Direct shear experiments on ground surfaces of a granodiorite from Raymond, California, at normal stresses of ∼6 MPa demonstrate that competing time, displacement, and velocity effects control rock friction. It is proposed that the strength of the population of points of contacts between sliding surfaces determines frictional strength and that the population of contacts changes continuously with displacements. Previous experiments demonstrate that the strength of the contacts increases with the age of the contacts. The present experiments establish that a characteristic displacement, proportional to surface roughness, is required to change the population of contacts. Hence during slip the average age of the points of contact and therefore frictional strength decrease as slip velocity increases. Displacement weakening and consequently the potential for unstable slip occur whenever displacement reduces the average age of the contacts. In addition to this velocity dependency, which arises from displacement dependency and time dependency, the experiments also show a competing but transient increase in friction whenever slip velocity increases. Creep of the sliding surface at stresses below that for steady state slip is also observed. Constitutive relationships are developed that permit quantitative simulation of the friction versus displacement data as a function of surface roughness and for different time and velocity histories. Unstable slip in experiments is controlled by these constitutive effects and by the stiffness of the experimental system. It is argued that analogous properties control earthquake instability.