What You Should Know about the California Vehicle Code

Every two years the State of California publishes an updated edition of its California Motor Vehicle Code. It is a substantial book of approximately 1000 pages that covers every matter related to owning and operating motor vehicles in the state. The vehicle code explains laws related to registration, smog testing, carrying of insurance, theft, misuse of the vehicle and purchase/sale are delineated. A comprehensive list of the rules of the road is also included; a smaller, more easily digestible version of this is available at Department of Motor Vehicles offices as well as the DMV website.

The California Vehicle Code contains eighteen sections and provides a comprehensive explanation of traffic laws. It should be noted that such laws not only relate to operating motor vehicles on state roads and highways, but also include laws regulating farm equipment, off-road vehicles, boats, and non-motor vehicles, such as bicycles. The vehicle code also covers towing regulations, antitheft laws, traffic school, required insurance coverage, and steps for selling, registering, and transferring a vehicle.

Staying aware of the CVC can reduce your chances of both being ticketed and, more importantly, being involved in an accident. The following are some valuable points to keep in mind.


As of 2014 approximately 13 million cars are registered in California.1 With such large numbers of automobiles filling the streets, highways and freeways, it is vital that drivers stay aware at all times. Texting and cell phone use has become a significant problem, and the state DMV has answered with strict laws prohibiting their use. Drivers are banned from using cell phones while driving. A fine and point on the driver’s record is assessed on first violation. It is worth noting that passengers are not affected by this law.

Another issue that has become a focus of recent legislation is child safety. Effective January 1, 2012 a child under age 8 must be restrained in an approved child safety seat attached to the back seat. An exception to this law is that if the child is 4’9” or taller, he may be restrained in the back seat by a safety belt.

Finally, drunk driving continues to be a significant problem nationwide. For a first offense drivers face 4 days to six months in jail, up to a $1000 fine, and suspension of their driver’s license for 30 days to 10 months.



Pedestrians are to use crosswalks whenever available. In places where no crosswalk is present pedestrians must yield the right-of-way to motor vehicles, and may be cited for failure to do so. However, California’s laws regarding drivers and pedestrians differ in that in all instances pedestrians are to be yielded the right-of-way. The reason for this is that they are virtually unprotected in the event of being struck by a motor vehicle. The result of such an accident nearly always is serious injury to the pedestrian.



Commercial truck operation is essential to the state’s economy. However, large semi-trailers need to share the road with much smaller, faster vehicles. Truck width is limited to 8.5 feet, and height 14 feet. A truck of larger dimensions must post oversize vehicle signs as well as receive special licensure. Commercial trucks are prohibited on certain roads that are not wide enough. If a commercial truck carries flammable liquid, poisonous gas, explosive substances, or nuclear reactive materials, it may be restricted in certain areas and must be labelled accordingly.

Any truck with three or more axles or truck towing another vehicle is limited to driving a maximum 55 miles per hour. Such vehicles must also use the lane farthest to the right as practicable unless a lane is clearly posted for trucks. When passing another vehicle, the truck must use the next lane to the left. This lane limitation applies to slower moving two axle trucks as well.



Buses are an important mode of public and student transportation in many California cities. Other motorists need to be aware that all buses are required to make a full stop before railroad crossings. Also, public buses make frequent stops, so drivers need to take care both in watching for stops and making last minute lane changes behind buses.

Motorists need to pay particular attention when following school buses. The bus driver is required to flash an amber warning light at least 200 feet before a bus stop. Once the bus stops, the amber light is turned off and red flashing lights are turned on. This indicates that students are unloading from the bus. Drivers are not allowed to pass a bus while the red lights are flashing for the safety of students as they unload and cross the street.

A recent law governing bus operation in the state covers limousine buses. The chartering of these large buses has become popular among youth for parties. Previously the chauffeur and passengers were divided by a partition, but because of numerous deaths among underage youth a new law as of 2013 requires chauffeurs to control such underage drinking. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor, combined with a $2,000 fine for a first offense.


For Assistance with a Personal Injury Claim

The laws within the California Vehicle Code are intended to promote safe use of streets and highways for both vehicles and pedestrians. If you suffer injury in an accident due to the negligence of another, it is important that you take down all pertinent information, such as witnesses’ contact information and take photographs of the scene with your cell phone. Contact the car accident lawyers of Nadrich & Cohen, LLP for a free consultation to see if you have a claim for compensation. We never collect a fee for our services, unless a recovery is made.

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