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California Driving and Traffic Laws

If you're going to drive in the state of California, it's important that you have at least a basic knowledge of California driving and traffic laws, even if you're only going to be in the state for a few days. Ignorance of a law does not mean that, if you are caught breaking it, you will be let off with just a warning. In CA, you will receive a ticket and maybe even a stiffer sentence than that whether you knew you were breaking a law or not.

General Traffic Laws

The traffic laws that most people think about first have to do with acceptable driving speeds. In California, it is important to know that the law that trumps all others is that it is never legal to drive faster than is safe. Thus, the speed limit on a highway might be 70 mph, but if it is raining or there are other extenuating circumstances, you can get a ticket for going 65, 60, or even lower than that. The speed that is safe for a road is always determined by the law enforcement official, so when in doubt, slow down.

In general, the highest legal speed in California is 70 mph, and that is allowed only when posted on certain highways and freeways. If the road is not deemed safe enough to drive the fast, the speed limit on these roads is generally 65 mph. On regular main roads, the speed limit in California is usually 40 or 45 mph, though posted speed limit signs always overrule that generality. In residential areas and areas around schools or parks where children often play, the speed limit is normally 25 mph. Under normal circumstances, watch for the regularly posted speed limit signs and follow their instructions.

There are a couple of places in California where traffic can be asked to slow down because of special circumstances. A school zone is one of these places. Around schools, the posted speed limit will always be 25 mph, though this is only in effect while children are present. Often, these speed limit signs will have yellow lights that blink when the 25 mph speed limit needs to be observed. Since children can be present even when you can't see them, follow the 25 mph speed limit around schools unless you're absolutely positive no kids are around.

Construction zones are another place where California driving and traffic laws allow the speed limit to be different than what it normally is. Any changes to the usual road rules in a construction zone must be clearly posted to be enforced. However, if you see a construction zone, it is best to make a special point to look for any signs so you can follow what they say. On a normal road, especially when one or more lanes of traffic is blocked by the construction, the speed will generally go down to 25 mph. Any posted signs will be enforced even if you cannot see any construction workers present. Since fines for breaking traffic laws normally double in a construction zone in California, these are especially important laws to follow.

School busses also require motorist vigilance in CA. In general, school busses are to be treated like any other vehicle, with the exception of the times when they are picking children up or dropping them off. Whenever you see a school bus flashing amber or red lights, or see a stop sign on an arm extending from the side of the vehicle, pull over and stop your car until the bus retracts the stop sign and turns off the lights. In addition, make sure that you do not move your vehicle again until all pupils have cleared the roadway.

Emergency vehicles also have lights the must be obeyed in California. When you see a flashing light or hear a siren, immediately pull as far to the right side of the road as possible and stop your vehicle. If you are in the middle of an intersection, clear the intersection before stopping. You must do this even if some of the other drivers around you do not. The only exception to this rule is when a vehicle is coming toward you and there is no way for it to cross over onto your side of the street before it passes you. If there is a median or a divider of some sort between the two sides of the road, you can continue driving as usual.

In addition, California has carpool lane laws that must be obeyed. Most carpool lanes are for vehicles carrying more than one passenger, though some lanes are specifically denoted for vehicles with three or more people. It is important to watch the posted signs, since fines are high for carpool lane violation. The normal rules of the road apply when driving in the carpool lane, though you are not allowed at any time to cross the double yellow lines separating the carpool lane from regular traffic. Instead, you must enter and leave the carpool lane when you see the dashed white line separating the two.

If you're going to have children in your car in California, you'll need to make sure to abide by the state's child safety laws. All children under six years of age or 60 pounds must ride in a car seat in the back seat of a motor vehicle. All children under sixteen years old need to wear a seat belt whenever they are in a car. Adults transporting children can be ticketed if these rules are not followed. In addition, it is suggested that all children under the age of 12 ride in the back seat of the car, as this is safer for them.

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal in California. If you are pulled over on suspicion of a DUI, you must submit to drug or alcohol testing or the officer can pull your driver's license on the spot. You will be charged with a DUI if you test positive for drugs or have a blood alcohol level over 0.08%.

California's Standout Traffic Laws

Many of the laws discussed above are similar to laws in other states. But there are some California driving and traffic laws that stand out to drivers unfamiliar to the state. Cell phone use is prohibited while driving in California, unless the driver uses a hands free headset of some sort. Similarly, drivers in California may not send text messages while driving.

In California, it is permitted to make a right turn on red, though motorists are responsible for reading any posted signage at a particular intersection. The same is true of making U-turns. Passing on the right is legal in California, unless there is something about the particular situation and roadway that makes it unsafe.

Radar detectors are permitted under California driving and traffic laws, and every California car must have two license plates displayed, one in the back of the vehicle and one in the front.

Beyond these, many California driving and traffic laws are akin to laws across the country. If you have any questions, you can find more information at the California Department of Motor Vehicles' website at



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