Some major streets in Encinitas are scheduled for speed limit changes, mostly downward by five miles per hour, but some will be increased, based on a little-known California law.
Last week, although some residents protested the increased speed limits at the city’s Traffic and Public Safety Committee, the city has no choice. The California Vehicle Code requires cities to set speeds at reasonable limits, and can’t lower limits to control traffic or write a high level of tickets.
Based on speed surveys, speed limits will be lowered on La Costa Avenue, Quail Gardens Drive, Saxony Road, and Via Molena. However speeds will be increased to 50 m.p.h. on El Camino Real between Leucadia Boulevard and Gardenview Road (now posted at 35), and increased to 45 m.p.h. on El Camino Real between Encinitas Boulevard and Santa Fe Drive.
Many of those receiving sheriff’s department-issued speeding tickets along El Camino Real have for years criticized what appeared to be a low speed limit of 35 m.p.h. along the six-lane, fully improved major arterial roadway. On the city’s northern boundary, once inside the city of Carlsbad, the posted speed along the same width of roadway jumps to 50 m.p.h..
Known as the 85th Percentile Rule, California law assumes that 85 percent motorists will drive at safe and reasonable speed based on a road’s engineering, safety, and traffic conditions. Every five years, cities must conduct a speed survey on major streets and adjust the limits accordingly to the 85th percentile. If a road doesn’t have an up-to-date speed survey, speeding tickets can be thrown out of court, if challenged.
The law originally kept cities from establishing speed traps, where in the days before freeways, small towns would drastically lower speed limits, without warning, as one entered their city limit, where a patrol officer would be waiting. (The practice is still used in some small towns in the Midwest, on heavily traveled former U.S. highways.)