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:
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:
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
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:
Drive safely in California!