Over the past year, our investigative team found case after case of speed limits that are not set properly by law. Many of the local roads we surveyed in Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties have speed limits that are set under the 10th percentile.
That means 90% or more of traffic is flowing above the speed limit.
Executives at the Michigan State Police have encouraged local governments to set most of their speed limits at the 85th percentile speed of all drivers. Members of the agency's Traffic Services section literally wrote the book for local leaders to help them comply with the law, encouraging them to base speed limits on science and not some arbitrary number.
Yet, from the e-mails we obtained, it appears even after all that outreach work, the MSP's director is intent on enforcing posted signs whether speed limits have been studied or not.
The key case in our investigation centers on the Village of Saranac in Ionia County. That's where driver Anthony Owen was charged last September with operating while under the influence, possession of a firearm while intoxicated and concealed pistol license holder possessing a firearm while intoxicated.
He was pulled over on Sept. 5, 2015 on Parsonage Road.
Dash cam and body cam video we obtained show two Ionia County deputies in a car speeding after Owen who was clocked driving his truck 43 mph in a 25-mph zone.
During the traffic stop, the deputies asked Owen if he had been drinking and he confirmed he had.
"I've had 3 or 4," Owen said.
The video indicates the deputies found alcohol in the vehicle as well. The video shows deputies asking him again if he had been drinking while driving and he told them he hadn't.
"I wasn't drinking and driving," Owen said.
Earlier this year, Owen was exonerated on all charges because the traffic stop was deemed to be invalid because of an illegal speed limit.
Ionia County District Court Judge Raymond Voet declared the speed limit on Parsonage Road to be 55 mph, not 25 mph. The 55 mph speed limit is the default speed limit used in Michigan if no other speed limit has been established. Because Owen was going 43 mph in a 55 mph zone, there was no reason for the deputies to stop him.
Ionia County Prosecutor Kyle Butler appealed Judge Voet's decision and lost in Ionia County Circuit Court. Both judges who decided the case said Saranac didn't have any documentation to show how the speed limit was set.