Through the Cracks: Governor Signs Speed Limits Bill A.B. 529

Last Friday, Governor Jerry Brown signed A.B. 529, legislation authored by San Fernando Valley Assemblyman Mike Gatto that gives local government some discretion in setting speed limits on local roads.

Not anymore. Photo: Freaky

“I promised residents that I would do something about those who speed through our neighborhoods,” says Gatto, “I am proud to have delivered that promise today, and proud to know that our local authorities will be given another tool to protect the safety of drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists in our communities.”

Until 2004, speed limits were set at the 85th percentile of driver speed on a section of road rounded to the nearest 5 mile increment.  A.B. 529 allows municipalities to round the posted speed limit down no matter how the 85th percentile is to a higher limit.  For example, if the 85th percentile of drivers is driving at 39 miles per hour, and the municipality considers a 40 miles per hour speed limit too high for that stretch of road, it can “round down” to a 35 miles per hour limit.

While other legislation designed to help municipalities fight rising speed limits has faced fierce opposition from powerful speeding traffic supporters such as the AAA and California Highway Patrol, this legislation enjoyed unanimous legislative support and AAA and CHP remained on the sidelines.  The only opposition came from advocates who believe that extended yellow light times are the key to traffic safety because Gatto’s legislation also allows shorter yellow light times. 

One of Gatto’s key supporters was the City of Glendale, which also backed stronger legislation offered by Paul Krekorian in 2009.  Supporting changes in state law that would allow municipalities to resist speed limit increases is a component of the city’s groundbreaking Safe and Healthy Streets plan.  The city used Glendale Police Officers as lobbyists in Sacramento to push the legislation from a safety standpoint.

Captain Carl Povilaitis of the Glendale Police Department testified in Sacramento in favor of the legislation. “AB 529 will improve traffic and community safety by giving communities more flexibility in setting speed limits,” says Povilaitis. “That’s good for drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists.”

Glendale also showed how rising speed limits are bad for local economies, and not because it means the police can issue fewer tickets.  Wayne Ko, traffic engineer for the city of Glendale, notes that 44% of Glendale’s locally set speed limits would have been forced upward in the next year before A.B.. 529 passed, resulting in the city having to replace 44% of their expensive metallic signs.

  • Allisonbike

    Awesome!!! This hopefully will complement the City of LA eventually looks to re-designate many arterials known as “secondary highways” such as Spring St. through Chinatown to the less trafficked, slower streets we all want and love. It will really help in the Valley, too!

  • Ckurtz

    Assemblyman Gatto represents the San Fernando Valley not the San Gabriel Valley

  • Thanks for the catch.

  • Kara Sergile

    This is fantastic news!   Thank you Assemblyman Gatto and Captain Povilaitis!

  • lemonhouse

    Mike Gatto wants to protect drivers, cyclists and bicyclists. But, how about protecting children from genital mutilation? 
    Dr. Dean Edell has stated: “We can do so much with education & scientific research. This (circumcision campaign) is going to backfire and make a lot of men unhappy. When they wake up in the morning and realize what’s been done… sexual sensitivity has been altered. This is **NOT** going to be looked upon as a positive period of time in Western Medical history.” Assemblyman Mike Gatto is a hipocrite

  • Anonymous

    Hooray for this.  It was amazing how even one statistical outlier could alter the 85th Percentile just enough to raise speed limits by 5 MPH.

    P.S. Posted Speed Limits can be altered using stickers.

  • Anonymous

    This will cause a massive increase in ticket camera receipts, most of it improperly taken from safe drivers.  It will cause many cities that now do not use red light cameras to adopt them because the posted speed limits set below normal traffic speeds will permit the use of too-short yellows to trap more safe drivers in the dilemma zones at KA-CHING about $450 a pop.  Executives at ATS, Redflex and the other camera vendors will be having champagne to celebrate the victory permitting many more predatory ticket camera installations to be wildly profitable.

    This vicious law will NOT improve safety, it will degrade it.

    The science is on our website.  James C. Walker, National Motorists Association,, Ann Arbor, MI

  • Don’t speed, stupid, and you won’t get any tickets.

  • Jcwconsult

    Spokker’s comment sounds logical, until you check the 70+ years of research that shows the posted limit has almost no effect on actual travel speeds.  This new law will be used to post speed limits at about the 50th percentile speed so that about 50% of all drivers will be arbitrarily defined as criminals. The cars will be going at the sames speeds as when the posted limits were correctly set at the 85th percentile speeds. Then it allows the yellow intervals to be set 0.4 seconds shorter so that massively higher numbers of $500 red light camera tickets will be given.  The motivation is 99+% for revenue and 1% for greater safety.   Read the science.  James C. Walker, NMA

  • Hey consultant, all you have to do is look at the sign and drive at that limit, and more slowly if there are hazards (rain, people, sun in your eyes, etc.). You will never get a speeding ticket in your life. Even if there were no signs, common sense would dictate when you are on a street that demands a 40 MPH speed limit or a 20 MPH speed limit.

    In the past my commute has taken me past a 25 MPH school zone when children are often present. I was able to slow down to 25 MPH *every* *single* *time* but the vast majority of drivers did not. I have had high beams flashed at me, been honked at, and seen more middle fingers than I can count (to be fair I can’t count very high because I am a stupid asshole).

    There are probably better ways to slow cars down than a sign. The design of the street is the best bet. People don’t like parking but on-street parking can actually have a calming effect on traffic.

    But it’s very easy to avoid tickets, and I welcome the much needed revenue.

  • Jcwconsult

    Spokker is correct in the comment that common sense dictates when you are on a street that demands a 40 mph speed limit or a 20 mph speed limit.  IF those were the real posted limits, there would be no issue here. The problem comes in when you are on a street that demands a 40 mph limit but some ignorant and/or greedy local official with zero knowledge of traffic safety engineering in their infinite lack of wisdom has that 40 mph area posted at 25 and sets up fierce enforcement regimens to make money from safe drivers who are fully capable of accurately judging that 35-40 mph is the right range of speeds for the safest travel.  If the 85th percentile speed is 40, then the Pace (10 mph band with the most vehicles and the safest speeds of travel) will be about 31-40 mph.  Drivers who obey the 25 mph posted limit have 5 – 10 times higher risk of being in an accident.  See the National Motorists Association website for the science. James C. Walker, NMA

  • The point is that localities come together through the democratic process and determine what kind of speed limits they want. If you would like to see 55 MPH speed limits on city streets, you can live in Irvine, CA. However, this law will allow other cities to set the kinds of speed limits they want. When you are in other cities, you must respect local laws.

  • Anonymous

    Behavior is FAR more accurate than what people say.  If the 85th percentile speed is 39 mph but citizens say they want to have or keep a 35 limit, then the wish for the 35 limit is completely false for most of them.  The reality of actual behavior trumps all the theoretical “data” from polls and calls to council members.
    The reason cities want the power to round speed limits down from actual speed survey data is to set artificially low posted speed limits to maliciously get their share of a massive increase in traffic ticket fines.  It has nothing whatever to do with safety because the actual traffic speeds will NOT change enough to matter.
    James C. Walker, NMA

  • I understand there is a lot of research on what people do, actions that have been enabled by lax attitudes on road safety, liability and driver education. 

    I’m not as militant as they crazy cyclists that post here, but it’s no secret that drivers drive way too fast for conditions most of the time. It isn’t just about the safety of the people inside the car, but those outside the car. Your thinking seems myopic.

  • Anonymous

    The fatality rate per mile traveled is about 20% of what it was in the 1960s.  It is a total myth that most people drive too fast for conditions most of the time – precisely the opposite is true.  The 85th percentile speed on Missouri rural highways in 1940 was 62.5 mph according to the National Safety Council Report on Speed. The 85th percentile speed on similar Michigan highways in 1995 was 63-68 mph according to NHTSA – virtually no difference 55 years later with far safer cars and better road environments.  Please download and read the booklet “Establishing Realistic Speed Limits” published by the Traffic Safety Division of the Michigan State Police at   Most people drive properly with extremely low probabilities of having an accident involving vehicles, bicycles or pedestrians.  People drive to what they can see and the overwhelming majority of them get it right almost all of the time.  Artificially low posted speed limits set below the normal safe flow of traffic speeds are part of the problem, not part of the solution.  I have studied this issue for 50 years and the principles have not changed in those 5 decades. James C. Walker, NMA

  • Jcwconsult

    There are only 2 ways to reduce actual travel speeds below the normal safe levels that drivers will find themselves.  1) Have enforcement essentially 24/7, but no city can afford this on all their streets.  2) Degrade the road with things like traffic humps, narrower lanes, curb projections, small diameter traffic circles, artificial curves, etc.
    New point.  Given that the road has sidewalks for pedestrians, NO ONE should ever walk or play in the road – EVER.  Bikes should follow the rules of the road.  Zebra style crossings that are well identified are usually safe for crossing.  It works very well in England because the crossings are clearly identified.
    James C. Walker, NMA

  • The 85th percentile was an anti speed trap law to prevent California from dodging into the depths of such depravity like New Rome, Ohio, where the speed limit suddenly dropped and the local “township” (handful of residents along the town) was funded by inattentive but safe drivers. In case you weren’t aware of local history, one of the reasons West Covina was formed was as a speed trap along US 99 – they put in a few stop signs in the rural town and suddenly had tons of money to pave the roads and fund cops. 

    I don’t have a problem with neighborhood roads having moderate speed limits but the problem is that many neighborhood streets were not designed for these levels of traffic, and there is no fast way to get around. No one is building freeways anyone, and the kind of public transit that runs separate from car traffic, like trains and busways, isn’t getting built fast enough. This hurts the economy as people avoid going places that are regional draws, because they hate sitting in traffic. No one wants to live in a metro area of 15 million people, and yet only have access to the conveniences of a metro area of a million people because of bad traffic. People in Santa Clarita and San Bernardino should be able to go to a world class museum or a baseball game too. If we built the freeway system, like San Diego did, and they lowered the speed limits on arterials, I wouldn’t have a problem with it – the problem are these arterials, like Wilshire Boulevard or Pacific Coast Highway, that have high travel volumes and no reasonable alternates for anybody. 

  • Jcwconsult

    If the community wants to degrade the road environment to produce lower actual speeds, that will work. Painting lower numbers on the signs does not work to change actual travel speeds,  James C. Walker, NMA

  • “The fatality rate per mile traveled is about 20% of what it was in the 1960s.”

    Safer cars. The old joke is that seat belts may have decreased auto deaths but they haven’t decreased pedestrian deaths, but maybe even increased them, haha. It would be funny if it weren’t so true.

    You are thinking about one road user. Like I said, I like to distance myself from the militant “get back at drivers” type but all users must be considered.

  • Anonymous

    To repeat:  If you need lower actual travel speeds, there are only two ways to achieve this.  1)  Set up 24/7 enforcement which NO city can afford.  or  2) degrade the actual road environment with things like speed humps, artificial curve, curb projections, narrower lanes, etc.
    Setting lower posted speed limits on the signs has NO safety effect and may well make things worse.
    James C. Walker, NMA

  • Armyan1988

    Wow I am amazed!!!! Living in SFV I can tell you that most people including obey the school zone laws as I have 2 little sisters in elementry school. But I do not understand how lowering speed limit in some streets will help. Do understand that if you respect the neighborhood and schools and such, you will do that all the time. I drive fast but respect school zones and such. This ass wants to give power so that the all ready slow as hell 35mph steet speed could be lowerd that is insane. Please tell me what is the point of lets say 30mph or lower on a street???? This is bullshit and this dumb ass is making it worse. If you respect the people or kids then you do, if people drove fast through school zones and quite areas then they will continue to do so. What the F*** is the point of lower speeds???

  • Armyan1988

    I am sorry for the spelling.


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