Every jurisdiction in the world has speeding statutes, which set rates of speed for various areas and set relevant punishments for offenders.

Although drafting techniques may differ, jurisdictions usually stipulate general speed limits. For example, pursuant to §128 of Ontario's Highway Traffic Act, the rate of speed is "50 kilometres per hour on a highway within a local municipality or within a built-up area" and "80 kilometres per hour on a highway ... or the maximum rate of speed posted on a highway...."

This is similar to the provision in British Columbia (§146, Motor Vehicle Act) while Alberta's Traffic Safety Act, at §106, sets 80kmh and 100kmh limits for highways, and a 50kmh limit within an "urban area".

Speeding can be determined by an observer, who later testifies in court if necessary, and is often a police officer, or with the assistance of some scientific device which, at this time, is the radar. In some cases, skid marks might be enough to convict.

The web of law is made complete by tort law which upon a determination of speeding and the casual connection between that conduct and an accident causing harm and presto: negligence.

speeding ticketOverlapped by many statutes which, when in conflict, take precedence, the common law on speeding was stated by the Manitoba Court of Appeal in the 1955 case of Voth v Friesen:

"The general duty respecting speed is that every person who drives a motor vehicle must do so with due care and attention and with reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway."

Earlier in the same judgment, the Court set out the rationale behind speeding limits:

"A motorist must at all times act with the greatest prudence.... The many deaths and the great damage caused by motor traffic can only be minimized by motorists recognizing the necessity of strictly discharging their duty in driving motor cars. Unless judges and juries in both civil and criminal cases lay more stress on the duty of motorists and the danger to themselves and others..., serious accidents and unnecessary loss of life will continue."

In some, but not all jurisdictions, a general anti-speeding rule is set out over and above specific speed limits. For example, the 2009 version of the Motor Vehicle Act of British Columbia has this general statement at §144(c):

" A person must not drive a motor vehicle on a highway ... at a speed that is excessive relative to the road, traffic, visibility or weather conditions."

Fortunately, the typical first contact a driver has with speeding laws is not a fatal accident but, rather, is in the receipt of a speeding ticket, in which a law enforcement officer states that he or she exceeded the rate of speed in the area the motor vehicle was being driven.

A word, first, about radar devices. The use of radar devices to ascertain an illegal rate of speed is controversial as is the use of any new crime prevention technology.

Photo radar particularly irks some lawyers as they espouse an irrational yet traditional fear of unmanned, robotic law enforcement devices.speeding sign

Many jurisdictions wisely encourage the use of radar devices which has spawned a host of legal cases challenging every angle of these little law enforcement robots. To wit, speeding tickets based on radar readings have been successfully challenged where the evidence is not conclusive that the device is authorized, that the operator of the radar was qualified, or that the radar had been recently tested or properly calibrated.

Emergency vehicle, such as ambulances, fire trucks or police vehicles are entitled to exceed speed limits in specified circumstances, as outlined in the highway traffic or motor vehicle law of each jurisdiction. For example, the 2009 version of Alberta's Traffic Safety Act defines an emergency vehicle as:

"... a vehicle operated by a police service as defined in the Police Act; a fire‑fighting or other type of vehicle operated by the fire protection service of a municipality; an ambulance operated by a person or organization providing ambulance services; a vehicle operated as a gas disconnection unit of a public utility; (and) a vehicle designated by regulation as an emergency response unit."

The government gives formal notice of speed limits by posting signs, which then are prima facie proof of the speed limit. The prosecution has to prove the fact of a speeding sign.

You've got to love lawyers. In R v Podaima, lawyer M. Y. Diamond of Manitoba creatively argued that a sign which read SPEED LIMIT 30 could just as readily mean that the minimum speed was 30! The Court of Appeal politely disagreed and convicted his client of speeding based on the sign.

Speeding is not a true crime. Similar to a crime, the prosecution has to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt. But unlike many crimes, no criminal record ensues and the prosecution does not have to prove an intent to speed. The mere fact of speeding, whether the driver was aware of it or not, is enough to convict. Thus, even without a working speedometer, or any speedometer at all, conviction would still stand. It is the driver's responsibility to make sure they are within speeding limits.

However, the prosecution may opt to proceed against the speeding driver if circumstances warrant. Canada's Criminal Code prohibits street racing and this relevant offence at §249(1):

"Every one commits an offence who operates a motor vehicle in a manner that is dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances, including the nature, condition and use of the place at which the motor vehicle is being operated and the amount of traffic that at the time is or might reasonably be expected to be at that place.... "

The offence of speeding is generally communicated to the driver by way of a violation ticket, commonly known as a traffic ticket.

The law is in an unsatisfactory state when it comes to the faint hope that a person might escape conviction of a speeding offence where they were rushing to an emergency. In the first place, most law enforcement officers would instantly assist a driver in such a situation rather than issue a speeding violation.

In R v Kennedy, the driver said that he was speeding because he was the subject of road rage and was being pursued by another car.Justice O'Hearn of the Nova Scotia County Court observed in obiter dictum, that:

"... such a defence might be available to the defendant in certain circumstances."

However, in another Nova Scotia case (R v Paul), the driver broke the speed limit rushing back to take care of "some young people". But the defence failed, the court noting that the offence was a strict liability offence such that the "why" of it was irrelevant and then going on to agree with the obiter in R v Kennedy!

In R v Fry (1977), Provincial Court judge Boyce acquitted a driver charged with speeding when he, too, alleged he was speeding to evade a road rage tail-gater:

"Certainly, the accused here endangered the public, but I do realize an extremity of circumstance can arise where a choice is made, that is, forced to be made. For example, as I have mentioned possibly occurred here, to flee by speed an actual present danger thrust upon him, or to suffer its continuance with its fearsome potential. The way ahead was clear, in fact while I do not commend his judgment, his choice to my mind was not criminal."

In 1994, Justice Sigurdson of the British Columbia Supreme Court, in R v Morris,  noted that the defence of necessity might be available to a person charged with speeding.