Top Speed

We’ve all already heard it in the news already: Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple Inc., was recently pulled over in California for driving at a rate of 104 mph (167 km/h) in his Toyota Prius. You may read the original article by Gary Richards at the San Jose Mercury News website: “Can Prius top 100 mph? Ask Wozniak.” Now, according to the list of speed limits in the United States, Mr. Wozniak was likely in an area where the speed limit was 70 mph, putting him 34 mph above the legal limit and therefore justifying his approximately $700 ticket. I believe Woz’s story of 104 mph (though cops do sometimes get speeds wrong, as in this recent story from my state: “Motorcycle enthusiasts question 205 mph ticket.”) I do not, however, believe Woz’s explanation.

First, let’s cast aside all the “haha, the wimpy Prius can go fast” quips, similar to those put forth by Mr. Richards, Mr. Gruber, and others. Let’s look at the facts. The United States 2007 Toyota Prius spec sheet does not supply the top rated speed of the vehicle. The European spec sheet, however, does. That speed is 106 mph (170km/h). Now, given the fact that European and American specs can differ due to discrepancies in environmental impact regulations and electronic governors, it is helpful to turn to the “HEVAmerica, U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Vehicle Testing Activity: Toyota Prius” stats, which report that the top speed reached by a US 2004 Prius after one mile of driving was 104.2 mph. Given that the 2004-2007 Prius body styles are aerodynamically identical, all having a coefficient of drag of 0.26, it is reasonable to assume that the top speed of a US Prius is something like 105 mph, giving Woz about 1 mph of headroom on his claim.

Here’s where things make less sense: Woz, in his “guilty with an excuse” courtroom appearance, declared that his scientifically inclined mind and worldly traveling of late put his mind in kilometers per hour mode. This argument has a modicum of truth in one specific situation: if one is accustomed to fixating on the interior region of the speed limit dial, where the units are kilometers. The problem is, the Prius doesn’t have a speed limit dial. It has a digital readout (image from an Edmunds Prius Gallery) of the current speed, with two digital reminders (odometer and speedometer) that the units are in miles per hour. So, yes, the car could’ve gone that speed and no, I do not believe Woz’s weak excuse.

19 comments left



From what I know of Woz, it was probably less of an actual excuse and more his idea of a joke.


He was probably in a hurry to some sports bar with one of his TV interference gadgets. Or perhaps trying to outrun an angry mob of baseball fans.

Vas the Man

I don’t believe him either - it’s a stupid excuse. The speed readout is in mph and the speed limit signs are in mph - he can’t tell me he was converting the limit to km/h in his head. Anywhere else, the speed limit signs are in km/h, which also matches your speedo. If he has a “grey import” car with metric instruments that he regularly drives in the US, I could buy it, maybe. But 100mph feels a lot faster than 100km/h no matter how much you travel.


The Prius actually has a button that lets you switch the display from miles per hour to kilometers per hour

In both cases you see the speed displayed as three large numbers with a little MPH or KPH on the side, so it’s easy to switch from MPH to KPH to mess with the person driving.

That being said, the Prius really isn’t meant to go 100 mph, and is much louder that most cars at that speed, so I think that Woz was either making a joke or grasping at straws.


C’mon, it’s Woz! He takes uncut sheets of $2 bills out and cuts them into funny shapes and uses them for tender. He likes tweaking authority!


on my first drive in a prius i hit the km/mi button thinking it just switched the measurement of fuel efficiency (the button is right underneath the readout for liters/100km.)

Mike Cohen

The Prius has a MPH/KPH switch. When I got mine, it was set to KPH during the test drive, which nearly freaked me out when I thought I was going 90MPH on I-95.

P.S. on my first attempt to post this, I only saw 4 characters, not 6.


So, was he endangering anyone else on the road? That’s about the only thing that matters to me. Personally things don’t get interesting until you hit about 110.


It’s court. Lying is a serious offense under any circumstance. If he really was joking … well even though I love Woz I’m glad they didn’t buy his BS excuse.


I blame Kathy Griffin.

Steve Wozniak

I did it as a joke. I’d been told the fine amount before driving to court and brought the check with me. I even took my passport as part of the joke and told the judge that inthe prior year I’d been in Singapore (actually over a year there), Tokyo, London, Frankfurt, Berlin, Munich (twice), Zurich, Athens, Moscow, Canada (3 times) and more. I also said that the Prius was part electric and so smooth you scarcely notice the speed. Only 100+ mph cases and second DUI’s were in court and my story was the only entertainment of the day. The judge smiled. Remember that I’d already pled guilty.

I have driven to L.A., San Luis Obispo, San Diego and Las Vegas a half dozen times since getting this ticket. On each of those trips I set the cruise control of my Prius at the limit. I got to San Diego from Los Gatos on a single 12-gallon tank of gas, averaging 47+ mpg. To Las Vegas I went 72 mph max (limit 70 on highway 5) and averaged 44+mpg. I told the judge truthfully that I’d slowed down.

Kathy Griffin was in the car when this occurred but the cop didn’t notice her because her head was down. Sorry for the one-liner but I couldn’t resist. I have never met or talked to Kathy but have to play this out.

War Machine

In response to the comment above:

Do we have another fake Steve? I demand proof!


A scoop for this blog: “Woz denies knowing Kathy Griffin.”


Given that the average octane rating for gasoline (or petrol as we call it over here) in Europe is between 95 and 98, and the average octane rating for gasoline in the US is between 87 and 90, I would estimate the top speed of a Prius in the US to be significantly slower than one in Europe (106mph as stated), unless the driver had some of that lovely high-octane Euro-gas in their tank.


Hm, well, it’s a weak excuse any way you look at it, but the post and comments seem to be overlooking something and/or getting it backwards.

Let’s go back to an analog speedometer for a second. In a country where the speed limits are in kilometers, it is the normal outside large numbers of the dial that are marked with those units. So you go back to the US after being in a country where the speed limit is 100 or so (kph) and you’re used to seeing the dial point to 100 with regularity.

In the case of Woz and the Prius, it’s a digital readout. It just says 104. In kph that’s a nice reasonable speed, equal to just 64 mph. He didn’t switch the readout to kph. If the readout was in kph at that speed, it would have said 167! If he had switched it, it would have kept him under the speed limit though.

Anyway, point being it isn’t that farfetched an argument. You look at the numbers, thinking they are kph like they are elsewhere in the world. 104 is a reasonable speed in kph. It’s a good excuse, except for the fact that a 40 mph difference in speed is totally obvious in any car, let alone a Prius.


The only difference in octane is the measuring system used. Europeans use “research octane,” while U.S. gas stations use an average between the research octane and the “motor octane.”

While I have never driven my Prius at its max speed, it has plenty of pep, though I try to drive with a light foot.

Dan McKeown +1

Sorry CrazyOne but I cannot buy that. While 100kph is reasonable, one who drives with any regularity would certainly be able to tell the difference between 60mph and 100! To allow the argument that Mr. Wozniak could only judge his speed by a brief glance at the dashboard and not by other visual or even audible cues is, honestly, just silly. I would hope that his “argument” was a joke like people have been saying (including, apparently, the man himself on this illustrious website). Also, Kathy Griffin is still alive?

Steve Wozniak

The argument was a joke to lighten up the courtroom. It was awfully good. I was in km countries more than in the U.S. for an entire year and a half. The Prius on highway 5 is smooth and quiet enough that with no traffic you would have trouble telling that it’s 100 mph. The guage is digital with a huge 100 and a tiny mph next to it, that my eyes can barely see. So it’s not a bad story. But it was offered while pleading guilty, not as an attempt to beat a ticket. I have had at least a half dozen day-long trips since that ticket and have gone the limit (or very close) and gotten very good mileage. I use the lowest octane rating gas and got to San Diego on one 12-gallon tank, averaging 47 mph. This slower driving makes me happy and I have modified my behavior since the ticket.

Kathy was in the car but she called it a pre-us. Just joking again.

Brief Notes Nearby