How Are Speed Limits Determined in the State of New York?

speeding tickets

State speed limits vary in each state according to state law and regulations enacted by local governments and authorized state transportation agencies. In New York, the highest legal limit is 65 mph. A "reasonable and prudent" state speed law also allows law enforcement to issue speeding tickets that factor in the weather, road conditions, and the speed of traffic.

Many people might be surprised to learn that the most common way speed limits are set is by observing drivers. The traditional "85th percentile speed" test measures the speed of a sample set of at least 200 drivers without speed limit restrictions. After measuring speeds, the limit is set at the speed which 85 percent of drivers did not exceed based on their own sense of reasonableness and safety.

Traffic engineers prefer this test because it yields consistent results, is relatively easy to enforce and tends to maximize compliance. It also avoids "not in my backyard" political wrangling in which residents demand slow speed limits in their neighborhoods and want faster ones everywhere else.

In fact, speed limits have little to do with actual travel speeds or accident prevention. Studies show that few accidents are "caused" by speeding and drivers traveling 10 mph or below the limit are most likely to be in accidents. The Federal Highway Administration also found that changing speed limits had almost no effect on actual travel speeds.

When a New Yorker receives a speeding ticket, it becomes important to know the available legal options and take timely action, whether deciding to pay the fine or fight the ticket. Most noncriminal traffic tickets in New York State are handled by local courts, except in New York City, Rochester, Buffalo and some other localities where the DMV's Traffic Violations Bureau takes charge.

Drivers who receive tickets should be aware of the avenues for defense. In some cases, the circumstances surrounding the ticket can be questioned when challenging the violation. Often, an experienced attorney can negotiate a reduced fine or have the violation lowered, which can help drivers in New York keep money in their pockets and stay on the road.