California has a “Basic Speed Law.” This law means you may never drive faster than is safe for current conditions. For example, if you are driving 45 mph in a 55 mph speed zone during a dense fog, you could be cited for driving “too fast for conditions.” You may never legally drive faster than the posted speed limit, even if you think it is safe to do so.
Regardless of the posted speed limit, your speed should depend on:
- The number and speed of other vehicles on the road.
- Whether the road surface is smooth, rough, graveled, wet, dry, wide, or narrow.
- Bicyclists or pedestrians walking on the road’s edge.
- Whether it is raining, foggy, snowing, windy, or dusty.
Maximum Speed Limit
The maximum speed limit on most California highways is 65 mph. You may drive 70 mph where posted. Unless otherwise posted, the maximum speed limit is 55 mph on two-lane undivided highways and for vehicles towing trailers.
Other speed limit signs are posted for the type of roads and traffic in each area. All speed limits are based on ideal driving conditions. Construction zones usually have reduced speed zones.
Driving faster than the posted speed limit, or than is safe for current conditions, on any road is dangerous and illegal. High speed increases your stopping distance. The faster you go, the less time you have to avoid a hazard or accident. The force of a 60 mph crash isn’t just twice as great as a 30 mph crash, it’s four times as great!
Heavy traffic or bad weather
You must drive slower when there is heavy traffic or bad weather. However, if you block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic by driving too slowly, you may be given a ticket. If you choose to drive slower than other traffic, do not drive in the “No. 1” (fast) lane. (more information) Always move to the right when another driver is close behind you and wishes to drive faster.
Towing Vehicles, Buses, or Large Trucks
When you tow a vehicle or trailer, or drive a bus or three- or moreaxle truck, you must drive in the right-hand lane or in a lane specially marked for slower vehicles. If no lanes are marked and there are four lanes or more in your direction, you may only drive in either of the two lanes closest to the right edge of the road.
Within 500 feet of a school while children are outside or crossing the street, the speed limit is 25 mph, unless otherwise posted. Also, if the school ground has no fence and children are outside, never drive faster than 25 mph. Always drive more carefully near schools, playgrounds, parks, and residential areas because children may suddenly dart into the street.
Near schools, look for:
- Bicyclists and pedestrians.
- School safety patrols or school crossing guards and obey their directions. For the crossing guard’s safety, allow him or her to safely get to the side of the road before driving ahead.
- Stopped school buses and children crossing the street.
Some school buses flash yellow lights when preparing to stop and let children off the bus. The yellow flashing lights warn you to slow down and prepare to stop. When the bus flashes red lights (located at the top front and back of the bus), you must stop from either direction until the children are safely across the street and the lights stop flashing. The law requires you to remain stopped as long as the red lights are flashing (VC §22454). If you fail to stop, you may be fined up to $1000 and your driving privilege could be suspended for one year. If the school bus is on the other side of a divided or multilane (two or more lanes in each direction) highway, you do not need to stop.
The speed limit for a blind intersection is 15 mph. An intersection is considered “blind” if there are no stop signs at any corner and you cannot see for 100 feet in either direction during the last 100 feet before crossing. Trees, bushes, buildings, or parked cars at intersections can block your view to the side. If your view is blocked, edge forward slowly until you can see.
The speed limit in any alley is 15 mph.
Near railroad tracks
The speed limit is 15 mph within 100 feet of a railroad crossing where you cannot see the tracks for 400 feet in both directions. You may drive faster than 15 mph if the crossing is controlled by gates, a warning signal, or a flagman.
At railroad or train crossings:
- Look in both directions and listen for trains. Many crossings have multiple tracks so be ready to stop before crossing, if necessary. Cross railroad tracks only at designated crossings and only when it is safe to do so.
- Expect a train on any track at any time traveling in either direction. If you need to stop after crossing the tracks, make sure your vehicle clears the tracks before you stop.
- Never stop on the railroad tracks. Remember that a train cannot stop quickly or swerve out of the way. If you are on the tracks, you risk injury or death.
- Watch for vehicles that must stop before crossing train tracks. These vehicles include buses, school buses, and trucks transporting hazardous loads.
- Remember that flashing red lights mean STOP! Stop at least 15 feet from the nearest track when the crossing devices are active or a person warns you a train is coming. Stop if you see a train coming or you hear the whistle, horn, or bell of an approaching train.
- Do not go around or under lowered crossing gates, even if you do not see a train. Wait for the gates to rise. If the gates are not working correctly, call the railroad emergency number posted near the crossing or notify the local police or California Highway Patrol.
Near light rail vehicle crossings
The same rules apply to light rail vehicle crossings as to train crossings. Do not proceed across the tracks until you can see clearly in both directions and are sure that no other light rail vehicle or train is coming. Do not go around or under any closed gate. NOTE: Light rail vehicles are very quiet and move more quickly than freight trains.
Near streetcars, trolleys, or buses
The passing speed limit, when safe to pass, is no more than 10 mph. This speed limit applies at a safety zone or an intersection where a streetcar, trolley, or bus is stopped and traffic is controlled by a police officer or traffic signal. A safety zone is marked by raised buttons or markers on the road and is set aside for pedestrians. You will most often see safety zones in areas where street cars or trolleys and vehicles share the roadway.
Business or residence districts
The speed limit is 25 mph, unless otherwise posted.
If you see animals or livestock, slow down and obey the person in charge of the animals. If you see a stray animal in your path, slow down or stop, if safe to do so.