BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    






           SENATE TRANSPORTATION & HOUSING COMMITTEE       BILL NO: AB 529
          SENATOR MARK DESAULNIER, CHAIRMAN              AUTHOR:  gatto
                                                         VERSION: 5/3/11
          Analysis by:  Carrie Cornwell                  FISCAL:  yes
          Hearing date:  June 14, 2011





          SUBJECT:

          Speed limits

          DESCRIPTION:

          This bill requires the Department of Transportation (Caltrans) 
          to revise its regulations so that state and local authorities 
          have greater flexibility in setting speed limits on roads under 
          their jurisdictions.

          ANALYSIS:  

          Existing California law requires Caltrans after consultation 
          with local agencies and public hearings, to adopt rules and 
          regulations that prescribe uniform standards and specifications 
          for traffic control devices, including the posting of speed 
          limits.  Caltrans adopts these rules as the California Manual on 
          Uniform Traffic Control Devices (the California MUTCD), which 
          among other things, prescribes the process for setting speed 
          limits in this state.  

          Speed limits are generally -- in California and elsewhere -- set 
          in accordance with engineering and traffic surveys, which 
          measure prevailing vehicular speeds and establish the limit at 
          or near the 85th percentile (i.e., the speed that 15% of 
          motorists exceed).  California law uses the 85th percentile to 
          set speed limits, except in cases where:

           The limit is set in state law, such as the 65 MPH limit on 
            divided highways, 55 MPH on an undivided highway, 25 MPH in 
            residence districts, and 25 MPH in school zones; or 

           An engineering and traffic survey shows that other 
            safety-related factors suggest a lower speed limit to be 
            appropriate.  These safety-related factors are accident data; 




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            highway, traffic, and roadway conditions not readily apparent 
            to the driver; residential density; and pedestrian and 
            bicyclist safety.  Based on these safety-related factors, 
            Caltrans regulations permit a local jurisdiction to reduce a 
            speed limit by 5 MPH from the 85th percentile. 

          In cases where the 85th percentile speed is not an increment of 
          5 MPH, the California MUTCD directs a jurisdiction to round to 
          nearest 5 MPH increment.  Thus, if the survey shows an 85th 
          percentile speed of 34 MPH, the jurisdiction must set the speed 
          limit at 35 MPH.  The jurisdiction may lower that speed limit by 
          5 MPH (i.e., to 30 MPH) if it identifies and documents a 
          safety-related factor.  The jurisdiction cannot, however, lower 
          the speed limit by more than 5 MPH, regardless of additional 
          safety factors.

           This bill  : 

          1.Requires that Caltrans revise the California MUTCD to require 
            Caltrans and local authorities to round speed limits to the 
             nearest  10 kilometers per or hour (KPH) or 5 MPH of the 85th 
            percentile speed.  

          2.Allows, in instances where Caltrans or the local authority 
            should round up to reach the nearest 5 MPH, that Caltrans or 
            the local authority may instead round down but then may not 
            reduce the posted speed limit by a 5 MPH increment for a 
            safety-related factor.  (Thus in the example above where the 
            85th percentile speed is 34 MPH, the authority may set a speed 
            limit of 30 MPH, but may not also further reduce that speed by 
            an additional 5 MPH due to a safety factor). 
          
          COMMENTS:

           1.Purpose  .  The author notes that prior to 2004, a local 
            government could set speed limits  within  5 MPH of the 85th 
            percentile, which allowed local governments to round speed 
            limits down.  In 2004, Caltrans changed the wording of the 
            California MUTCD so that an authority setting speed limits not 
            prescribed in statute  should  set those speed limits at the 
             nearest  5 MPH increment of the 85th percentile and so that an 
            authority had to provide written demonstration of the 
            safety-related factor to lower that speed limit by an 
            additional 5 MPH due to that factor.  In 2009, Caltrans 
            changed its MUTCD again to require, rather than just 
            recommend, that a state or local authority set speed limits to 




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            the nearest 5 MPH increment.  

            The author notes that Caltrans made the change from "within" 
            to the "nearest" 5 MPH increment in anticipation of change in 
            the federal rules that guide the process states use to set 
            speed limits.  The author notes that the change in the federal 
            rules never came to fruition.  Further, the proponents report 
            that local governments have found providing written evidence 
            of a safety-related factor to satisfy the courts that speed 
            limits need to be lowered has proven difficult and costly.  
            The idea, however, of raising speed limits remains onerous to 
            city councils and local authorities.  The author introduced 
            this bill to give local governments the authority to round up 
            or down to a 5 MPH increment.

           2.Informational hearing  .  During the 2009-10 legislative 
            session, speed limit bills failed passage in both this 
            committee and in the Assembly Transportation Committee.  As a 
            result, in the fall of 2009, the two committees held a joint 
            informational hearing entitled, "Setting Speed Limits in 
            California."  The committees heard substantive testimony 
            demonstrating that the majority of motorists (85%) will drive 
            at a rate of speed at which they feel safe and that speed 
            limits serve a coordinating function by reducing dispersion in 
            driving speed and the risk of conflict between vehicles. 

            The committees also heard evidence that artificially lowering 
            speed limits below the 85th percentile does not reduce speeds 
            but instead only increases violations and can create a speed 
            trap, a method by which municipalities may raise revenue but 
            which are illegal under California law.  Witnesses presented 
            further evidence at the joint hearing that showed increased 
            enforcement, combined with traffic calming measures (center 
            islands, curb extensions, speed humps, etc.), was the most 
            effective method of changing driver behavior and reducing 
            driver speed. 

           3.Why the 85th percentile  ?  Establishing speed limits at the 
            85th percentile is based on the assumption that the majority 
            of motorists drive at a speed that is reasonable and prudent 
            for roadway and vehicular conditions.  The 85th percentile 
            represents one standard deviation above the average speed and 
            establishes an upper limit on what is considered reasonable 
            and prudent.   

            Furthermore, speed limits depend on voluntary compliance by 




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            the majority of drivers.  Speed limits that are set 
            arbitrarily low would make violators out of the majority of 
            drivers and may cause drivers to disregard the limit 
            altogether.

           4.Chaptering out amendment  .  This bill and AB 345 (Atkins), 
            which is also pending in this committee, amend the same 
            section of the Vehicle Code, but are otherwise not in 
            conflict.  If these two bills continue to move through the 
            Legislature, the authors will need to amend them to ensure 
            that should both be signed into law, the second bill signed 
            does not chapter out the first.

           5.Technical amendment  .  This bill sets speed limits to "the 
            nearest 10 kilometers per hour or 5 miles per hour."  As 10 
            KPH and 5 MPH are not exactly the same increment of speed, and 
            as all other provisions of the California Vehicle Code are in 
            MPH, the author or committee may wish to amend this bill to 
            strike the references to 10 kilometers per hour.
          
          Assembly Votes:
               Floor:    77-0
               Appr: 16-0
               L Gov:  9-0
               Trans:    13-0

          POSITIONS:  (Communicated to the Committee before noon on 
          Wednesday,                                             June 8, 
          2011)

               SUPPORT:  City of El Cajon
                         City of Glendale
                         City of Long Beach
                         City of Pasadena
                         City of Paso Robles
                         City of Santa Rosa
                         City of Thousand Oaks
                         League of California Cities
                         Peace Officers Research Association of California
                         Ventura County Sheriff's Office
          
               OPPOSED:  None received.








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