did not mean any sort of construction vehicle or anything such that would warn of any changes or anything. It was simply several trucks in the right lane which obstructed my view of a sign on the other side of the trucks. Not like the trucks that have flashing lights behind workers filling potholes or anything. Just a giant vehicle directly to my right that prevented me from seeing the only sign informing me the speed limit had changed. There was no reason to think the speed limit had changed. The school sits on a main road and that 1 sign is the only way to know.
    – West Side
    May 24, 2022 at 13:32
-1

Ignorance of the law is not an excuse

There's a basic principle in law, that is that ignorance of the law does not make a deed less punishable. The fact that you don't know that it is unlawful to dump your trash in the forest does not matter if you are caught dumping the trash in the forest.

Likewise, it is not an argument that is taken easily by judges that you couldn't see the sign due to traffic. The sign is there and so presumably the sign is valid - and the speed limit applies. Intention and not knowing about the sign don't matter for the fact that you did violate the speed limit.

Now, there are cases when the sign is not applicable. However, that is if the sign itself is unreadable or obscured by vegetation - in the case that a prudent driver couldn't read it, even under good conditions, often leniency is shown. However, rolling traffic, like a row of trucks, is not an obstruction or defect of the sign and you would need quite a bit of luck for a judge to eat your excuse. Especially if you frequent a road often and you should have known the sign is there, it is very unlikely to be given.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .