It is well established that the prosecution of a defendant for a motor vehicle violation is a quasi-criminal proceeding. In such a proceeding the burden of proof is upon the state to establish all elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.
In every charge of a speeding violation, the complaint or summons must specify (l) the speed at which the defendant is alleged to have driven, (2) the speed which is prima facie unlawful, and (3) the time and place of the alleged violation.
A sign showing a speed limit is merely notice of the law or an ordinance or regulation prohibiting a greater speed. The sign itself does not set the speed limit. There can be no conviction for violation of the edict of a posted sign, but only for violation of the statute, ordinance, or regulation having the force of law. There are many unauthorized signs in the state which may serve as a warning but have no effect in creating an offense.
Speed-measuring radar in various forms has been accepted since State v. Dantonio, l8 N.J. 570 (l955), where the N.J. Supreme Court held it is not essential that the court determine the precise speed at which the vehicle was being operated when the alleged offense occurred, and that the operator of the vehicle must be adjudged guilty if the evidence established, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the drive exceeded the statutory speed limit.
It is not necessary for the trial court to make a particular finding as to the precise speed in excess of the speed limit at which the defendant was traveling at the time of the violation. State v. Bookbinder, 82 N.J. Super. l79, l83 (App. Div. l964).
However, if the defendant is found guilty, the trial court should determine the quantum of excess was so many miles per hour in exercising its discretion as to the penalty to be imposed within the statutory limitation. The precise speed a motorist was traveling thus is material only on the question as to the penalty to be imposed, not on the question of guilt or innocence.
State v. Readding, l69 N.J. Super. 238 (Law Div. l978), restated the general rule that in order for the radar speedometer reading to be admissible into evidence, it should be established that: (l) the device is scientifically reliable; (2) the particular speedometer used in the case being tried is accurate; (3) the operator is qualified; and (4) the device was operated properly in the case being tried.
How Radar Operates
In State v. Wojtkowiak, l70 N.J. Super. 44 (Law Div. l979), revd on other grounds, l74 N.J. Super. 460, Judge Wells examined in detail the K-55 Radar, and his conclusions were incorporated by the Appellate Division. This case should be read and reread for a detailed explanation of Radar by a Court.
The traffic radar method speed detection measurement depends upon the Doppler effect. Simply stated a radio wave which strikes a moving object is reflected from that object at different frequency from that of the incident wave. A radar which transmits waves and receives reflected waves can determine their frequency difference and calculate the speed of the object which produced the reflective wave.
Courts have accepted as scientifically reliable MPH Industries K-55 Traffic Radar the primary system employed for the purpose of measuring the speed of motor vehicles in New Jersey.
In State v. Wojtkowiak, l74 N.J. Super, 460 (App. Div. l980), the appeals court held in all future cases the state should adduce evidence at the municipal court level as to (l) the specific training and extent of experience of the officer operating the radar, (2) the calibration of the machine was checked by at least two external tuning forks both singly and in combination, and (3) the calibration of the speedometer of the patrol car in cases where the K-55 is operating in the moving mode.
While it appeared to the court in State v. Wojtkowiak, Supra that the K-55 Radar is an accurate and reliable tool for the measurement of speed, its accuracy and reliability in any case are no better than the skill of the person operating the radar. Id. at l74. The court made this emphasis as a warning to all police departments that proper courses of instruction be developed before the K-55 Radar device is employed in any municipality.
A calibration check is accomplished with the use of two tuning forks and their accuracy must be the subject of the documentary proof. Use of the K-55 does not eliminate the need for such proof. State v. Wojtkowiak, l70 N.J. Super. at 50, n.l
In State v. Overton, l35 N.J. Super 443 (Cty. Ct. l975), four external tuning forks were used to test the radar unit l2 times within a period of approximately 90 minutes. The court noted there is authority to the effect that a radar unit should be checked for accuracy each time it is set up at a different location. MPH Industries argues this is not necessary with moving radar.
In State v. Readding, l60 N.J. Super. 238 (Law Div. l978), the court reiterated the decision in State v. Overton, l35 N.J. Super. 443 (Cty. Ct. l975), where the court found there are three universally accepted methods of testing the accurate operation of a radar speed measuring device:
By use of the internal tuning fork built into the machine itself (which the court found to be improper).
By running the patrol car with a calibrated speedometer through the zone of influence of the radar machine.
By use of external tuning forks calibrated at set speeds and which emit sound waves or frequencies identical to those which would come from a vehicle traveling through the Radar bearer at the same speed for which the tuning fork has been cut.
It is also important to recognize that in State v. Readding, l60 N.J. Super. 238, the court stated: the proper operation of the device must be proved, usually by detailed reference by the qualified operator to the procedures called for by the manufacturer of the device.
Before a radar speed reading is admissible, the state must establish the machine was operating properly. MPH Industries test procedure uses two tuning forks: First, the lower-speed fork is struck on wood or plastic and the ringing fork is held in a fixed position two to three inches in front of the antenna with the harrow edge of the fork facing the antenna front. This will cause the Patrol Monitor Window to display the forks speed. While continuing to hold this ringing fork in place, the higher-speed fork is struck and held next to the lower-speed fork (both forks must be vibrating while being held an equal distance from the antenna. The target should then display the speed difference between the two forks. For example, if the forks used are 35 mph and 65 mph, then the target window will display the difference, which is 30 mph.
Admissibility of Evidence
The state must establish through documentary evidence the tuning fork itself was accurate. The state must produce and be able to admit into evidence certificates as proof of the accuracy of the devices used for testing the proper operation of the machine.
In State v. Cardone, l46 N.J. Super. 23 (App. Div. l976), the court held that while certificates do not have to satisfy the normal rules of evidence, an Evidence Rule 8 hearing still must be held, at which the court can determine preliminary issues of admissibility of evidence. In such a hearing, the rules of evidence except for Rule 4 or a valid claim of privilege do not apply. Id. at 28.
The Cardone court found that the certificates of calibration and accuracy of the radar machine and for the tuning forks used to test the machine were properly admitted in evidence, even though no proof was offered to qualifying the certificates as records made in the regular course of business. The certificates were used solely as evidence of proper operating conditions or as a prerequisite to the admissibility of the radar reading, and the defendant made no effort to prove the internal calibrating device or the tuning forks were inaccurate.
Previously, in State v. Overton, l35 N.J. Super. 443 (Cty. Ct. l975), it was held the municipal court judge improperly admitted certificates issued by the manufacturer of the tuning forks and the radar unit itself. The court also held the certificates were not properly authenticated, as required by Evidence Rule 67, nor was there sufficient testimony to support their admissibility as either business records under Evidence Rule 63(l3) or as reports of finding of a public official under Evidence Rule 63(l5).
In State v. Readding, supra, the Superior Court exonerated the defendant, stating:
It is entirely possible for a particular RADAR device to function properly and record accurately a 50 m.p.h. but inaccurately at higher speeds
Accuracy of the particular speedometer should be established by more than one test.
The Pace or Clock Method
A pace or clock is performed by an officer in a patrol car with a calibrated speedometer for a duration of distance or time wherein the officer accelerated to a speed equivalent to the suspects, and then keeps a steady distance behind the suspects vehicle following that vehicle. It is essential that the patrol cars speedometer be calibrated and that the certificates of calibration both before and after, be admitted into evidence.
An officer may also sometimes admit he was unable to get a good clock but may say that his vehicle was going 70 mph, for example, and he was still losing ground to the offender. The obvious shortcoming to clocking as vehicle is that the officers objective judgment may be brought into question, the interference by other traffic, or other non-reasonable factors. It is for these reasons that the clock method is used less frequently than radar.
It is no defense to argue unlawful arrest, selective enforcement, custom and usage, non-ownership of car driven, ignorance or mistake of law, lack of precise speed proved, defective speedometer or cruise control. Obey the law, follow speed limits and you will have no need to know about Radar.
Speeding penalties as of 2003
39:4-98. Rates of speed
39:4-98. Rates of speed. Subject to the provisions of R.S.39:4-96
and R.S.39:4-97 and except in those instances
where a lower speed is specified in this chapter, it shall be prima
facie lawful for the driver of a vehicle to drive it at a speed
not exceeding the following:
a.Twenty-five miles per hour, when passing through a school zone
during recess, when the presence of children
is clearly visible from the roadway, or while children are going to or
leaving school, during opening or closing hours;
b. (1) Twenty-five miles per hour in any business or residential
(2) Thirty-five miles per hour in any suburban business or
c.Fifty miles per hour in all other locations, except as otherwise
provided in the Sixty-Five MPH Speed Limit
Implementation Act, pursuant to section 2 of P.L.1997, c.415
(C.39:4-98.3 et al.).
Whenever it shall be determined upon the basis of an engineering
and traffic investigation that any speed hereinbefore
set forth is greater or less than is reasonable or safe under the
conditions found to exist at any intersection or other place or
upon any part of a highway, the Commissioner of Transportation, with
reference to State highways, may by regulation and
municipal or county authorities, with reference to highways under their
jurisdiction, may by ordinance, in the case of
municipal authorities, or by ordinance or resolution, in the case of
county authorities, subject to the approval of the
Commissioner of Transportation, except as otherwise provided in
R.S.39:4-8, designate a reasonable and safe speed limit
thereat which, subject to the provisions of R.S.39:4-96 and R.S.39:4-97,
shall be prima facie lawful at all times or at such
times as may be determined, when appropriate signs giving notice thereof
are erected at such intersection, or other place or
part of the highway. Appropriate signs giving notice of the speed
limits authorized under the provisions of paragraph (1) of
subsection b. and subsection c. of this section may be erected if the
commissioner or the municipal or county authorities, as
the case may be, so determine they are necessary. Appropriate signs
giving notice of the speed limits authorized under the
provisions of subsection a. and paragraph (2) of subsection b. of this
section shall be erected by the commissioner or the
municipal or county authorities, as appropriate.
The driver of every vehicle shall, consistent with the requirements
of this section, drive at an appropriate reduced
speed when approaching and crossing an intersection or railway grade
crossing, when approaching and going around a curve,
when approaching a hill crest, when traveling upon any narrow or winding
roadway, and when special hazard exists with
respect to pedestrians or other traffic or by reason of weather or
The Commissioner of Transportation shall cause the erection and
maintenance of signs at such points of entrance to
the State as are deemed advisable, setting forth the lawful rates of
speed, the wording of which shall be within his discretion.
Amended 1939, c.211; 1942, c.325,(1942, c.325 repealed 1946, c.8);
1951, c.23, s.55; 1983, c.227, s.2; 1993, c.315,
s.2; 1997, c.415, s.1.
39:4-98.1. Designation of lower maximum speed limits for trucks of
registered gross weight of 10,000 pounds and
In accordance with the provisions of section 39:4-98 of the Revised
Statutes, the State Highway Commissioner may, by
regulation and identification by appropriate signs, designate lower
maximum speed limits for trucks of a registered gross
weight of 10,000 pounds and over, at a differential of 5 miles per
hour, on State highways, or appropriate portions thereof,
having 4 or more traffic lanes, where the legal speed limit is 50 miles
per hour or greater.
L.1960, c. 100, p. 588, s. 1.
39:4-98.2. Counties or municipalities; reduction of regular speed
limit for 72 hours for maintenance or repairs;
notice to commissioner
Any county or municipal governing body may adopt an ordinance or
resolution, as appropriate, designating a county or
municipal official who may order a reduction of a regular speed limit
for periods not to exceed 72 hours on segments of
highways under its jurisdiction for the purpose of maintenance or
repairs. Any resolution or ordinance adopted pursuant to
this act shall specify the circumstance under which a speed limit may
An order reducing the speed limit pursuant to this act shall not
require the approval of the Commissioner of
Transportation; provided, however, that it shall be the duty of the
designated county or municipal official to notify the
commissioner of the affected segment of highway no less than 7 days
before any reduced speed limit takes effect; except
that in cases of emergency situations the notification period may be
waived by the commissioner. It shall be the duty of the
designated county or municipal official to place one or more signs
indicating the reduced speed limit along the affected
Any speed limit established pursuant to this act shall be prima
facie lawful and subject to the provisions of R.S. 39:4-96
and 39:4-97 when appropriate signs giving notice thereof are erected.
L.1981, c. 237, s. 1, eff. July 27, 1981.
39:4-98.3. Short title
2.This act may be known and shall be cited as the Sixty-Five MPH
Speed Limit Implementation Act.
39:4-98.4. Definitions relative to 65mph speed limit
3.As used in this act:
Authorities means the New Jersey Highway Authority, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and the South
Jersey Transportation Authority. Thank you to the staff at NJ Car Insurance Offices Network for assembling this information