California Traffic Laws You Should Know

California traffic laws are imperative to keeping drivers and pedestrians safe—and not following them can cost you hefty fines, or even jail time.
Written by Kianna Walpole
Edited by R.E. Fulton
Every state requires the same basic behavior from drivers—stopping at red lights, obeying speed limit signs, and wearing seatbelts. However, California has its own set of unique state and local ordinances that apply to anyone operating a vehicle in the Golden State.
  • To operate a motor vehicle in California, drivers must have a state issued driver’s license and be over the age of 16 as a resident, and over the age of 18 as a visitor. 
  • The speed limit on most California roads are 55 mph for two-lane, undivided highways and 65 mph for freeways (unless posted at 70 mph). 
  • California driving laws, such as the
    California Move Over law
    distracted driving
    laws, are put in place to increase driver safety and promote safe driving.

Driving in California

Whether you’re a resident California driver, a visitor, or a teen learning the rules of the road, all motor vehicle operators in the Golden State must follow the rules laid out in the
California Driver’s Handbook
Pro Tip: Not only is the California Driver’s Handbook a valuable resource for visitors and seasoned drivers, but it’s also a great resource for new drivers looking for a permit—the knowledge test for
a provisional license
is based on the handbook rules!  

Driver age laws and testing

In the state of California, drivers must be
at least 16 years of age
to obtain a state driver’s license. 
To secure a Class C driver’s license, young drivers must provide proof of identity, two proofs of residency, legal full name document, and social security number. Additionally, new drivers will be required to prove completion or enrollment in a driving test/education program. 
Once the appropriate documents are collected, to receive a provisional license, teens need to
schedule an appointment
with their local department of motor vehicles (DMV) and then have the following: 
  1. Provide supplementary documents
  2. Pay the $41 application fee
  3. Pass a vision test
  4. Pass knowledge test(s) with a passing score of 80%
Those over the age of 18 can also apply for a California instruction permit with the same steps. 
For motorcycle licenses, drivers have to be at least 16 years old, have a certificate of completion of a driver’s education program, and complete the
California Motorcyclist Safety Program
. The process is the same as a standard driver’s license, along with the application fee of $41 for both M1 and M2. 
Visitors to California, however, have a different age restriction, with drivers having to be over the age of 18 and in possession of a state issued license in order to drive in the Golden State. 

State insurance laws 

On top of carrying a valid driver’s license, every California driver must also maintain a valid auto insurance policy. 
The minimum liability insurance that each driver must invest in is as follows:
Driving without insurance is an infraction and is punishable by a fine between $100 and $200, plus any other state assessments and fees. However, if the driver is ticketed a subsequent time for driving without insurance within 3 years of the first infraction, then the fine will be between $200 and $500. 
In the event of a car accident, without insurance, you will be on the hook for all damages—medical and property. You could also face a
license suspension
or revocation based on whether it’s your first or subsequent offense on your driving record.
Keep in mind: California can allocate penalty assessment codes which would up the price of your initial fee for driving without insurance. These additional charges depend on where you live and what your local officials choose to implement. 

General California traffic laws

In addition to driving laws in California, there are also standard traffic laws in place that help keep the roadways safe for residents and visitors—regardless of age. 
Below are some of the most common traffic regulations, and their respective rules in California. For a complete list of driving laws and traffic signs, refer to the California Driver’s Handbook. 
Traffic regulations
What you need to know
U-turns are generally completed when drivers want to turn their vehicle around and drive in the direction they came. To make a safe u-turn, California drivers must use their signal and the left turn lane (or far left lane). 
U-turns are only permissible across a double yellow line, in a residential district if no vehicles are approaching within 200 ft, at a green light with a green arrow, or on a divided highway if a diver is provided. 
No u-turn can be completed if a sign is not posted, at a railroad crossing, or on a one-way street. 
Right of way refers to who goes first in instances where there is no traffic light to direct the flow of traffic. 
In California, at an intersection, pedestrians always have the right of way. After pedestrians, at four way stops, the vehicle who arrives first gets the right of way. When entering traffic, vehicles already occupying lanes have right of way. 
On mountain roads that can’t fit more than one car, the vehicle facing uphill gets to go first.
Lane passing
On multilane roads, you can only pass in the far left lane. To pass a bicyclist, you must change into another lane and pass safely before returning, leaving space between you and the cyclists.
Turning right on red
In California, you are able to turn right on a red light only after making a complete stop. This is not permissible when there is a ‘No Turn on a Red’ sign posted or a red arrow. 
Railroad crossings
At a railroad crossing with flashing lights, drivers must come to a complete stop 15 feet from the nearest track. Do not pass the railroad until the lights stop flashing and the train is completely gone—even if the barrier is up. 
Most crosswalks are marked with white lines or yellow crosswalk lines. But not all crosswalks are marked. On either marked or unmarked crosswalks, pedestrians have the right of way. Stop at the limit line and wait for them to cross.
Some crosswalks have flashing lights. Whether or not the lights have stopped flashing, make sure to slow and prepare to stop for pedestrians in case of crossing.
Emergency vehicles
Any emergency vehicle with flashing lights and sirens has the right of way—firetrucks, police cars, and ambulances. Make sure to pull over onto the edge of the road and come to a complete stop until they have passed. 
If in a far left lane, pull into the farthest right lane possible and wait for the emergency vehicle to pass. 
School buses 
No vehicle is allowed to pass a stopped school bus. If you do, you can face up to $1,000 in fines and/or license suspension. 
Road workers and work zones
In work zones, you’ll see signs and boards indicating when workers are present or if there’s a closed lane.
To go through the zone, slow down, allow for extra space, watch for drivers changing lanes, and expect slow moving traffic or sudden stopping. If you don’t follow these basic rules, you can be fined $1,000 or more.
Those who are found guilty of assaulting a worker may be penalized $2,000 and one year in prison. In some cases, roads are deemed Safety Enhanced-Double Fine Zones and fines are increased for violations and
reckless driving
City buses, streetcars, and trolleys
There are designated safety zones for buses, streetcars, and trolleys in California. When a city transportation vehicle is stopped at a safety zone or light, you can pass at only up to 10 mph.
Never overtake or pass a light rail vehicle or streetcar on the left, regardless if it’s moving or still, unless you’re on a one-way street or a traffic officer directs you to do so.
Commtting any traffic violation in regards to these rules or the traffic laws outlined in the California Driver’s Handbook, may result in hefty fines and points against your
California driving record
While California doesn’t share driver history with other states, it doesn’t mean that wherever else you’ve visited won’t show up on your record—if it does, and you’ve had multiple infractions, you run the risk of license suspension or revocation in more extreme circumstances. 

California speeding laws  

Across the US, different states have different speed limits. In California, there are two types of speed limits: absolute and presumed.
Absolute speed limits, also known as maximum speed limits, refer to speed limits that are clearly posted.
  • 70 miles per hour on freeways posted for that speed
  • 65 miles per hour on freeways and other highways (not posted for 70 miles per hour)
  • 55 miles per hour on two-lane, undivided highways (unless posted for a higher speed)
Presumed speed limits (sometimes called "prima facie" limits) allow you the opportunity to prove in court that your speed was safe. Thus, if you exceed the speed limit, you won’t necessarily be found guilty. 
Generally, these speed limits are set at:
  • 15 miles per hour at railroad crossings, in alleys, and on highway intersections without 100 feet of visibility of approaching vehicles
  • 25 miles per hour in business and residential districts and school zones
If you exceed said speed limit for any reason, you are guilty of breaking California law. The fine for a speeding ticket will vary depending on how much over the limit you are going, but costs typically range from $230 to $500. 
If you are caught going 100 mph over the speed limit, your consequences increase, as this is seen as reckless driving. A first offense will result in a maximum fee of $500, plus a 30 day license suspension. Second and third offenses can result in a $750-$1,000 fee with either a six month or 1 year license suspension. 

California driver laws

To continue to make sure that all road trips completed in California are safe, existing laws are enforced by law enforcement officials, while new laws are created to enhance each Californian’s driving experience. 
As of 2023, some new regulations were put forth by the California DMV outlined in the California Driver’s Handbook:
  • Ban on street racing in parking facilities: Along with public roads, street racing and sideshows are banned in parking facilities as well. 
  • Safeguards for bikers: When driving past a bicycle rider, drivers are required to change into the next available lane, if possible, to pass safely—while still giving the mandatory 3ft of space. This also permits Class 3 e-bikers to ride on state approved bike paths, trails, bikeways and lanes. 
  • Alternatives to conventional license plates: This new law is allowing individuals to register for digital license plates, a vinyl front license plate wrap, and digital registration cards. In addition to license plates, this law also goes for stickers and tabs.
Existing and previous laws in California, such as the ‘Move Over’ law and distracted driving are still applicable, and should be followed as such. 

California ‘Move Over’ law

In 2019, California introduced the
‘Move Over’ law
. This law was set in place by the California government to protect highway workers, law enforcement officers, emergency responders, and tow truck drivers from being injured or killed on California roadways. 
It requires all motorists to move over a lane or, if unable to do so, slow down as soon as they see flashing lights (whether that is in front of them, or behind). 
Currently, in the US, all 50 states have ‘Move Over’ laws—and the fines for failing to move over aren’t cheap. In California, drivers can be charged up to $1,000, with the addition of points on your driving record.
To continue to increase awareness, campaigns have been launched by the California Highway Patrol and Office of Traffic Safety, and ads are now circulated using public service announcements, billboards, radio, television, and social media.

California seat belt and booster seat laws

California seat belt laws
booster seat laws
are imperative to the safety of your child and yourself.
The law requires all occupants of a moving motor vehicle to wear a safety belt. If any passenger under the age of 16 in your vehicle is not wearing a seat belt, you can be ticketed as a result.  
A seat-belt ticket in California starts with a fine of $20 for the first offense and a fine of $50 for every subsequent offense.
Children under 8 years of age (who are less than 4 feet 9 inches tall) must be restrained in a car seat or booster seat in the back seat of a vehicle. Children under the age of 2 must ride in a rear-facing car seat unless the child weighs more than 40 pounds or is more than 3 feet 4 inches tall.
Keep in mind: A child placed in a rear-facing seat may not sit in the front seat. However, some children under 8 may ride in the front passenger seat if there is no rear seat, all rear seats are occupied by children 7 and under, or if medical reasons stop them from riding alone in the back seat. 

California car accident laws

When you’re involved in a
car accident in California
, state law requires motorists involved to stop at the scene, check if anyone has been injured, offer aid to anyone who was injured, and exchange information with the other driver(s).
Drivers must also file a written report regarding the crash to the California Highway Patrol or to the police department where the accident occurred if it resulted in injury or death within 24 hours of the accident. If police respond to the scene of the accident, they will file the report themselves.
You must also report the accident to the DMV within 10 days if it involves the death or injury of a person or property damage in excess of $750.
Accident reports must include the following information:
  • The names and addresses of the drivers and anyone who was injured in the accident
  • Time, date, and location of the accident
  • Birth date, driver's license information, and other information about the motorists
  • Insurance information
  • Explanation of property damage and injuries
While accidents happen, pulling over is essential. Leaving the scene of an accident might be considered a hit and run. As a misdemeanor, a hit and run carries a possible sentence of up to six months in the county jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.  Penalties can also include 3 years of probation, restitution for property damage, as well as two points on a California driving record

California DUI laws

Driving while intoxicated
(DWI), or driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs (DUI), is incredibly dangerous and appropriately considered a serious offense in California—as it is in any state. 
For drivers in California, it is illegal for any person to operate a vehicle with a:
  • Blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher if the person is 21 years old or older
  • BAC of 0.01% or higher if the person is under 21 years old
  • BAC of 0.01% or higher at any age if the person is on DUI probation
  • BAC of 0.04% or higher in any vehicle requiring a CDL—with or without a CDL issued to the driver
  • BAC of 0.04% or higher when a passenger for hire is in the vehicle at the time of the offens
Punishments for DUIs are serious and can include the following: 
1st offense misdemeanor DUI
Up to 6 months in county jail
A fine of $390 to $1,000
6 months of an ignition interlocking device (IID) or a restricted/suspended license
3 or 9 months of DUI school
2nd offense misdemeanor DUI
96 hours to 1 year in county jail
A fine of $390 to $1,000
1 year of an IID or a restricted/suspended license
18 or 30 months of DUI school
3rd offense misdemeanor DUI
120 days to 1 year in county jail
A fine of $390 to $1,000
2 years of an IID or a suspended license
30 months of DUI school
DUI with injury (misdemeanor) 
5 days to 1 year in county jail
A fine of $390 to $5,000
Restitution to the injured parties
6 months of an IID or a suspended license
3, 18, or 30 months of DUI school
1st offense DUI with injury (felony)
16 months to 16 years in state prison
A fine of $1,015 to $5,000
Restitution to the injured parties
1 year of an IID
18 or 30 months of DUI school
For drivers under 21, there are additional laws to follow, such as the inability to possess alcohol (even if you are in a vehicle with someone over 21) or consume it. 
There are exceptions—carrying alcohol for work purposes for a company with an off-site liquor sales license—but if you break these laws, you can have your license suspended for up to 1 year, or your vehicle impounded for up to 30 days. 

Biking and motorcycle traffic rules in California

Similar to motor vehicle traffic rules and laws, in California, there are also regulations put in place for cyclists and motorcycle owners.   

Bicyclist laws

For California cyclists, they must obey and follow the same traffic signs, lights, and basic right of way rules as a motor vehicle operator. However, there are additional rules that must be abided by to ensure their safety, and the safety of others on the road. 
As such, cyclists must:
  • Ride with traffic, not against it
  • Make sure lanes are clear before turning or switching lanes
  • Yield to pedestrians
  • Wear a helmet (if under 18) 
  • Stay visible and don’t weave between traffic
  • Move left to avoid hazards
  • Never ride on sidewalk (unless allowed by city)
  • Have a front lamp with a white light with visibility up to 300 feet
  • Have built in rear red reflector, or flashing red light visible from 500 feet
  • Have white or yellow reflector on each pedal, shoes, or ankle, visible from 200 feet
  • Have a white or yellow reflector on front wheel, white or red reflector on rear wheel, or reflective tires
When riding on main streets or highways, bikers must also keep to the curb or edge of a one-way street, and must always use bike lanes if present, unless making a turn—then the use of turn lanes is applicable. As bikers don’t have signals, hand signs are used to indicate their direction, and must be used by cyclists when stopping or turning. 

Motorcycle laws

Before driving your motorcycle on California roads, you will need a Class M1 license from the California DMV. This type of license will allow you to operate any two-wheeled vehicle. If you’re under the age of 21 when applying, you need to have a motorcycle instruction permit for 6 months before applying for a Class M1. 
Once you have all the proper documents ready, you will need to schedule a motorcycle driving test with the DMV—who also supply
sample driver’s license knowledge tests
for both motor vehicle and motorcycles. 
When operating a motorcycle, all riders and passengers must wear a US DOT compliant helmet, regardless of age, as well as face, eye, and ear protection. 
It’s important to note that all motorcyclists have to abide by the same rules as a 4-wheel vehicle or a bicyclist—stopping at stop signs, not driving while intoxicated, etc. However, motorcycles do have one exemption, such as they can legally lane split—but not using the shoulder of the road. 
Additionally, motorcyclists are required to insure their bike with the minimum state required insurance and keep proof on hand.
Driving without the
proper insurance
or proof can land you a fee between $100-$500 plus penalty assessments, based on if it’s a first or subsequent offense.


Yes, it is illegal to drive under the speed limit in California. Drivers who do not drive the speed limit can also receive a point against their driving record and risk having their license suspended for negligent operation.
Officers and emergency personnel are legally allowed to exceed the speed limit in California for valid and reasonable situations—like tending to an emergency call. 
According to California law, you cannot exceed the posted speed limit in order to pass another vehicle, even if they are a slow driver. 
Compare Car Insurance Quotes For Free
Jerry automatically shops for your insurance before every renewal. Members save $872/year.
rating primary
Rating on App Store
Start saving money!
12,000+ Reviews
Trusted by 3.5M car owners like you

You might also be interested

Easiest way to compare and buy car insurance

No long forms
No spam or unwanted phone calls
Quotes from top insurance companies
Find insurance savings — it's 100% free