Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, April 15, 2010


Page 11



Auto Club Secures Hike in Speed Limit to 12 mph




At the outset of 1904, the speed limit for automobiles in the City of Los Angeles was 8 mph, except at crossings, where it was 4 mph.

That, the Automobile Club of Southern California contended, was unreasonably restrictive.

To make its point, it staged a parade—an impressive one, with 210 automobiles. A Los Angeles Times editorial on May 25, the day after this procession of motorized vehicles, observes:

“Demonstrations were given of a four-mile, an eight-mile, twelve-mile and twenty-mile speed for the purpose of showing that the higher speed is not dangerous to other occupants of the streets. The automobile is probably less dangerous to other vehicles and pedestrians than is the horse; for the controlling apparatus of a machine responds far more quickly and effectively to the one who is handling it than does the controlling apparatus used on horses. The proposed increase in the speed limit is a subject to which the City Council might properly direct its attention.”

The Board of Governors of the Auto Club, along with attorney Herbert Cutler Brown and one other member of the Legal Committee, met on May 31 with all with but one member of the Los Angeles City Council and with chiefs of police of the cities of Los Angeles and Pasadena, putting forth their views that the speed limit was too low. (Brown would himself be elected to the board within the week.)

The request to councilmen was that within the downtown area and somewhat beyond it, a speed of 12 mph be permitted, with neither animal nor machine being permitted to travel at a speed exceeding 4 mph at intersections within the core business area.

In the rest of the city, there would be no speed limit, per se. What was proposed was a concept borrowed from a May 3 New York statute: a ban on driving anywhere at any speed unsafe under the circumstances.

On June 13, just one day shy of two weeks since representatives of the Auto Club met with city lawmakers, the ordinance, No. 9620, was adopted by a vote of 9-0.

The 12 mph zone stretched from Grand Avenue on the west to Main Street on the east, with the northernmost and southernmost points varying, but going as far north as the Plaza and as far south as Washington Boulevard.

Here’s the language of the ordinance:

“It shall be unlawful for any person to ride or drive any horse or other animal, or to drive or propel any bicycle, tricycle, velocipede, automobile or other riding machine or horseless vehicle on any public street or place in the City of Los Angeles at any speed greater than is reasonable and proper having due regard to the traffic upon such street or place.”

(“Velocipedes” are vehicles pedaled by humans, including bicycles, tricycles, unicycles, dicycles, and quadcycles.)

California’s “basic speed law” was enacted the following year. Now Vehicle Code §22350, it presently reads:

“No person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, the highway, and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property.”

The 1904 ordinance required motorists, “when it is practicable so to do,” to stay on the right hand side of the road. (A California Supreme Court opinion in 1914 underscored that while it was customary to move to the right when there was approaching traffic, “[i]t was legally permissible for the defendant to use the...left-hand side of the highway as he undertook to use it, and no negligence could be predicated merely upon such use....”)

A horseless machine or vehicle had to be equipped with a “bell, gong, or horn in good working order and sufficient to give warning of the approach of such machine or vehicle and to riders and drivers of other vehicles, and of horses or other animals and to persons entering or leaving street cars.”

Violators could be fined between $1 and $100 ($249 to $2,490 in terms of today’s dollar), jailed for up to 50 days (and there was no “early release” then), or both.

Pasadena enacted a speed-limit ordinance on June 21, after receiving the input it requested from the Auto Club as to requirements of ordinances in other cities.

The city council set a maximum speed of 15 mph—but only in outlying areas. In the business districts, cars were to creep along at 4 mph; they could rev up to 8 mph in some other areas, but had to slow to 6 mph at the intersection of Fair Oaks and Colorado and, one block east, at Raymond and Colorado.

Violators faced a possible fine of up to $50, 50 days in jail, or both.


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