Legal speed limits on state highways and city streets are established by West Virginia law and may be changed only when justified by an engineering study.
There is a common belief among laymen and even some elected officials that traffic speeds can be lowered by merely posting signs. This is not true. Artificially low speed limits invite violations by responsible drivers. Enforcement of unrealistically low speed limits sets up a “speed trap” which is poor public relations and causes a loss of respect for traffic law enforcement activities in general.
Legal Speed Limits
Speed limits on all public roads and streets are set by statute and must be posted in accordance with the law. The basic speed law for West Virginia is established in the West Virginia Code, Section 17C-6-1. This section governs speed limits that are established without any signs being posted to alter the limits.
Statutory speed limits are fifty-five miles per hour on open country highways, twenty-five miles per hour in a business or residential area and fifteen miles per hour in a school zone while children are going to or coming from school or during hours of recess. A school zone is all school property, including the school grounds, and any street or highway abutting the school grounds and extending one hundred and twenty-five feet from the school property along the abutting street or highway.
The speed limit on controlled-access highways and Interstate highways where no special hazard exists is a minimum of fifty-five miles per hour.
Establishing Speed Zones
The nationally accepted principle, which is followed by the Division of Highways, is to set the posted speed limit at the speed below which 85% of the vehicles are traveling on the road or street, in the absence of factors which may introduce a special hazard. Experience has shown that at least 85% of motorists drive at a speed which is reasonable and prudent, operating their vehicles at a speed which reflects the character of the roadway and the amount of development along it. The other 15% are those who may be subject to enforcement action.
In summary, posted speed limits and changes in speed limits are based on an engineering and traffic investigation which indicates that the new limit is reasonable and safe for the existing conditions. The Division of Highways also believes that law enforcement agencies and the courts must have the proper tools to enforce those speed limits which are posted.