The Motor Vehicle Statute That Trumps Them All.

Written by Gregory Monte.

If you want to learn about an interesting way to beat a speeding ticket – even if you actually were speeding – keep reading.  This particular strategy will almost always work, but it does depend on one aspect of the circumstances surrounding your ticket.  For the strategy to be effective, there must be an issue with the speed limit signs, themselves.

So, let’s assume that the police officer followed all of the standard and established procedures.  He …

  • legitimately clocked you speeding over the limit
  • properly calibrated the speed monitoring device before use
  • cited the correct statute on the ticket
  • completely filled out the ticket as required by law

Guess what?

None of this matters if the section of your state’s motor vehicle code known as Obedience to Traffic Control Devices was not complied with.

Below, I will cite the wording of this statute for several states so you get an idea of what I am talking about, but keep in mind that all of the others have some form of this in their motor vehicle codes also.

Obedience to Traffic Control Devices – The Statutes

  • Ohio Motor Vehicle Code Section 4511.12(A)“No pedestrian, driver of a vehicle, or operator of a streetcar or trackless trolley shall disobey the instructions of any traffic control device placed in accordance with this chapter.”
  • New York Section 1110(a) – “Every person shall obey the instructions of any official traffic-control device applicable to him placed in accordance with the provisions of this chapter.”
  • PA Title 75, Section 3111(a)“… the driver of any vehicle shall obey the instructions of any applicable official traffic-control device placed or held in accordance with the provisions of this title.”

“placed or held in accordance”

Do you see how they all state very clearly that drivers shall obey a traffic control device “placed or held in accordance with the provisions of this title/chapter?”

This is your key to beating a speeding ticket.  All you have to do is show that the sign was not so placed.

How do you do this?

By referencing the requirements specified in the Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).  Because all of the states have adopted this manual in some form or other as part of their motor vehicle codes, all speeding signs have requirements that must be followed in order for speed limits to be enforced.  While most signs are obviously the right size and shape, there are many other factors to consider. 

Speed Limit Sign Requirements

There are many requirements listed in the MUTCD, but the following list highlights some of the ones you might look into first.

Section 2A.07 Retroreflectivity and Illumination

Regulatory, warning, and guide signs and object markers shall be retroreflective (see Section 2A.08) or illuminated to show the same shape and similar color by both day and night, unless otherwise provided in the text discussion in this Manual for a particular sign or group of signs.  The requirements for sign illumination shall not be considered to be satisfied by street or highway lighting.

Section 2A.08 Maintaining Minimum Retroreflectivity

“Public agencies or officials having jurisdiction shall use an assessment or management method that is designed to maintain sign retroreflectivity at or above the minimum levels in Table 2A-3.

Section 2A.11 Dimensions

The sign dimensions prescribed in the sign size tables in the various Parts and Chapters in this Manual and in the “Standard Highway Signs and Markings” book (see Section 1A.11) shall be used unless engineering judgment determines that other sizes are appropriate

Section 2A.14 Sign Borders

“Unless otherwise provided, each sign illustrated in this Manual shall have a border of the same color as the legend, at or just inside the edge.  The corners of all sign borders shall be rounded, except for STOP signs.”

Section 2A.16 Standardization of Location

Signs requiring separate decisions by the road user shall be spaced sufficiently far apart for the appropriate decisions to be made. One of the factors considered when determining the appropriate spacing shall be the posted or 85th-percentile speed.”

Section 2A.18 Mounting Height

All route signs, warning signs, and regulatory signs on freeways and expressways shall be installed with a minimum height of 7 feet, measured vertically from the bottom of the sign to the elevation of the near edge of the pavement.”

Section 2B.13 Speed Limit Sign (R2-1)

Speed zones (other than statutory speed limits) shall only be established on the basis of an engineering study that has been performed in accordance with traffic engineering practices. The engineering study shall include an analysis of the current speed distribution of free-flowing vehicles.”

What the Courts Say – The MUTCD Matters

As to how many MUTCD violations would constitute a violation of the Obedience to Traffic Control Devices statute, that might depend upon the judge who is hearing your case.  If I were personally going to contest a ticket in court I would accumulate as many as possible.

To support my contention that the MUTCD matters, consider the two court cases which I reference below. There are plenty of others out there and you can use the same resource that I did if you want to find some from your particular state. All you have to do is go to Google Scholar and search using the term MUTCD.

First up is a recent case from New Mexico: State v. Martinez, NM: Court of Appeals 2019. Here, the court referenced the MUTCD in regard to where a speed limit restriction actually starts:

“The New Mexico Transportation Commission’s determination that speed limit changes take effect at the point where a speed limit sign is placed is consistent with the approach taken by the American Association of State Highway Officials in its 2009 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD)

Likewise, a Tennessee court decision (Church v. Charles Blalock & Sons, Inc., 492 SW 3d 263 – Tenn: Court of Appeals 2015) mentions the MUTCD with regard to speed limits:

“… that the State utilized the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (“MUTCD”) to determine the appropriate placement of and necessity for certain signs along the roadway. As he indicated, the signs located at and along the roadway approaching the intersection at the time of the accident were appropriate in nature and placement, thereby exceeding the requirements of the MUTCD”

The bottom line: the MUTCD matters, and you can use this fact to beat your ticket.

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