Rules of the Road: Are yellow speed signs the law or a recommendation?

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 7, 2013 

Question: The speed limits posted in yellow, sometimes below another sign, is this a suggested speed? For example, you have a person on a road with a 50 mph posted speed limit (white sign). They approach a turn with a yellow 20 mph sign, but take the turn doing 50 mph. There is an officer running radar coming out of the turn.

Can this person be stopped for violating the 20 mph? Then you have another person on the same road and they enter the turn at 50 mph and get into an accident. Can this person be cited for violating the yellow sign of 20 mph?

Answer: The speed limit posted on the yellow sign is a suggested or recommended speed for the roadway character. I don't believe any infractions will be written for exceeding the recommended speed.

It would be possible to issue the infraction for speed too fast for conditions, improper lane travel (if you crossed out of one lane into another), failure to use due care and caution, etc. It would be especially likely that an infraction would be written for the driver that caused the crash, but not for failure to obey the "recommended speed." The recommended speed is set by the traffic engineers based on a number of factors including the roadway type, curve, bank, visibility, etc.

Q: I have noticed consistently, and for many years, that while cars and light trucks tend to stay mostly within a few miles per hour of the posted speed limit, semi trucks regularly travel more than 10 mph over the posted "truck" speed limit. Are those posted truck limits actually laws, or are they merely advisories similar to the speed signs posted at corners?

A: The truck speed limit signs are actual enforceable speed limits. They apply to most commercial vehicles and any vehicles towing trailers.


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David Wright is a retired officer from the Bellingham Police Department who is now on the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force.

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