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Chapter 12 - Traffic Laws in the State of Arizona
Traffic laws need to be respected. The law is one thing... following prudent advice is another. As with anything in life, know the rules and guidelines before you get involved with something. The laws and rules of the road should not be afterthoughts, but learned and observed.
Lights and Horns
It is said that the eyes are a human being's window to the world. Similarly, the lights on a vehicle are its eyes and are essential to the safe operation of a motor vehicle. The following laws and requirements should be acknowledged:
Headlights should be used when it is cloudy, raining, snowing, foggy or when windows may be icy.
- ARS § 28-922 requires you to use headlights from sunset to sunrise. Additionally, headlights must be used anytime you cannot see at least 500 ft. ahead.
- Headlights must be on low beam when you are within 500 ft. of an approaching vehicle or 200 ft. of the vehicle ahead (the vehicle you are immediately following).
- High beams may be used only when there is no direct negative impact on any other drivers.
- All new cars as of 1986 must have a third rear brake light mounted on the rear window.
- Taillights should be maintained as they are warning mechanisms for vehicles to the rear.
- Emergency hazard lights or flashers should only be utilized in distress situations to alert other drivers of a problem. These lights are the same used as brake lights, and a switch or button inside the car activates them. When activated, they flash at a regular interval until turned off. These flashing red lights should warn other drivers that you have a problem and imply that they should use extra caution around you.
- Headlights should be used when it is cloudy, raining, snowing, foggy or when windows may be icy. These conditions may make it difficult to see other cars.
- Headlights should be used during the daytime when driving on mountain roads, country roads, through canyons or tunnels, or any other time you have difficulty seeing.
- It is illegal to drive with only your parking lights on at night.
- Any vehicle may add two auxiliary lamps (fog, passing, or driving lamps). The lamps must be placed on the front of the vehicle at a height that depends on their type. Fog lamps must be placed at a height of not less than 12 inches and not more than 30 inches. Passing auxiliary lamps may be no less than 24 inches nor more than 42 inches above the surface. Driving auxiliary lamps may be placed a height of not less than 16 inches and not more than 42 inches.
Unfortunately, use of the horn has become a spark plug for road rage situations. Use of the horn, however, should not be feared, but used as a means to save lives. As a warning mechanism, there is nothing more effective in your vehicle. The horn should be used only as a communication tool to warn other drivers.
The horn should be used as a means to save lives.
- The horn should be used at any time it is necessary to avoid a collision.
- If the roadway doesn't permit your vehicle to travel completely to the right side of the lane when approaching a curve with an unobstructed view of less than 200 feet, you must give audible warning to other drivers with the horn.
- Do not use the horn to attract the attention of other drivers unless necessary to avoid collisions or for the safe operation of your vehicle.
- When driving on a mountain road where visibility is impaired and you cannot see at least 200 ft. ahead, sound the vehicle's horn as a warning to other drivers of your vehicle's presence. As a rule, the horn should only be utilized in emergency or distress situations and must be in good working order and capable of emitting sound audible from a distance of at least 200 feet.
Brake lights are an essential part of safe driving.
Brake lights should be functional and properly maintained as they are essential to safe driving. They need to be visible from a distance of at least 100 feet to the rear. Any vehicles that immediately follow your car need to have ample warning of an impending stop in order to adequately slow down. Missing or inoperable brake lights often lead to rear-end collisions since the drivers behind are unaware that the vehicle ahead is slowing. Tailgating is a major problem on the roads today, and inoperable brake lights only add to the danger. It is nearly impossible to judge whether a vehicle is slowing down without the brake or warning lights functioning. A simple periodic check of the vehicle's brake lights will prevent this problem from occurring. NOTE: Backing or back up lights should be maintained and properly working because they increase visibility for your vehicle and alert other motorists and pedestrians of your intention to back up. These lights are typically white when illuminated.
Turn signals allow other drivers to see your intention to turn.
Always signal to let other drivers know of your intention to turn or change lanes. Watch for other drivers' signals at all times. Turn signals are located next to the headlights on the front and next to the brake lights on the rear of the vehicle. They must be visible to others from a distance of at least 100 feet to the front and rear. Turn signals allow other drivers to see your intention to turn or change lanes. To signal, simply move the lever (which is connected to the steering wheel) up for a right signal or down for a left signal. Some important tips to remember include:
- Signal before pulling towards or away from the curb.
- Signal before changing lanes.
- Signal during the last 100 feet before turning, and on the freeway, it is best to signal at least five seconds before changing lanes.
- Signal to warn other drivers of a collision ahead.
- Use brake lights to signal your intention to stop or brake quickly.
A. You must yield the right-of-way to all emergency vehicles, including police cars, ambulances, fire engines and any other vehicles using a siren and red or blue lights. When an emergency vehicle approaches, ARS § 28-775 requires you to immediately drive to a position parallel to and as close as possible to the right curb of the roadway clear of any intersection. You are then required to stop and remain in that position until the vehicle has passed.
B. Emergency vehicles travel quite rapidly, often moving into opposing lanes of traffic, alerting other vehicles with horns or speakers that they are approaching. Never follow within 500 feet of a fire truck traveling in an emergency situation. Do not approach or drive parallel to a police vehicle that has its emergency lights and siren activated. You must pull over to the right and stay at least 300 feet back until the police vehicle moves to the lane closest to the right-hand edge or curb of the road. Emergency vehicles exist for the safety of everyone. They need to be respected.
C. If you come upon a parked emergency vehicle that is on your right and has its emergency signals on, you must yield to that vehicle by changing into a lane away from the emergency vehicle. You must do this only if it is safe and you are on a road with at least two lanes going in your direction. If it is not possible to change lanes safely, you must slow down and pass the vehicle with due caution. Emergency workers often put their lives at risk helping others. Protect them by giving them space.
Controlling your vehicle's speed is the best way to prevent loss of control and collisions. You must be aware of legal and safe speeds at all times. Approximately 31% of all traffic fatalities in the United States are speed-related.
Section 28-701, Article 6 titled "Speed Restrictions" of Arizona's Revised Statutes states:
A. A person shall not drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the circumstances, conditions and actual and potential hazards then existing. A person shall control the speed of a vehicle as necessary to avoid colliding with any object, person, vehicle or other conveyance on, entering or adjacent to the highway in compliance with legal requirements and the duty of all persons to exercise reasonable care for the protection of others.
[The key words here are "reasonable and prudent" and "control" of a vehicle's speed. Drivers must always be prepared to adapt to the often fickle and varied conditions on Arizona's highways. Keeping the speed of your vehicle appropriately in control is essential toward complying with the law, which holds that it is everyone's duty "to exercise reasonable care for the protection of others."]
B. Except as provided in subsections C and D of this section or except if a special hazard requires a lesser speed, any speed in excess of the following speeds is prima facie evidence that the speed is too great and therefore unreasonable:
- 15 miles per hour approaching a school crossing.
- 25 mph in a business or residential district.
- 65 mph in other locations.
[This subsection lays out basic speed limits on Arizona roads. For those who aren't legal or Latin scholars, Webster's Dictionary defines "prima facie" as an adjective meaning "true, valid, or sufficient at first impression: apparent; legally sufficient to establish a fact or a case unless disproved."]
C. The speed limits prescribed in this section may be altered as authorized in sections 28-702 and 28-703.
[Speed limits may be changed if the MVD determines that they are higher or lower than what is reasonable or safe under different conditions in areas such as freeways, intersections and roads adjacent to school grounds.]
D. The maximum speed provided in this section is reduced to the speed that is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and with regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing, including the following conditions:
- Approaching and crossing an intersection or railroad crossing.
- Approaching and going around a curve.
- Approaching a hillcrest.
- Traveling on a narrow or winding roadway.
- A special hazard exists with respect to pedestrians or other traffic or by reason of weather or highway conditions.
["Reasonable and prudent" decision-making about your speed is reiterated here, with special attention placed on highly hazardous spots on the road requiring slower speeds than the usual flow of traffic.]
E. A person shall not drive a motor vehicle at a speed that is less than the speed that is reasonable and prudent under existing conditions.
Section 28-701.02, "Excessive speeds; classification," holds that you are guilty of excessive speed if you:
- Exceed 35 mph approaching a school crossing.
- Exceed the posted speed limit in a business or residential district by more than 20 mph, or if no speed limit is posted, exceed 45 mph.
- Exceed 85 mph in other locations.
B. A person who violates subsection A of this section is guilty of a class 3 misdemeanor.
C. A person charged with a violation of this section may not be issued a civil complaint for a violation of section 28-701 if the civil complaint alleges a violation arising out of the same circumstances.
Criminal speed is any speed 21 mph or more over the posted speed limit in a business or residential area or any speed in excess of 85 mph; if cited for this offense, it would be a criminal offense. You could be arrested and then incarcerated for this offense, and would only be able to attend a defensive driving course if you meet all the normal criteria and the judge gives you permission. If you are cited and convicted for noncriminal speeding, such as going 32 mph in a 25 mph zone, you would be subject to civil penalties and you will have the option to take a defensive driving course. If convicted of criminal speed, you will have three points put on your driving record.
Racing on the road is also a criminal offense. A first conviction will lead to a license suspension of up to 90 days and add eight points on your driving record. A second conviction within two years makes this a felony. Your license will be revoked, and you will not be eligible for probation, pardon, suspension of sentence or release for any reason until you have served a minimum of 10 days in jail or prison.
Section 28-702.04, "Maximum speed limit on interstate highways outside urbanized areas; definition," states:
A. The speed limit for all types of motor vehicles is 65 mph on the interstate system highways located outside of an urbanized area with a population of 50,000 or more persons, except that the director may declare a lower speed limit on the highways pursuant to section 28-702.
The Highway Department has the authority to raise the limit to 75 mph if it deems it is safe to do so.
[Sometimes, situations such as roadway maintenance or construction affect the flow of traffic, and the need arises for specially reduced speeds through such areas. The MVD will determine appropriate speeds for a given situation and post temporary signs indicating this change in the speed limit. Speed limits may also be changed according to design or engineering of the roadway.]
Section 28-706, "Special speed limitations," states:
B. A person shall not drive a vehicle over any bridge or other elevated structure constituting a part of a highway at a speed that is greater than the maximum speed that can be maintained with safety to the bridge or structure if the structure is signposted as provided in this section.
[This section is a reminder to pay special attention to signs posted before bridges or other kinds of "elevated structures" and adjust your speed accordingly.]
A work zone is usually defined as the part of a roadway/highway being used or occupied for conducting highway work within which workers, vehicles, equipment, materials, supplies and excavations or other obstructions are present.
Some facts about work zones:
- As states and the federal government focus on rebuilding/refurbishing the highway system in the post-interstate era, more work zones will be set up each year. More work zones mean more risk of collisions and fatalities.
- The most common crash in a highway work zone is the rear-end collision.
- In Arizona, when workers are present in construction zones, speeding fines are doubled.
- Enforcement of traffic laws in work zones is usually enforced 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- Traffic enforcement in work zones is usually enhanced because of the potential risks and dangers.
Keep an eye out for mobile speed limit indicators or temporary speed limit signs and adjust your speed accordingly.
Section 28-709, "Maximum speed limit for large vehicles and vehicles with trailers," says:
A. Unless a lower maximum speed limit is posted or the department designates a greater maximum speed limit ...a person shall not drive either of the following on a highway in this state at a speed that is greater than 65 mph:
- A motor vehicle or vehicle combination with a declared gross weight of more than 26,000 pounds, excluding a motor vehicle designed for carrying 16 or more passengers, including the driver. For the purposes of this paragraph, "declared gross weight" and "vehicle combination" have the same meaning prescribed in section 28-5431.
- A vehicle that is drawing a pole trailer that weighs 6,000 or more pounds.
[It is important for drivers of large vehicles to pay close attention to signs indicating speed limits for vehicles such as trucks. If no signs specifically indicate a set speed limit, big rigs and "oversized loads" would be subject to posted speed limits.]
When approaching a school crossing zone, the maximum speed allowed is 15 mph. Always drive more carefully around schools, playgrounds, and parks because children may suddenly dart into the street. No matter what speed limit signs say, you should never drive faster than 15 mph when the school ground has no fence and children are outside. Always be on the lookout for school safety patrols or school crossing guards and obey their instructions. Children at play or crossing streets without looking all call for a dramatic reduction in vehicular speed. School zones have prominent street signs and markings calling for extreme caution and reduced speeds.
Don't get caught speeding with the flow of traffic. *Drive at your chosen speed - not someone else's.
*Hint: This statement may appear on the environmental portion of the exam.
Driving Too Fast for Highway and Traffic Conditions
A. The basic speed rule demands that you never operate a motor vehicle at a speed that is unsafe for the road or too fast for conditions; you must drive at a "reasonable and prudent" speed in all conditions. ARS § 28-701 demands that all drivers use discretion and common sense while driving and not drive at unsafe speeds. Driving 35 mph, for example, in a 35 mph zone during a severe rainstorm may be a violation of the basic speed law. A determination of safe driving speed must be made by all drivers at all times, and not just awareness of the maximum speeds allowed by law. Underlying factors that may contribute to driving conditions must be factored in when assessing a safe speed. This law exists to slow down drivers in adverse conditions, not to allow them to exceed safe speeds.
B. Minimum speed laws are important to ensure safe traffic flow on roadways. You should not drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law. More importantly, you may be a danger on the road to vehicles traveling at higher speeds and also risk the possibility of a rear-end collision. When driving at slow speeds, you should travel in the lane furthest to the right.
ARS § 28-704 (c) states that "if a person is driving a vehicle at a speed less than the normal flow of traffic at the particular time and place on a two-lane highway where passing is unsafe, and if five or more vehicles are formed in a line behind the vehicle, the person shall turn the vehicle off the roadway at the nearest place designated as a turnout by signs erected by the director or a local authority, or wherever sufficient area for a safe turnout exists, in order to permit the vehicles following to proceed." Additionally, on multi-lane roadways, if vehicles approach and appear to want to pass, you should again signal and change lanes, proceeding to the right. Not only does awareness of safe driving procedures when traveling at slow speeds reduce the risk of a traffic collision, it also helps to avoid drivers possessed by road rage.
NOTE: Always be aware of slow-moving vehicles you may be approaching.