SHERIFF'S CORNER: Sir, do you know how fast you were going?

We've heard them all ... from the common ones, and all in between: "I'm not sure, I wasn't paying attention," "This one officer told me as long as I don't go more than nine miles over the speed limit, I shouldn't get stopped," "I was going with the flow of traffic," "There's no way, I had my cruise set," "Officer, my vehicle does not go that fast," "I just got new tires," "I'm late for work," "I have diarrhea and have to get to the bathroom" and "I have a cold, and when I cough, my foot mashed the pedal."

One of the polls I found gave the top excuses for speeding, 24 percent claimed they didn't realize they were speeding, 18 percent said they were late for work, 14 percent remarked they were going as fast as everyone else, 11 percent blamed being late to pick up or drop off a child, 11 percent told police there was a medical emergency, 11 percent said they didn't see the speed limit sign and 9 percent offered that they had to use the bathroom.

In this edition of the "Sheriff's Corner," I discuss common speed limits on highways, village streets and county roads.


Connecticut passed the first speed limit for automobiles in 1901, having a city speed limit of 12 mph and 15 mph for rural areas. By 1930, all but 12 states had established numerical limits.

Michigan did not have a state law on speed limits until 1956 when the freeway limit was set at 65 mph during the day and 55 mph at night. Prior to this, speed limits were created and enforced by local municipalities. In 1974, the freeway speed was again lowered to 55 mph during the '70s oil crisis.


When there is NO speed limit posted is when prima facie limits come into play. This includes 25 mph in residential districts, 25 mph in business districts, 25 mph within a public park, 55 mph on a county highway, 55 mph on gravel road and 70 mph on limited-access freeways.

So, what is a "residential district?" The best way to think of this would be the populated areas of a village or city, such as Baldwin or Luther. To stay within the law, if there are a bunch of houses on the road, and it ain't on the state trunkline, slow down.


In short, these are the roads with posted speed limits.

When the prima facie speed limit on a county road is considered too high or too low, the Michigan State Police, in conjunction with the road commission and the township board, have to unanimously agree to adopt or change the absolute speed limit. So, this is not just a local decision on a local street. It requires buy-in from MSP. If they are not willing to entertain it, it won't happen.

For highways or freeways, MDOT has also approved some state trunklines to be increased to 65 mph and some limited-access freeways to 75 mph in select areas. This is not mandated at the local level.


MCL 257.627(1) states: "a person operating a vehicle on a highway shall operate that vehicle at a careful and prudent speed not greater than nor less that is reasonable and proper, having due regard to the traffic, surface, and width of the highway and of any other condition existing at the time."

This means regardless of the speed limit, you may need to drive at a slower speed than the posted limit due to road conditions or the weather. This can also include someone traveling at a very slow speed on a state trunkline or freeway. In other words, you must always drive at a safe speed and not interfere with the normal flow of traffic.


Most are unaware that your speed is monitored on a regular basis. Not only by the state, but by the feds. This is done by the way of speed strips, surveys, studies and accidents. The data gathered is later used to determine whether a speed limit needs to be increased or lowered on a commonly traveled roadway.

Michigan speed limits are based on a formula that uses the 85th percentile of free-flowing traffic, the speed which no more than 15 percent of traffic is exceeding. The idea behind this is that the majority of drivers are assumed to be reasonable and safe drivers, and so the limits would accommodate to these drivers.


Counties are allowed to adopt ordinances that allow ORVs on the roadway, which as we all know is the case in Lake County. The speed limit for roads that are opened to ORVs is 25 mph, max. You must travel on the far right of the gravel road, or if it is paved, you must travel on the far right "paved" portion, not on the shoulder. This speed limit is not determined on a local level, but is specifically expressed in the state statute of 25 mph.

As some have mentioned traveling at such a speed can be dangerous to oncoming traffic, roads being open to ORVs is intended for you to drive to the trailhead, get gas or visit a local establishment. The intent behind the law is not to use the road as a primary means of ORV travel.

I personally drafted and proposed a new ORV speed limit sign that was approved by the road commission to be placed at all four trunkline entry points on US-10 and M-37 into Lake County. This is being paid for by Jim Faiella of Peacock LTD, and will be installed by the road commission.

I wanted a sign that was clearly visible when entering the county that reminded or advised people of the law. The majority of people who are stopped say they are "unaware" of the speed law for ORVs, so this is another step to let them know. These news signs will be 36-inches-by-36-inches, with smaller signs being placed at problem areas and at the exit of trailheads.


Speed enforcement is limited, if not all but invalid on private property. Recently a complaint was made about speeders in a private community on the east side of the county. Being that they are private roads, being privately maintained, removes our authority. The roads are also posted with a speed limit of 15 mph, which is generally not enforceable under the law.


• M-37 from the north (US-10) junction is 65 mph all the way north to Mesick. This is the only road section that is 65 mph in Lake County.

• M-37 drops from 65 mph to 60 mph in a section by Wolf Lake.

• W 10 1/2 Mile Road lowers to 40 mph in the Irons community area.

• US-10 lowers to 45 mph in the Chase community area.

• Snowmobiles can travel up to the posted speed limit while traveling on the designated portion of the road.


You always have the right to challenge a speeding citation in court. Some will fight tickets, not denying responsibility, solely because they would like the "points" associated with the citation be removed. Unfortunately, it has been advised to us that the magistrate no longer has the ability to eliminate "points."

This information is provided to you for clarification of specific laws, and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law.

If you have any questions on any specific topic, you can always email me your questions to

As always, it is a honor serving and working for all of you who live, visit and work in Lake County. Working together, we can make a difference.