Montana's speed limit thrown out Wide-open highway law ruled too vague for drivers

December 25, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

HELENA, Mont. -- Montana's one-of-a-kind daytime speed limit -- written in law as whatever speed is "reasonable and proper" and widely interpreted as wide open -- has been struck down by the Montana Supreme Court, prompting fears that the lack of even the vague limit will lead people to drive at breakneck speeds.

In a 4-3 ruling on Wednesday, the court said the law was unconstitutionally vague and did not give drivers fair notice of what speed was fast enough to be illegal.

"The court held that based on speed alone you cannot cite somebody because they don't reasonably know what speed will violate the law," Beth Baker, Montana's chief deputy attorney general, said yesterday.

The challenge to the speed limit was brought by Rudy Stanko, a cattle buyer in Billings who had contested three tickets.

"I asked a cop how fast I could go, and he never gave me an answer," Stanko said yesterday. "They said it's up to the discretion of the cop and that ain't right. Let us decide how fast we want to travel."

Although the court threw out a speeding ticket Stanko had received for traveling 102 mph, it upheld two reckless driving counts -- one for traveling 117 mph, the other for 121 mph. Both violations were on two-lane highways as he crested a hill.

Pub Date: 12/25/98

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