LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Heading south on Interstate 71 last October, Kevin Curry was clocked at 93 miles per hour not far from Indian Hills, an area with a posted speed limit of 55.
A Louisville Metro Police Officer pulled over Curry’s Nissan Quest and cited him for going more than 26 miles per hour above that.
But the Greensburg, Ky., man’s attorney fought the citation. Attorney Greg Simms didn’t complain that the officer’s radar was faulty, but rather that Kentucky’s speeding laws are “convoluted” and unclear.
The argument convinced a Jefferson District Court judge, who ruled on Thursday that three major sections of state law that govern speeding are indeed vague and unconstitutional.
The ruling may cause drivers, legislators and state officials to slam on their brakes: It found that speed limit signs aren’t even mentioned in Kentucky’s speeding law, and in many cases those signs conflict with the law anyway.
The order by Judge Julie Kaelin, a former defense attorney, doesn’t clear the way for state roads to turn into Autobahns. For now, the ruling applies only to cases that land in her court. And it doesn’t mean a driver couldn’t be cited for reckless driving or other charges.
But the decision likely will be appealed, forcing a higher court to scrutinize Kentucky’s law on speeding, and it could prompt legislators to make changes to clearly define what actual speed limits are.
In Curry’s case, Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell’s office argued that posted speed limit signs are enough and that “no person could sincerely believe it is legal to drive 38 mph faster than the 55 mph speed limit.”
However, Kaelin noted in her order that speed limit signs aren’t referenced in Kentucky law in any way.
“Again, this is a challenge to the face of the statute,” she wrote, “and it simply does not matter that speed limit signs could be or should be enough, because the statute does not refer a motorist to such signs.”
Josh Abner, an O’Connell spokesman, declined to comment because the case is still active. It is scheduled for a hearing Friday.
Kentucky sets speed limits based on several factors.
State law says interstate highways like I-71 must have a speed limit of 65 miles per hour unless the state Transportation Secretary issues an “official order” raising or lowering it. A local government also can set limits through an ordinance.
Simms said he wasn’t able to determine what the road’s actual speed limit is. The law appears to make it 65 miles per hours. The sign says it’s 55 miles per hour, but he said he wasn’t able to find a state order or local Louisville measure establishing that speed.
“There is a problem with a law that we’ve all been following and enforcing in these courts,” Simms said. “But to be honest, they’re not even enforcing the law – they’re enforcing the speed limit sign.”
In her ruling, Kaelin says she searched the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s website and did other general internet searches and could not find any place where any such orders are accessible. If a judge can’t find those, she wrote, “how could a citizen without access to legal knowledge and research ascertain the same?”
She used this example: A driver charged with going 65 miles per hour on I-64 near Hurstbourne Parkway in eastern Jefferson County would be 10 miles per hour over the posted limit.
But that person could argue he was relying on a strict interpretation of state law. And if there are no “official orders” from the Transportation Cabinet, “65 MPH would not be in violation of the statute because the statute does not refer to posted limits, but rather to ‘official orders,’” the judge wrote.
In essence, she concluded, when a person is cited for speeding, he or she is charged with violating the law, not a speed limit sign.
“And in many cases,” she wrote, “the statute and the sign are in conflict.”