Dad, What’s the Penalty for Driving 400 MPH?

Logo for Legal Crap My Kids Ask MeThis is one of many hypothetical questions I get from Max. He’s excellent at embellishing facts to make them a bit ridiculous, if not impossible. But that’s what makes them fun to think about and answer. Assuming you could drive a car 400mph down a city street, what are the possible penalties for driving it in a 30mph speed zone?

First, it is possible to drive a car more than 400mph. Or 470mph, to be exact. While absolute land-speed records (which involve jet-powered cars) are slightly north of 700mph, Don Vesco holds the “wheel-driven land speed record” of 470.444mph. Vesco set the record in 2001 while cruising along Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats in his Vesco Turbinator.

So, assuming that I hop into one of these Vesco Turbinators for a quick jaunt down Lyndale Avenue in South Minneapolis, what’s the penalty for my 400mph commute? In other words, for the roughly six mile journey downtown to the Target Center, what’s the penalty I could pay for getting there in a Turbinator in less than 60 seconds?

Here’s what I came up with, at least under Minnesota law. And, as we almost always do, let’s assume I get caught, at least this time.

  • License Revocation. Going 400mph is a bit more than Minnesota’s “extreme speed” of 100mph, the speed limit over which a driver’s license is automatically revoked.
  • Reckless or Careless Driving. I’d wager that going 400mph down Lyndale Avenue, a semi-residential street, is driving a “vehicle in such a manner as to indicate either a willful or a wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property,” otherwise known as reckless driving, a misdemeanor so long as you also don’t get into an accident. Heedless driving that endangers people (but does not involve wanton or willful disregard of that danger) is careless driving, also a misdemeanor. I’m not sure I have a strong defense against either, at least if I’m going 400mph past the Walker Art Center and the Basilica of St. Mary.
  • Racing. “Racing” is reckless driving but involves a person who “willfully compares or contests relative speeds” while driving, no matter the posted speed (and it also includes boats). I guess it could be a defense to racing if you were actually commuting to work in your Vesco Turbinator—that is, not “contesting” the Dodge Caravan you passed a few milliseconds back. Or not trying to best the wheel-driven land speed record of 470mph. Doubtful.

Those are the crimes. Max, though, asked about the penalty for driving down the road at 400mph—370mph over the Minneapolis city speed limit. If caught and convicted of speeding, it would mean a fine of at least $212, plus whatever surcharges the court tacks on these days, plus more if I happened to pass through a designated work or school zone. And if convicted of reckless driving, it could mean up to 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both. Finally, for “extreme speed”—speed in excess of 100mph in Minnesota—I’d get my license revoked for at least six months. Worth it to go 400mph down a city street. Probably in the mind of a 13-year-old.

As an aside, the closest anyone has come to such extreme speeding was a Minnesota motorcyclist allegedly clocked at 205mph on a rural road with a posted speed limit of 65mph. Though folks doubted that his Honda RC51 motorcycle could go that fast, the cyclist ultimately pled guilty to speeding and for failing to possess a valid motorcycle license. He avoided a careless driving conviction, paid a fine, and did 200 hours of community service.

Gregory D. Luce is the editor of Bitter Lawyer. Among other things, he writes Legal Crap My Kids Ask Me, answering legal and pseudo-legal questions he actually receives from his kids. God help you if you think any of these answers constitute legal advice.

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