BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    ”

                                                                  AB 529
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          Date of Hearing:  April 27, 2011

                                Cameron Smyth, Chair
                     AB 529 (Gatto) - As Amended:  March 24, 2011
          SUBJECT  :  Vehicles: speed limits: downward speed zoning.

           SUMMARY :  Requires the California Department of Transportation 
          to revise the California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control 
          Devices to allow local jurisdictions to round down speed limits, 
          as specified.  Specifically,  this bill  :

          1)Requires the California Department of Transportation 
            (Caltrans) to revise the California Manual on Uniform Traffic 
            Control Devices (CMUTCD), as it read on January 12, 2012, to 
            allow local authorities to round speed limits down to within 5 
            miles per hour (mph) of the 85th percentile in cases where 
            speeds of free-flowing traffic would otherwise be rounded up.

          2)Prohibits a local authority from petitioning Caltrans to 
            reduce the speed limit by an additional 5 mph in cases where 
            speed limits were rounded down to within 5 mph of the 85th 
            percentile when they would have otherwise been rounded up.  

          3)Specifies that if the CMUTCD requires a local authority to 
            round down the speed limit, the local authority may petition 
            Caltrans for an additional 5 mph decrease as is currently 
            provided for.  

           EXISTING LAW  :

          1)States that no person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at 
            a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due 
            regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the 
            surface and width of, the highway, and in no event at a speed 
            which endangers the safety of persons or property.

          2)Allows a local authority by ordinance to determine and declare 
            a prima facie speed limit as specified, which is found to 
            facilitate the orderly movement of traffic and is reasonable 
            and safe, in specified circumstances.  

          3)Establishes prima facie speed limits for specified 
            circumstances and types of roadways, as follows:  


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             a)   15 mph when traversing a railway grade crossing, when 
               crossing an intersection if the view is unclear or 
               obstructed, or when driving in an alley; and,

             b)   25 mph on any highway, other than a state highway, that 
               is in any business district or residence district, as 
               defined, in a school zone, or in an area with facilities 
               primarily used by senior citizens.  

          1)Requires Caltrans, after consultation with local agencies and 
            public hearings, to adopt rules and regulations prescribing 
            uniform standards and specifications for all official traffic 
            control devices, including, but not limited to, stop signs, 
            yield right-of-way signs, speed restriction signs, railroad 
            warning approach signs, street name signs, lines and markings 
            on the roadway, and stock crossings signs, as specified.

          2)Requires, upon the basis of an engineering and traffic survey, 
            Caltrans to consult with and consider the recommendations of 
            the Department of the California Highway Patrol, prior to 
            increasing or decreasing the speed limit, and allows a city 
            council or board of supervisors to conduct a public hearing on 
            the proposed increase or decrease.

          3)Makes it unlawful for a driver of a vehicle to fail to obey a 
            sign or signal defined as regulatory in the federal Manual of 
            Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) or the 
            Caltrans-approved supplement to that manual (i.e., the 

          4)Defines "speed trap" to mean either of the following:

             a)   A particular section of a highway measured as to 
               distance and with boundaries marked, designated, or 
               otherwise determined in order that the speed of a vehicle 
               may be calculated by securing the time it takes the vehicle 
               to travel the known distance; and,

             b)   A particular section of a highway with a prima facie 
               speed limit that is provided by this code or by local 
               ordinance as specified, if that prima facie speed limit is 
               not justified by an engineering and traffic survey 
               conducted within five years prior to the date of the 
               alleged violation, and enforcement of the speed limit 


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               involves the use of radar or any other electronic device 
               that measures the speed of moving objects (this does not 
               apply to a local street, road, or school zone).

           FISCAL EFFECT  :  Unknown

           COMMENTS  :

          1)The process for setting speed limits is guided by federal 
            standards contained in the National Manual on Uniform Traffic 
            Control Devices (MUTCD).  Caltrans is responsible for 
            maintaining the guidance and standards in the California MUTCD 
            and receives input on changes from the California Traffic 
            Control Devices Committee (CTCDC), an advisory body convened 
            by Caltrans and made up of primarily public works directors, 
            engineers, and traffic engineers representing local 
            jurisdictions.  The California MUTCD must be approved by the 
            Federal Highway Administration as being in "substantial 
            conformance" with the national MUTCD.

          2)As of January 21, 2010, Caltrans has revised the California 
            MUTCD, to include the federal Highway Administration's 2003 
            MUTCD Revision 2 dated December 21, 2007, to prescribe uniform 
            standards and specifications for all official traffic control 
            devices in California. This action was taken pursuant to the 
            provisions of the California Vehicle Code Section 21400 and 
            the recommendation of the CTCDC.

          3)A speed limit is generally set at or near the 85th percentile 
            of the prevailing speed, meaning the speed that is exceeded by 
            15% of motorists, as measured by an engineering and traffic 
            survey.  In cases where the 85th percentile speed is not an 
            increment of 5 mph, a jurisdiction rounds the speed limit to 
            the closest 5 mph increment.  For example, if the engineering 
            and traffic survey shows an 85th percentile speed of 34 mph, 
            the speed limit will be set at 35 mph.

            The 85th percentile was found by empirical studies to be a 
            safe and prudent speed at which 85% of motorists drive.  
            Studies have shown that setting speed limit levels lower than 
            the 85th percentile make lawbreakers out of otherwise 
            law-abiding citizens and can engender disrespect for the law.

            The current CMUTCD specifies that a jurisdiction may lower 
            that speed limit by 5 mph (from 35 to 30 mph) if 


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            safety-related factors suggest that a lower speed is 
            warranted.  The jurisdiction cannot, however, lower the speed 
            limit by more than 5 mph, regardless of additional safety 
            factors.  According to Caltrans, California is the only state 
            in the nation that allows for a 5 mph reduction in speed limit 
            after rounding to the nearest 5 mph increment closest to the 
            85th percentile.

          4)In 1996, speed limits were set at the first 5 mph increment 
            below the 85th percentile, a process that put downward 
            pressure on posted speed limits.  At that point, the speed 
            limit could then be lowered an additional 5 mph if an 
            engineering judgment determined that the traffic safety needs 
            of the community indicated a need for a further reduction.  In 
            2004, California revised its process to conform more closely 
            to federal standards by providing that the speed limit should 
            be set at the  nearest  5 mph increment of the 85th percentile.

            After the 2004 change, many speed limits were being raised 
            after applying the "nearest 
            5 mph increment" criteria.  In response to raising speed 
            limits, Caltrans found that many jurisdictions would then 
            apply the additional 5 mph reduction without appropriate 
            justification.  Without justification for lowering speed 
            limits, speeding tickets were often not upheld in court if the 
            presiding official found that the speed limit was set below 
            the 85th percentile.

          5)For the past two years, CTCDC has evaluated whether further 
            changes to the CMUTCD regarding the process for setting speed 
            limits were warranted.  On May 15, 2009, Caltrans adopted two 
            policy changes for setting speed limits, as follow:

             a)   Rather than guiding local jurisdictions to set the speed 
               limits at the nearest 5 mph, the CMUTCD now requires it; 

             b)   If the 5 mph reduction is applied, the engineering and 
               traffic survey shall document in writing the conditions and 
               justification for the reduced speed limited and be approved 
               by a registered Civil or Traffic Engineer.  

          6)Speed traps are defined in current law contained in the 
            Vehicle Code.  The Legislature has declared a strong public 
            policy against the use of speed traps, to the extent that 


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            citations issued where a speed trap is found to exist are 
            likely to be dismissed, especially if radar enforcement 
            methods are used.  Traffic engineers and local jurisdictions 
            have been encouraged by the Legislature and the courts toward 
            setting and maintaining local speed limits in that speed 
            limits are very carefully set to avoid creating a speed trap.

          7)This bill requires Caltrans to revise the CMUTCD, as it read 
            on January 1, 2012, to allow a local authority to round speed 
            limits down to within 10 kilometers per hour or 5 mph of the 
            85th percentile speed of free-flowing traffic in cases in 
            which the speed would otherwise be rounded up, except that in 
            those cases the local authority may not petition Caltrans to 
            reduce the speed limit by an additional 10 km/5 mph.  The bill 
            additionally specifies that if the manual requires the local 
            authority to round down the speed limit, the local authority 
            may petition the department for an additional 10 km/5 mph 

            The distinction here is the difference between the CMUTCD's 
            adopted policy change of requiring a local jurisdiction to set 
            the speed limit at the  nearest  5 mph increment versus the 
            provisions of this bill, which allows for a local authority to 
            round speed limits  down  to the 
            5 mph increment.  This bill additionally allows jurisdictions 
            to round down without justification, which is currently 
            required by the provisions of the CMUTCD.

          8)According to the author, these recent changes to the CMUTCD 
            will likely require speed limit increases on 44% of local 
            streets and roads in the City of Glendale, prompting the need 
            for the bill.  

            According to the City of Glendale, many of their major streets 
            are residential in character, with a high level of pedestrian 
            and bicycle activity.  Driving at unsafe speeds has been a 
            longstanding concern in Glendale.  Between 2005 and 2010, 17 
            to 20 % of all collisions were caused by vehicles traveling at 
            an unsafe speed, and as the speed of a vehicle involved in a 
            collision increases, so does the potential for serious injury. 
             Glendale believes that AB 529 takes an important step toward 
            improving traffic safety by returning speed survey methodology 
            to what was used in 2004, and will go a long way in promoting 
            traffic safety by balancing the needs of drivers with those of 
            the community.


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          9)Support arguments: According to the League of California 
            Cities, cities can currently round down ›speed limits] only 
            when there are safety needs as identified by an engineering 
            judgment, a policy that does not allow a city to decide what 
            is actually in the best interest of its community.  This bill 
            would return some decision-making authority to cities to 
            address their unique local conditions.

            Opposition arguments: This bill allows local governments to 
            round down to the nearest 
            5 mph increment without justification to be provided for the 
            rounding down of the speed limit as is currently required.  As 
            well, there is already a process in place to update the CMUTCD 
            with the input of local officials who sit on the CTCDC.  The 
            Committee may wish to consider whether legislation trumping 
            the existing process is necessary.

          10)This bill was heard in the Assembly Transportation Committee 
            on April 11, 2011, and passed with a 13-0 vote.


          Support                                   Opposition
          City of Glendale Police Department           None on file
          City of Santa Rosa
          League of CA Cities
          Peace Officers Research Association of CA (PORAC)

          Analysis Prepared by  :    Debbie Michel / L. GOV. / (916)