The driving law of California stipulates many specific rules. They may be numerous, but all of them are meant to promote road safety. This makes it important for all drivers in California to know and practice them. Read on to learn more about the driving law currently implemented in the state of California.
Driving Law of California | 15 Rules of the Road
1. Right-Hand Traffic
Traffic flow in the state of California follows the right-hand traffic (RHT) pattern. All vehicles are required to drive on the right side of the road. As such, traffic signs along Californian roads are often put up on the right side of the road. Unless you’re planning on overtaking or switching lanes, it’s best to drive on the right-most lane at all times.
Trivia: Driving in the United States and its territories generally follows the RHT pattern except in the US Virgin Islands. There, vehicles drive on the left side of the road.
The right-of-way driving law is implemented to promote road safety and maintain a smooth traffic flow. This rule is especially useful for motorists who aren’t sure if they should continue driving or yield to let others pass. Here are a couple of situations where a driver is expected to yield right-of-way:
- Always stop for pedestrians at crosswalks; give pedestrians ample time to cross, especially if they’re elderly, disabled, or with young children
- Never stop on the crosswalk. Your vehicle should be at least 5 feet away from the pedestrian lane so people can cross safely
- At intersections, the car that arrived there first has the right-of-way
- If two vehicles get to an intersection at the same time, the motorist on the right side of the road has the right-of-way
- Vehicles already in a roundabout have the right-of-way. Approaching motorists must slow down and enter the traffic circle only when there’s a big enough gap to merge safely
- On steep mountain roads, vehicles driving uphill have the right-of-way. Those driving downhill should stop or backup to let uphill drivers pass first
Tip: Never assume you have the right-of-way, or that other drivers will give it to you. Slow down or stop to let other motorists and pedestrians pass if it will prevent accidents from happening.
3. Maximum Speed Limit
California implements a “Basic Speed Law” which means motorists can’t drive beyond a certain speed for specific road conditions. Let’s say you’re on a 40 mph speed zone and you’re driving 55 mph. If caught, you can be ticketed for driving “too fast for conditions.”
Sixty-five miles per hour is the maximum speed limit observed on most Californian highways. This generally applies to highways that don’t have road signs indicating another speed limit. There are some exceptions:
- Cars must observe a maximum speed of 55 mph when driving on two-lane undivided highways or when towing trailers
- Some road signs specify a speed limit which can go up to 70 mph
4. Reduced Speed Limits
There are designated areas in California where drivers are required to comply with reduced speed limits that are much lower than 65 mph. Examples of these areas include:
- When you’re driving within 500 to 1,000 feet from a school or hospital zone, the speed limit is 25 mph and can even go as low as 15 mph.
- The speed limit for most business and residential districts is usually capped at 25 mph
- There’s also a 15 mph speed limit in roads which are 100 feet from a railroad crossing
- At alleys and blind intersections, you can’t drive faster than 15 mph
5. Numbered Traffic Lanes
Most major roads in California are divided into three different traffic lanes. Choosing which lane to drive in depends on where you’re going and how fast you are driving.
The “Number 1 Lane” is on the leftmost side of the road. It’s also known as the “fast lane” because vehicles on this lane are expected to drive at the maximum speed limit.
The center lane is called “Number 2 Lane”. It’s best to stay in this lane when you’re driving straight ahead. It’s where drivers should experience the smoothest traffic flow.
The right-most lane is the “Number 3 Lane”. This one is for slow-driving vehicles or drivers who are planning to make a right-hand exit.
6. Changing Lanes
To change lanes, you must first turn on your signal, then check your side and rear-view mirrors to see whether the lane you’re moving to is clear. Next, slowly steer your car towards the lane you want to drive in.
7. Passing Lanes
Unless stated otherwise by road signs, passing lanes or “overtaking” is legal in California. When you want to overtake another vehicle, driving rules state that you must do so by passing on the left. You can only pass traffic on the right when the vehicle ahead is signaling a left turn.
8. Traffic Signal Lights and Signs
Obeying all traffic signal lights and signs is a must. For example, when the traffic light is changing from yellow to red as you approach, slow down and come to a full stop. Don’t step on your accelerator to “beat the red light.” And when you see a road sign ahead, make sure to read, understand, and follow it.
When you want to turn left, start by moving over to the left-most lane of the road. Switch on your left signal light when you’re at least 100 feet away from making the turn. Reduce your speed and look over your shoulder to check for incoming vehicles. When the road is clear, you can make the turn. Do the same steps when you want to turn right. But if you’ll cut across a bike lane, you need to switch on your right signal light at least 200 feet before making the turn and check twice for bikers.
Making a U-turn at intersections is also legal in California. Unless stated otherwise by a “No U-Turn” sign, drivers can make a U-turn when:
- The intersection you are on has double yellow lines on the road
- You’re in a residential district and there are no approaching vehicles within 200 feet of you
- The green traffic signal light or arrow is on
Curbs are generally color-coded to help you determine whether or not you can park in that spot. You can park for a specific amount of time along the green and yellow-painted curbs. White-painted curbs are strictly drop-off and pick-up zones only. All vehicles are not allowed to stop, wait, or park at curbs that are painted red. Meanwhile, blue-painted curbs are reserved for disabled persons or their drivers.
It is illegal to park in places that have “No Parking” signs. Your car can also be towed for being parked on a crosswalk, in a disabled person’s parking space (unless you are disabled), or if it’s within 15 feet of a fire hydrant (sometimes less by local ordinance).
12. Yielding to Emergency Vehicles
When you hear the siren of an emergency vehicle coming your way, you must yield the right-of-way to them. Drive to the right-most side of the road and stop so the ambulance, police car, or fire truck can pass. Resume driving only after the emergency vehicle passes you. Don’t move to tailgate them either. You can be ticketed for being within 300 feet behind such vehicles, especially when their sirens are on.
13. Seat Belts and Safety Seats
In the state of California, it’s required by the law to wear a seatbelt every time you are in a vehicle. The driver and passengers are required to wear a seatbelt, which includes the lap belt and shoulder harness. It is important to remember that kids under the age of 8 years old must be properly secured in an approved car seat or booster chair in the back seat. Children who are currently 8 years old OR have reached the size of 4’9” may be secured by utilizing a booster seat, but at the very minimum must be secured by a safety belt. (CVC Section No. 27363.)
14. Driver’s License
When you’re driving in California, you must always bring your driver’s license with you. If you’re a resident, the license you’re driving with should be issued by the state of California. If you’re from out of town and only visiting, you can drive with the license issued by your home state provided it’s valid. However, if you’re a minor or adult who’s only learning to drive, you’ll need to present a learner’s permit when you’re on the road instead.
15. Phone Use And Driving Under The Influence (DUI)
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal in California. When a police officer determines your blood alcohol concentration levels to be 0.08% or higher, you will be charged with a DUI. You will have to pay a fine and might even serve some jail time.
In terms of phone use, while driving, the rules depend on the age of the driver:
- The driving law of California does not allow people aged below 18 years to drive while using any type of communication device regardless of whether it’s wireless or hands-free
- Those aged 18 years and above are allowed to use their phone as long as it’s in hands-free mode. Bluetooth earpieces, headsets, and earbuds are also allowed provided that the driver covers only one ear
Want to know how the right-of-way principle is applied at intersections? Watch the video below from the California Department of Motor Vehicles for details:
These are the 15 most important driving laws implemented in the state of California. By knowing and practicing the driving law, you can keep yourself, fellow motorists, and other pedestrians safe on the road. We hope this guide has helped you learn more about the driving rules in The Golden State. Feel free to reach out to us if you’ve been involved in an auto accident in California.
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