Speed limit sign

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Pump the brakes, Kentucky drivers.

The Kentucky Supreme Court has overruled a Louisville judge who last year threw out major sections of the state’s speeding laws after finding them vague and unconstitutional.

But in an unanimous opinion, the high court concluded the state statutes on speeding are legal and provide "ample guidance for the law to be consistently enforced."

Jefferson District Court Judge Julie Kaelin ruled last September that, in part, the law doesn’t clearly define speed limits. She ruled speed limit signs aren’t even mentioned in Kentucky’s speeding law, and in many cases those signs conflict with the law anyway.

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?"

But on Thursday, the state high court ruled that while the speeding laws could have been clearer, "essentially, a driver is notified of the applicable legal standard every time they pass a speed limit sign."

The case stemmed from a speeding ticket received by Kevin Curry in October 2018, when he was pulled over heading south on Interstate 71 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.

His attorney, Greg Simms didn’t complain that the officer's radar was faulty, but rather that Kentucky’s speeding laws are "convoluted" and unclear as to what the speed limit is on a given road in the state.

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 at the time, "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."

Curry’s case was eventually dismissed.

Kentucky mandates speed limits of 65 miles per hour on interstates and parkways; 55 miles per hour on other state highways; and 35 miles per hour on roads in a business or residential district. The state transportation secretary can adjust those limits based on an official order.

State law also lets local governments set higher or lower speed limits through an ordinance.

In Curry’s case, Simms claimed it wasn’t possible to know what the proper speed was on the section of I-71 where he was driving. He said he wasn’t able to find a state order or local ordinance backing up the 55-mile-per hour sign on a road that by law is supposed to allow speeds 10 miles per hour greater.

While the state Supreme Court acknowledged Kentucky’s speeding laws are "admittedly complex," that is not enough to throw them out.

Just because a law could have "been drafted more precisely does not mean the statute as written is invalid; a statute may be upheld so long as the law provides sufficient warning to persons about what conduct is prohibited," according to the high court.

In a statement, Simms said the high court's decision is incorrect "and not grounded in law. 

"I believe the decision was the 'convenient' decision for the Court, given the logistical ramifications of making what I believe to be the correct decision."

In a statement, O'Connell said "this is a victory for public safety" and noting that about 30 percent of fatal crashes in Kentucky last year involved speeding or aggressive driving. 

"Speed limits are posted in large black and white signs for all drivers to see what the law requires. It is regrettable that the Supreme Court’s limited time had to be used to address this question, but I appreciate the Supreme Court’s wisdom in answering this quickly for the benefit of all Kentuckians.”

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Digital Reporter

Jason Riley is a criminal justice reporter for WDRB.com. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after 14 years with The Courier-Journal. He graduated from Western Kentucky University. Jason can be reached at 502-585-0823 and jriley@wdrb.com.