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  • Writer's pictureMike Macht

Go the @#*&% Speed Limit!

You would think that with North Carolina being the home of NASCAR that the only people that could compete with us on the highways for driving fast would be the Germans with the autobahn. But, if you've spent any time behind anyone that drives here in Western North Carolina, especially Asheville, you know that if the speed limit is set at 45 miles per hour you'll be hitting 25 mph max (I'm looking at you everyone on Swannanoa River Rd). Let's assume, that you're a better person than I am and you can tolerate being the guy behind the driver on Swannanoa River Rd, but once you get on I-40 you can't control your anger when you're trying to pass someone in the left lane but there's that car in front of you that's going the speed limit alongside the other car going the speed limit. You've seen the recent news story where the Trooper in Indiana pulled over the vehicle travelling in the left lane for going too slow and all you can wonder is why officers here aren't doing the same thing. Well, here's some info for you...

Establishment of the speed limit in N.C. is governed under N.C. General Statute 20-141. Pursuant to that Statute, the State legislature set basic speed limits to be complied with within municipal corporate limits (35 mph) and outside of municipal corporate limits (55 mph). Local governments can adjust those speed limits once certain conditions are met. For Swannanoa River Rd., apparently those conditions were met and a group of civil engineers determined that a safe speed for that road is 45 mph. In its infinite wisdom, the N.C. legislature also established a minimum speed limit. The minimum speed limit is 40 mph in a 55 mph zone and 45 mph in a 60 mph zone when on the interstate and primary highway system. No where else in the statute is a minimum speed established. Besides the fact that Swannanoa River Rd. doesn't meet the speed limit threshold, the minimum speed requirement wouldn't apply because technically it isn't an "interstate". That definition would take too long to explain for this article but would make a neat cartoon series if you were looking for another "how a bill becomes a law" cartoon series. Either way, it involves a lot of federal paperwork. Swannanoa River Rd also doesn't meet the definition of being in the "primary highway system." SRR is simply a "street".

But what about the other situation above? When you're stuck behind the person travelling the speed limit in the passing lane alongside another car going the speed limit? Under N.C. General Statute 20-146(b) any vehicle on any highway shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for thru traffic, or as close as practicable to the right-side of the street. So, if that person in front of you is going the speed limit, you probably won't have any satisfaction of seeing an officer pulling him over for the next 60 miles. Under subsection (e) of that same statute, the person could get in trouble if they're operating below the speed limit (say 59 in a 60 mph zone) but the officer will have to establish that 1. the driver was impeding the steady flow of traffic (which will be difficult if he's near the speed limit) and 2. that appropriate signs were affixed on the side of the road notifying the driver to keep right unless passing. So although we'd all love to see the N.C. State Highway Patrol pick up where Indiana left off, we probably won't see it happen anytime soon.

Have a question you're curious to know my take about? Send me your question. As always, I can't give you legal advice without a consultation, but I may be able to give some interesting insight into the situation.


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