Got speeding ticket? You can beat system
Chances of winning have been slim, but a recently enacted law eases path to challenges.
George Hunter / The Detroit News
Steve Purdy has made a science out of beating speeding tickets, and he wants to impart his wisdom to Michigan drivers.
"A lot of people just pay their tickets automatically, whether they feel they were speeding or not, which is exactly what the police and courts want you to do," said Purdy, a Lansing resident who serves as head of the Michigan branch of the National Motorists Association. "But if more people knew the law, I think they would be able to beat their speeding tickets."
Most moving violation citations written by police officers are speeding tickets, according to the Michigan State Police, and there are several ways to challenge them, Purdy said.
Statistically, the chances of beating a traffic ticket are slim. According to the State Court Administrator's Office, of the 2.5 million moving violations issued statewide in 2007, only 274,390 were dismissed. Of those, 139,987 were dismissed by the prosecutor or city attorney, and 134,403 by the judge, either because the motorist successfully argued the case, or the officer did not show up to the hearing.
But motorists often lose their cases because they aren't aware of a recently enacted state law that opens the door for challenges of many speeding tickets, Purdy said.
Michigan Public Act 85, which took effect in November 2006, changed the way municipalities may set speed limits. It gave them three choices:
• Communities may set speed limits based on the frequency of driveways and cross streets on a particular stretch of road.
• If a community conducts an engineering and traffic study, it may post a speed limit by using the 85th percentile of free-flowing traffic, meaning the speed at which 85 percent of drivers are traveling during the traffic study.
• If communities don't use either of those two methods, a 55 mph limit applies by default, except in platted subdivisions and in business districts, said Lt. Gary Megge of the Michigan State Police Traffic Service Section.
"There are many roads in Michigan where the speed limit isn't in compliance with the law," said Megge, who travels the state helping communities set proper speed limits. "A lot of speed limits are set artificially low."
And if the speed limit isn't in compliance with the state regulations, any ticket written for violating it is invalid.
Even on some thoroughfares where a speed limit is properly set, the limit may be challenged, Megge said.
Some speed limits are designated as prima facie,a Latin term that means "valid on its face." On those roads, it's up to an officer to explain why driving faster than the posted speed limit is unsafe.
"It's a very misunderstood concept," Megge said. "For instance, in a business district, a 25 mph speed limit can be set prima facie.That means they don't need to do a study to set that limit; it's valid on its face because it's a business district.
"But, here's the tricky part: There are times where roadway conditions, traffic conditions, and the weather may make it safe and legal to travel higher than the 25 mph posted in that district. For instance, if you're traveling through a business district at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning when there's no traffic and no pedestrians, then you could reasonably drive 30 mph safely.
"A prima facie speed limit puts the burden on the police officer to articulate why driving faster than the posted limit during those conditions is unsafe," Megge said.
Jack Walker, a former Clarkston resident who recently moved to Flint, was able to beat two speeding tickets last year by successfully challenging the validity of the speed limits on the roads where he was ticketed.
In both cases, which happened within weeks of each other last year, an Oakland County Sheriff's deputy issued Walker speeding tickets in Orion Township. Walker was driving 50 mph in 35 mph zones.
"There never was a study done on those roads, so the limit should have been 55 mph," Walker said. "When I was able to prove that, the prosecutor dropped the ticket, although they didn't seem very happy about it."