California Move Over Laws

If you fail to properly move over or reduce your speed near an active emergency vehicle, you may face fines and points added to your record.
Written by Kevin Martinez
Reviewed by Carrie Adkins
move over laws state that drivers must either change lanes or reduce speed when approaching an active emergency vehicle with blinking lights. Failure to do so could result in fines and additional points added to your record.
  • In California, emergency vehicles have the right of way.
  • It’s required by law for drivers to either shift to the side of the road or decrease their speed when in proximity to emergency vehicles that are engaged in their duties.
  • You need to pull over for all emergency vehicles that exhibit amber flashing lights or red and blue flashing lights.
  • If you fail to properly move over or slow down when an emergency vehicle is passing by, you could face penalties, including fines up to $1,000 and additional demerit points.
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What are the move over laws in California?

California’s move over laws dictate that motorists must either move to the side of the road or reduce speed when near active emergency vehicles. Under the
California Vehicle Code, section 21809
, when approaching active emergency vehicles, drivers must:
  • Make a lane change to the nearest available lane adjacent to an emergency vehicle
  • If unsafe to pull over, slow down to a reasonable amount safe for traffic conditions
If you’re still unsure of what to do, your best bet is to pay attention to your surroundings and follow local law enforcement for additional instructions.
The exception: If the emergency vehicle is separated from the road by a protective physical barrier, you don’t need to move over. 

What is considered an emergency vehicle in California?

According to California vehicle code laws, an emergency vehicle is defined as an authorized vehicle that displays blinking blue, red, or amber lights. Here are some of the most common emergency vehicles in California:
  • California Highway Patrol (CHP) cars
  • Ambulances
  • Fire trucks
  • Tow trucks
  • Utility trucks
  • Other law enforcement and department of transportation vehicles
Keep in mind: If you see Caltrans vehicles flashing their emergency lights, you still need to move over because they’re considered emergency transportation maintenance vehicles. 

Penalties for violating California’s move over laws

If you fail to properly move over or reduce your speed when an emergency vehicle is approaching, you could face penalties for violating the law. These include:
If your violation causes severe injury or fatalities, you could also face additional civil and criminal charges and even risk having your
license suspended
Pro tip: If you’re entering a highway work zone, make sure to be extra vigilant about modified posted speed limits. 

Can violating move over laws raise your insurance?

Traffic tickets are included as part of your driving record, which can affect your car insurance rates. Insurance companies use your driving record, among other factors, to determine how risky you are to insure. 
Keep in mind: While one-time offenses may not cause much of a change in your premium, repeated or serious offenses can result in you being labeled a high-risk driver. If this happens, expect your insurance rates to rise dramatically. 

Why are there move over laws? 

Move over laws create safe buffer zones for emergency personnel and their vehicles. The purpose of these laws is to reduce the risk of severe injury or death while on the site of an emergency, and increase overall traffic safety for everyone on the road. 
Move over laws first gained traction in the late 1990s when South Carolina paramedic James D. Garcia was struck and injured by a moving motor vehicle when at an accident site. Since then, Garcia has fought to ensure protection for emergency responders.
Currently, nearly every state has some form of a move over law to protect its first responders, law enforcement officers, tow truck drivers, and highway workers from collisions. However, that doesn’t mean accidents don’t occur—in 2021, 65 emergency responders were injured by moving vehicles.
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