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As you are probably well aware, California has a myriad of laws governing almost every aspect of how you drive your car. These laws are important for several reasons - they create predictable and efficient traffic patterns and keep us safe. Every driver on the road has a responsibility to understand and abide by these rules from the moment they get their driver’s license. 

As car accident lawyers, we often represent people who have been injured in a motor vehicle accident. As part of their case, we try to prove that the other driver was negligent. One of the easiest ways to prove negligence is to show that the other driver failed to follow California’s traffic laws and the rules of the road. This can be easily done by obtaining a copy of the police report that was generated by the officer who responded to the scene of the accident. It can be especially damaging if you were given a ticket for a traffic violation. Even if you weren’t cited with a traffic violation, a skilled car accident attorney will be able to determine whether you broke the law. 

Ultimately, all drivers should be aware that they can be held legally responsible for any injuries caused when they fail to follow our traffic laws. Understanding the law is the foundation for safe driving.  

Understanding Right-of-Way

Right-of-way can be a slightly confusing concept - it is far less absolute than it sounds. Right-of-way rules provide clear guidance as to who can go and when and who must yield. That said, even if you have the right-of-way in a particular situation, you also have a duty to drive safely and make a reasonable effort to avoid causing accidents and injuries.  

Pedestrian Right-of-Way

Pedestrians have the right-of-way on the sidewalk and in both marked and unmarked crosswalks. This means that you should not enter a crosswalk if a pedestrian is in it. In addition, here are some other suggestions for respecting pedestrians’ right-of-way:

  • Do not stop in the crosswalk (for example, to wait for a traffic light to change)
  • Do not pass another vehicle stopped at a crosswalk
  • Allow extra time for elderly and disabled pedestrians as well as pedestrians with young children


Intersections can cause tremendous confusion when people do not know who has the right-of-way. Here are some simple rules to remember who has the right-of-way in specific situations: 

  • Yield to pedestrians and vehicles that are already traveling through the intersection.
  • The vehicle that arrives first has the right-of-way.
  • If you and another vehicle arrive at the intersection at the same time, yield to the vehicle on your right.
  • Through traffic at “T” intersections has the right-of-way.
  • When turning left, yield to oncoming vehicles that are close.
  • When turning right, motorists must yield to pedestrians and cyclists.

Traffic Circles or Roundabouts

Having been a feature in European cities for several decades, traffic circles are being built more frequently across America and in California. Because they are relatively new, they create a lot of confusion for drivers. That said, the rules are fairly basic: 

  • Traffic entering the traffic circle must yield to traffic already in the traffic circle.
  • Once there is a large enough gap to enter, merge to the right and travel in a counter-clockwise direction. 
  • Do not stop or pass. 
  • Proceed through the traffic circle as directed by the signs. 
  • If you miss your exit, continue around the circle until you reach your exit again. 

Speed Limits 

Of course, you should always obey the posted speed limit. However, many people are unaware that California has a “basic speed law” that essentially says you cannot drive faster than is safe for current conditions. This means that you may be required by law to drive slower than the speed limit in the following situations: 

  • Heavy traffic
  • Inclement weather such as rain, fog, extreme winds, or limited visibility
  • Dangerous road conditions such as cracked and broken pavement

In addition, the maximum speed limit for two-lane undivided highways is 55 miles per hour unless otherwise posted. As a result, you can be ticketed for speeding if driving 65 miles per hour even though there was no posted speed limit. 

Additional California Traffic Laws You Should Be Aware Of

Our traffic laws are constantly changing as lawmakers look for ways to prevent accidents and keep motorists safe. Here are some additional laws you should be aware of: 

  • California is a “hands-free” state - it is illegal to drive while using an electronic device to write, read, or send text messages, emails, or other written communications. 
  • Do not wear a headset or earbuds in both ears while driving as it interferes with your ability to hear emergency vehicles and other auditory warnings. 
  • Any load must be properly secured so as not to create a hazard for other motorists. You cannot carry anything in or on your vehicle that extends beyond 6 inches of either fender. Items that extend 4 feet or more from the rear bumper must display a red or orange flag or two red lights at night. 
  • Passengers are not allowed to ride in the back of a pickup truck unless it is equipped with seats and seatbelts. 
  • You must use your headlights from 30 minutes after sunset until 30 minutes before sunrise.
  • You must turn off your high beams within 500 feet of an oncoming vehicle or within 300 feet of a vehicle in front of you. 

These laws are intended to keep you and other motorists safe. Failure to follow these laws can be considered negligence and may result in liability if you cause an accident. 

Banafshe Law Firm - Car Accident Attorneys

Founded in 2003, we have nearly 20 years of experience helping people put their lives back together following a car accident. As a result, we believe strongly in the value of driver safety and driver education. If you have been injured in a car accident or simply have questions, contact us at 800-789-8840 to schedule a free consultation.