We’ve got a special series for the end of summer: Rules of the Road. If you’ve recently relocated, this one is for you. We’re profiling special rules – driving laws – by state. First up: California!

Most rules and regulations that apply to driving in the United States are consistent from state to state. But not always. Many states have their own unique driving-related laws, which usually come with penalties if you are caught violating them.

The state of California has a lot of these unique rules of the road. California has the third largest land area and the largest population of any state in the USA. It also boasts the largest vehicle fleet in the country. How large? There were more than 30 million motor vehicles registered to operate on its roads in 2017, the most recent year for which this information is available.

California is a culture of, by, and for the automobile. It is the birthplace of limitless freeways, photochemical smog, and the resulting emissions controls that have become a part of every vehicle since. Let’s take a look at some of the unique rules of the road in California, the Golden State:

Regular Rules of the Road – California

Cell phone usage in the car: California has made it illegal to use a cell phone inside the car without a hands-free device. You may not write, send, or read text-based messages. You may only use one ear bud, not both, so that you can hear sounds from outside the vehicle. If the driver is under 18, cell phone use is prohibited, except in an emergency. These laws apply even if you are stopped at a red light or a stop sign.

Seatbelt use: It is illegal to drive without using a seatbelt yourself, or without all occupants being belted in or in a proper child seat/restraint device.

Passing on the right: This is legal, when it is safe and there is a lane where you can do so. Passing on the right should only be done on multi-lane highways.

Helmets for motorcycle riders: Drivers and passengers on motorcycles must wear helmets.

Motorcycle lane-splitting: Motorcycles are legally allowed to drive in between lanes of traffic, if done safely.

Use of headlights: Your headlights should be turned on 30 minutes after sunset, and also used until 30 minutes prior to the sunrise. If you are using your wipers because of the weather, your low beams should also be on.

Making turns on red: You may turn right at a red light after stopping, unless it is prohibited. Left turns on red can be made only from a one-way street and onto a one-way street.

U-turns: U-turns are generally allowed in a variety of situations, when safe to do and unless prohibited by a posted sign. You can make a U-turn:

  • At an intersection, when you have a green light or arrow
  • On an opening in a divided highway
  • Across a double yellow line
  • In a residential neighborhood, if you are protected by a traffic sign or light

Pedestrians: Pedestrians have the right of way at crosswalks and intersections that meet at right angles. If a pedestrian has stepped off the curb and into the intersection or crosswalk, you must stop and let them cross.

Driving under the influence of alcohol: Don’t do it! California has very severe penalties, and they are enforced! The blood alcohol limit is 0.08%, but you can be charged at a lower level, if your actions show that you were affected by the alcohol you ingested.

Smoking marijuana: While marijuana is legal within the state, it is illegal for anyone in a vehicle to smoke it while driving or being driven.

Bicycles: Drivers must stay at least three feet away from bicycle traffic. If there are bicycle lanes on the road, cars may not enter them, unless turning at an intersection or into a driveway.

Slow-moving vehicles: If you have five or more vehicles behind you on a two-lane road, you are required to pull over when it is safe, and then let them pass.

Smoking in a car: If any minors are with you (aged less than 21), it is illegal to smoke inside the car.

Minimum following distance: There must be at least three seconds of space between you and the car ahead, whatever legal speed you are going.

Leaving children alone in the car: You may not leave children under six years old in your car, unless you have someone else aged 12 years or older to supervise them. Additionally, you may not ever leave the car running when parked, without the driver being present.

Speed limits: There are some general rules for speed limits in the state of California. These will apply, unless posted signage indicates a different limit:

School zone                                                                            25 mph

Railroad crossings with less than 400 ft. visibility            15 mph

Vehicles towing trailers                                                        55 mph

Business and residential areas                                            25 mph

Two-lane undivided highways                                               55 mph

Highways, freeways, and interstates                                    65 to 70 mph

Crazy Rules of the Road – California

Let’s wrap up with some wacky rules that the state and specific California localities have put on the books. Some might be based in past experience and may be practical, but others just leave you scratching your head:

State of California: Women may not drive in a housecoat.

Arcadia: Peacocks have the right of way.

Glendale: It is illegal to jump out of your car at 65 mph.

Eureka: You may not use the road as a bed.

San Francisco: It is illegal to wipe cars off with used underwear.

State of California: It is illegal to shoot any wildlife from a moving vehicle, except for whales.

Drive safely in California!

If you’re a resident international in the United States and you’re thinking about buying a new car, check out our Car Buyers Checklist:

Lendbuzz CEO Amitay Kalmar spoke with Bianca Chan at The Auto Finance Roadmap Podcast about why he and Dan Raviv started Lendbuzz, our non-traditional lending approach, and what’s next for Lendbuzz.


If you are planning to drive a car while you are living in the USA, you will need to have car insurance. If you are simply renting a car from an established car rental company, you can get insurance coverage as part of your rental contract. But if you are planning to buy a car in the USA, you will need to have your own insurance coverage for driving on American roads. Let’s go through the basics of why you need car insurance, what the various elements of a car insurance policy are, and how to get car insurance coverage.

Why do you need car insurance?

There are several good reasons why you need to have car insurance in the USA:

  • It is required by law
  • It proves that you are financially responsible in case of an accident
  • It covers most or all of the costs from accident-related vehicle damage, property damage, and injuries to you and others who may be involved

Most car insurance policies will charge you an annual premium for coverage, which is usually broken down into affordable monthly payments.

What are the various elements of a car insurance policy?

Within the average car insurance policy are several different types of insurance coverage. Some of them are required, and some are optional – check your state’s regulations as to exactly what you will need:

Generally required types of car insurance coverage

Liability: This will cover you in cases where an accident is determined to be your fault. It takes care of the other party’s medical expenses related to bodily injuries, as well as property damage caused by your accident. If you are sued as a result of the accident, your liability coverage will pay for your legal costs, as well as any financial settlement or judgment that the court hands down. If you have a large amount of assets to protect, you should get higher levels of this type of coverage.

Personal Injury: This takes care of your medical costs following an accident, no matter who caused the accident. Some, but not all, states require this. It is also a good idea to have this coverage if you do not have any other health insurance.

Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist: Even though it is illegal to drive without car insurance, some people still do it. This coverage will pay for your accident repairs and medical costs if the other driver in not insured and is at fault.

Generally non-required types of car insurance coverage

Collision: This pays for repairs to your car if you are in an accident, whether it is your fault or not. While collision coverage is not legally mandated, your auto lender will likely require you to have it. This is to protect the lender’s investment, during the term of your loan payments. While collision coverage is a very good idea for newer, higher-value vehicles, you may consider dropping it if your car is old and does not have much value left in it.

Comprehensive: This covers you for damage that is not accident-related, like extreme weather (hail and high winds), falling objects, flooding, fire, vandalism, and theft.

Nerdwallet has a good comprehensive overview of insurance requirements by state. Check it out to confirm that what you need before you being shopping.

How do you get car insurance?

Today, you have many choices when it’s time to get your car insurance policy:

Online insurance companies: You have probably seen their ads online, on TV, over the radio, and everywhere else. These are companies like Geico, eSurance, and Progressive. You can simply go to each company’s website and get a price on a policy.

Local insurance company agents: Every local community has lots of people who represent a specific insurance company, and sell that company’s products, including car insurance. You can find them using a search engine, and then call them for pricing on a car insurance policy.

Independent insurance agents: These are people who represent several different insurance companies, and can write you an auto insurance policy from the one that gives you the best deal. You can search them out online, then contact them by phone.

The ideal way to get the best car insurance value is to shop around and compare prices from as many sources as you can.

What documents do you need to get car insurance?

The requirements for getting car insurance, if you are from another country, will vary from state to state. Check your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles website for the specific requirements in your local area. These will spell out whether your home country’s driver’s license is enough, or whether you need to get an International Driving Permit or a state driver’s license. You will also need to have the registration documents for your vehicle, a local mailing address and phone number, and an email address.

Some insurance companies may require you to get a state driver’s license. They will also want to check your driving record in your home country. If this is not possible, your rates may be higher due to their not knowing your driving history.

Find your state’s DMV here: https://dmvnv.com/50_state_dmv_list.html

What about the new pay-per-mile car insurance?

You may have heard about a new, less-expensive type of car insurance. It charges you by the mile, using an electronic gadget that plugs into your car’s diagnostic port. It also monitors your driving behavior, every time you drive. Some people who do not drive their cars much have found this system to be of value, but others have reported that the initially low rates have been quickly raised over a short period of time for no good reason, and that the claim service is extremely poor. Be sure to read reviews of any service you’re considering buying. The seemingly low rates may not be worth it