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LA traffic deaths are going up, so are speed limits – why an old CA law may be creating a dangerous loophole

A Route 66 and speed limit sign is seen in Monrovia, California, on May 18, 2017.
A Route 66 and speed limit sign is seen in Monrovia, California, on May 18, 2017.

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Traffic deaths have been on the rise in Los Angeles and, perhaps counterintuitively, street speed limits have gone up as well, which may have to do with the unintended consequences of an old California law.

As reported by Laura Nelson of the L.A. Times, California requires cities to put up speed limits that reflect the natural flow of traffic, otherwise law enforcement can’t issue speeding tickets. Which is why, for example, the speed limit on a 2-mile stretch of Zelzah Avenue, one of the most dangerous streets for bicyclists and pedestrians, was raised from 40 to 45 mph last December.

The law was created to prevent drivers from falling into speed traps, but some critics say that it’s now contributing to rising traffic deaths.

How did this law get established? How is the city and law enforcement navigating it? And if you’ve seen speed limits get raised on your street, how has it affected you?

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation this information, following the interview: 

  • By early 2018, with an increase in investment on speed surveys, over 730 miles of speed limits were updated, bringing the total to over 65% of streets citywide that have an enforceable speed limit.
  • Since then, another 150 miles of surveys have been updated, which would bring the enforceable total to 82% citywide once approved by City Council.
  • Enforcement is not the only tool we have to address traffic fatalities.  As mentioned, education and engineering are LADOT's primary tools to make our streets safer.
  • As such, in the past 12 months we've designed and installed over 1,100 safety improvements to the City's High Injury Network, the streets with the highest safety needs.
  • Overall, fatal traffic collisions were down 6% in 2017, representing 16 fewer lives lost compared to 2016.
  • Year to date, we have seen an overall decrease of 9% citywide on collision-related fatalities, with a 20% decrease in vehicle-to-pedestrian collisions, compared to this time last year.

With guest host Libby Denkmann


Laura Nelson, transportation reporter for the Los Angeles Times, where her recent story is “As L.A. struggles to reduce traffic deaths, speed limits keep going up”;  she tweets @laura_nelson

Nader Asmar, principal transportation engineer of vision zero programs for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, where he is in charge of speed surveys which help determine speed limits of streets