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House bill clarifies point at which speed limits become enforceable

KEITH ARNOLD
Special to the Legal News

Published: November 21, 2017

Ohio motorists who wonder exactly when a posted speed limit change becomes effective may have a more concrete answer if a House bill clears both houses of the Ohio Legislature and makes it to Gov. John Kasich's desk.

A substitute version of House Bill 219, reported out of the Transportation and Public Safety Committee of the Ohio House of Representatives last week, would make a speed limit sign's posted speed effective at the sign or marker.

Though anything but the fix proposed in HB 219 may seem illogical or confusing, at best, that is how the current law operates, relying heavily on the discretion on law enforcement officers.

"It is essential that our state statutes are clear when it comes to enforcement situations and instances of violation, especially with regards to areas of law such as driving that have daily impacts on peoples' lives," said the bill's sponsor, Democrat Rep. John Boccieri of Poland. "After a conversation with a constituent in my district about a speeding camera that was recently installed outside of Youngstown, I decided to look into the current specifications of our speed limit statute.

"It surprised me to find that the Ohio Revised Code does not specify when a new speed limit actually takes effect, and thus when enforcement can begin. It merely states that failing to abide by a speed limit is unlawful."

HB 219 proposed codifying that a speed limit becomes effective beginning at a reasonable distance from the speed limit sign for all speed limit areas.

Boccieri said, in practice, enactment of the bill would mean that a driver would not be liable for reducing his speed in response to passing into an area with a lower speed limit until a reasonable distance after their vehicle actually passes the speed limit sign.

"This will provide commonsense flexibility for drivers," he said during testimony before committee members. "My hope is to clarify for motorists and law enforcement professionals alike that vehicles are not expected to reach the posted speed limit until a reasonable distance from the sign."

The approved substitute version of the bill, however, identifies location of the point of enforcement concretely.

Republican Rep. Anthony DeVitis of Uniontown proposed the bill that specifies that a new speed limit begins at the sign marking the speed limit.

Additionally, the substitute bill would provide that signs warning of changes to speed limits must allow sufficient distance for drivers to adjust to the new speed limit.

The National Motorists Association, a drivers' rights organization, also weighed in on the measure's attempt at making the section of law clearer.

"Specifically, Section 2B.13, Speed Limit Sign, of the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices states, 'Speed Limit signs, indicating speed limits for which posting is required by law, shall be located at the points of change from one speed limit to another,'" association President Gary Biller told lawmakers in proponent testimony. "The use of 'shall' indicates a mandatory requirement.

"The clarification that HB 219 would bring to this issue is extremely important, both for drivers and for law enforcement, to support the principle of traffic regulations that are fairly written, clearly indicated, and reasonably enforced."

Boccieri characterized the bill as noncontroversial though necessary.

"In order to prevent uncertainty for drivers and law enforcement alike, we need to clarify the specific point at which a speed limit becomes effective," he concluded.

"Properly notified drivers are safer drivers," Biller seconded.

HB 219, which has the cosponsorship support of 12 fellow lawmakers, awaits a vote in the House.

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