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
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
Helmets for motorcycle riders: Drivers and passengers on motorcycles must
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
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
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
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
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
State of California: It is illegal to shoot any wildlife from a
moving vehicle, except for whales.
Drive safely in
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