Visual Estimation Of Vehicle’s Speed In Ohio

Was that car going 47 mph or 45 mph in the 45 zone? Can you tell? Can a trained police officer tell? A recent Ohio Supreme Court case suggests they can.

In Barberton v. Jenney, the Ohio Supreme Court held that a police officer’s unaided visual estimation of a vehicle’s speed is sufficient evidence to support a conviction for speeding without independent verification of the vehicle’s speed if the officer is trained, is certified, and is experienced in visually estimating vehicle speed.

Visual estimation of speed may be significant in central Ohio O.V.I. (D.U.I.) cases because an officer’s visual estimation of a car’s speed may provide the justification for making a traffic stop. As I mentioned in an earlier post, an officer must have “reasonable articulable suspicion” to make a traffic stop: the officer must be able “to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant” making a traffic stop.

Ohio appellate courts have held that officers lacked reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop defendants’ vehicles for speeding. In Maumee v. Johnson and State v. Fountain, the trial courts granted the defendants’ motions to suppress evidence when officers made traffic stops based on the officers’ visual estimation of the defendants’ speed. In both cases, the appellate courts upheld the trial courts’ decisions because the evidence did not establish the officers’ qualifications for visually estimating the vehicles’ speed.

I currently have two cases pending that involve traffic stops based on officers’ visual estimation of speed. In one case, the officer concluded that the defendant must have been speeding because the defendant got from one point to another faster than the officer would have expected if the defendant were going the speed limit. In the other case, the officer predicted that the defendant was going 47 mph in a 45 mph zone.

Permitting traffic stops and speeding convictions based on visual estimations of speed is questionable. Within a week of the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in Barberton v. Jenney, the Columbus Dispatch reported that multiple legislators have already introduced legislation to prevent officers from writing tickets based only on visual speed estimations.