1. California traffic laws you may not know

  • Driving without a license or with a suspended/revoked license: Police can arrest you immediately and take your car away1CA Veh Code Sec 14602.6
  • Passing cyclists: You must give cyclists at least 3 feet of space at all times.2CA Veh. Code Sec. 21760Driver
  • Seatbelts: Most people know that it is illegal to drive without a seatbelt; but you may not know that it is also illegal to drive unless all passengers 16 years of age or over are “properly restrained by a safety belt.” (Note: does NOT apply to taxis)3CA Veh Code Sec. 27315 See here for seatbelt/safety seat rules regarding driving your children.
  • Sobriety checkpoints: Drivers are required to stop and submit to sobriety checkpoints. If police find you have higher than legal blood-alcohol content, they can impound your car for 30 days. However, they can’t do this if your only offense is failing to hold a valid driver license.4CA Vehicle Code Sec 2814.2
  • Honking: The only circumstance in which you are allowed to honk is to give a warning “when reasonably necessary to insure safe operation.” In fact, it is REQUIRED in this situation.5CA Vehicle Code Sec. 27001

2. California traffic laws you may know, but maybe not all the details

  • DUIs: see our Alcohol page
  • Open container laws: It is illegal to:
    • drink alcohol in a car6Vehicle Code Sec 23221
    • possess an open container of alcohol in a car,7Sec 23222, 23223 meaning any container that has been opened, or where the seal has been broken, or when any alcohol has been removed in any way, even if the container is now closed
    • store or keep an open container in a car, except for the trunk8Sec 23225, 23226

EXCEPT that you may do any of these things as a passenger in a bus, taxi, or limo. (Note: this may or may not apply to Uber/Lyft, etc; it hasn’t yet been determined)9Sec 23229> A few more laws apply to drivers or passengers under 21.10Sec 23224, 23229.1

  • Insurance: You must have liability insurance, which covers the damage you cause to others (you’re not required to have collision or other types, which would cover damage to you or others that isn’t your fault). You also must carry proof of this insurance in your car.11Cal Veh Code Sec 16020
  • Reporting accidents: For any accident with damages over $750 (this can be even a fender bender), or where there was an injury or death, you must report it to the DMV within 10 days, or your license will be suspended.12Cal Veh Code Sec 16000, Sec 16004
  • Pedestrian right of way: Pedestrians13which includes human powered vehicle (other than bikes), such as skateboards, See CVC 467 do NOT always have the right of way (though practically speaking, it’s usually a good idea to let them go first). They have the right of way only at crosswalks (marked or unmarked) and intersections.1421950 and 21952

3. Distracted Driving/Driving and cell phones

Is “driving while distracted” actually illegal?

While there is no general “distracted driving” law in California, police often cite people for things like applying makeup or changing clothes while driving based on a law prohibiting unsafe speed for the conditions.15Cal Veh Code Sec 22350; LA Times article on distracted driving  So even if you are driving below the speed limit, you can be cited for distracted driving because it is unsafe to drive at any speed while you are doing these things. The more specific distraction of using your cell phone while driving is covered under its own law (see below).

What exactly are the laws regarding making calls/texting while driving?16CA Vehicle Code Sec. 23123, 23123.5, 23124

  • If you are over 18 years old
    • While driving in California, you may not touch a cell phone or other communications device for any reason, except to make a quick swipe or tap, but only when mounted on the dashboard or windshield. The only exception is in an emergency.
  • If you are under 18, you may NOT use either handheld OR hands free device while driving. The only exception is in an emergency.
  • Penalty: Although the base penalty for a first violation of these laws is $20, when administrative fees are added in, it comes to a minimum of $159.17Contra Costa Times on administrative fees

For distracted driving or driving while using a cell phone, is it OK to do these things while stopped at a red light?

No. The law prohibits “operating” a vehicle while doing these things, which includes being stopped at a red light.18People v Nelson, CA Court of Appeal (2011)

4. More rules for drivers under 18: see KPCC article

5. Rules for driving with young children

Check out our parenting page for more on this.

6. Parking rules

The following rules apply if there are no other restrictions, as would mostly be indicated by signage. So be sure to READ ALL SIGNS! You can find more details at our Parking page.

What are the general restrictions on parking throughout California?

You may not park:19Cal Veh Code Sec 22500

  • in front of a public or private driveway
  • in a tunnel
  • within 15 ft of a fire station driveway or fire hydrant
  • on a sidewalk
  • on a bridge (unless specifically allowed)

Am I allowed to park at a broken meter? Yes. In the state of California, no city can ticket you for parking at a broken meter. But if there are time restrictions, you must follow these.<<CA Veh. Code Sec. 22508.5

See parking rules for LA area here.

7. Red Light Cameras

Are red light cameras still being used and enforced against people who run red lights?

In some cities, the cameras are still in use, including the cities of Beverly Hills, Culver CityWest Hollywood, and some parts of LA County, particularly at Metro stops. But the city of Los Angeles ended its red light photo enforcement program.

However, even for the cities that continue to use red light cameras, you may be able to ignore the tickets without much consequences.

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