RED BLUFF, CA. On Saturday, May 3, 2008, a young couple from Oakland traveling southbound on I-5 were rearended by a Tehama County Sheriff’s patrol car. The collision caused the couple’s truck to veer off the freeway into the center median where it overturned. The injured couple were taken to St. Elizabeth’s hospital in Red Bluff for treatment.
It appears that Deputy Sheriff J.A. Roberts maintains that the Oakland couple were traveling at a speed below expected “freeway speeds” when he impacted them. The news account does not clarify their speed, but reports that the deputy was traveling at 70 mph.
It seems ironic that the deputy would suggest that the cause of the accident was the speed of the slower moving vehicle, when traffic officers in Northern California have taken the position for years that “there is no safe speed that results in a collision.” Accordingly, local enforcement authorities often site drivers who are traveling at the posted limits or below, simply because they are involved in a car accident.
The law in California is not what the officers contend. Vehicle Code section 22350, the basic speed law, prohibits drivers from driving at a speed that is greater than is “reasonable or prudent,” giving due regard to traffic conditions, weather, width of the road, etc. Additionally, drivers may not drive at a speed that “endangers” the safety of persons or property.
The popular law enforcement intrepretation replaces “reasonable and prudent” with “any speed that results in an accident.” This is not a plausible construction of the statutory language. Further, the term “endangers” implies that the driver “creates” or should appreciate that his speed may cause harm to someone. “Endangers” does not mean, any speed that “results” in an accident as argued by local enforcment. It would have been simple for the Legislature to substitute the word “endangers” with “results” if that is what they intended. It was not.
Speed certainly can be a factor in automobile collisions, but to assert that the mere fact that an accident occured means that a vehicle was not traveling at a reasonable and prudent speed for the conditions is a misinterpretation of the law and often leads to a misinterpretation of the facts.