Everything You Should Know About Driving in California

From the traffic jams that are part of the daily commute for Los Angeles residents to the breathtaking sights along State Route 1, California offers diverse driving experiences. Whether you’re planning to move to California or want to visit this state, it’s important to know what to expect when driving in the Golden State. You’ll want to be aware of rules and laws that are unique to California.

California Roads

If you speak to a Glendale car accident lawyer, they will tell you that some roads tend to see more traffic accidents than others. For Orange County drivers, I-405 is a notoriously treacherous stretch, especially at the junction with I-605. US 101 going through downtown Los Angeles is another spot you should be wary of, along with the area where I-5, Route 22 and Route 57 converge to form the stretch known as Orange Crush.

Los Angeles isn’t the only city with dangerous highways. State Route 99 is considered one of the most dangerous roads in the country with its narrow lanes that twist and turn. State Route 138 has a similar reputation.

In the San Francisco Bay area, I-5 and I-880 are common spots for motor-vehicle pileups.

Driving in California

Just like in any other state, a lot of the rules drivers have to follow on the road are common sense. However, it’s best to know about laws and rules that are specific to California to stay safe and avoid fines.

Speed Limits

The speed limit is 65 mph on most highways and 55 mph on undivided two-lane highways. It drops to 25 mph in residential and business areas, and you’ll have to slow down to 15 mph when driving through alleys or blind intersections.

California has a Basic Speed Law, which means you shouldn’t drive faster than current conditions allow. It’s important to consider things like traffic, weather and visibility.

You should also know that the Golden State often uses helicopters to enforce speed limits. Don’t assume you can get away with speeding simply because there are no officers in sight!

Diamond Lanes

To reduce traffic congestion, California has adopted diamond lanes, also known as carpool or High-Occupancy Vehicle lanes.

Note that while these lanes are open 24/7 in the southern part of the state, you can’t use diamond lanes on the weekends in the north. Motorcycles, mass transit vehicles and cars with more than two occupants can use these lanes to save time. You can also drive in a diamond lane if you have a plug-in hybrid vehicle with a green or white decal.

Be careful to avoid unauthorized use of a diamond lane since this offense could cost you $490!


California is a state where you will find roundabouts, which might be a new experience for many drivers from elsewhere in the U.S.

Remember to yield when you enter or exit the roundabout. Signal your entry and exit as well as any lane changes. Don’t stop or pass until you have exited the roundabout.

Legal U-Turns

You can make a safe and legal U-turn by:

  • Watching out for any No U-Turn signs.
  • Using the far left lane or center left turn lane.
  • Waiting until there are no vehicles closer than 200 feet in residential areas.
  • Using an intersection while a traffic light stops oncoming traffic.
  • Not doing a U-turn on a one-way street, in a business district or in front of a fire station.


You should generally pass vehicles on the left, but in a few situations you can pass on the right, including on a divided highway or on a highway with two lanes or more.

Headlights and Visibility

You should use your headlights when visibility drops to 1,000 feet. You should also use them if you need your windshield wipers to see.

Right of Way

Rules regarding the right of way aren’t unique to California. When you come to an intersection, you should yield to pedestrians and vehicles that are already in the intersection. If you come to a T-intersection, always yield to traffic on the through road.

Other Rules

These are a few additional traffic rules you should know about:

  • Your blood alcohol level shouldn’t exceed 0.08%, or 0.04% if you’re driving a commercial vehicle. California has a zero-tolerance policy for drivers who have been drinking under the age of 21 or drivers on a DUI probation.
  • Even though medical and recreational cannabis is legal, you can be convicted of driving under the influence while using it.
  • California has a smoking ban for most indoor places. You can even be fined if you smoke with a minor in the car.
  • Distracted driving is a punishable offense. You shouldn’t text while driving. You can make phone calls as long as you use a hands-free device with only one earbud in.
  • You’ll have to renew your driver’s license every 5 years. You’ll need proof of identity, a proof of SSN and two residency documents to apply for one.
  • If your vehicle has tinted windows, the visible light transmission shouldn’t exceed 70% for the front-side windows.

Trucking in CA

California establishes a difference between green or STAA trucks that are allowed on interstate roads and smaller black trucks. Any Sacramento truck accident lawyer will tell you these rules reduce congestion and prevent pileups on roads that would be too narrow for trucks.

Green trucks have no limits on their maximum allowed length and can operate on green and blue routes. Black trucks have a limit of 65 feet overall for semitrailers and 75 feet for doubles. They’re allowed on green, blue, yellow and black-dashed roads. Red routes are off-limits to all trucks.

Green trucks can get off interstate routes when a T-sign indicates terminal access or an S-sign shows that there is service access.

Truck drivers must carry coverage of $15,000 per person, $30,000 for bodily injury per accident and $5,000 for property damage. Some trucks need additional coverage based on the cargo they transport.

CA Accidents and Injuries

According to data collected by Accident.com, the mean daily number of motor-vehicle accidents dropped by 12.2% in 2020 since there were fewer drivers on the roads. However, California is one of the states that saw the number of motor-vehicle deaths increase to 3,723.

Death isn’t the only danger you might encounter on the road. If you speak to a car accident lawyer in Modesto, they will tell you that common injuries include whiplash and other soft tissue injuries, burns, airbag injuries or broken bones.

As a driver, you must carry insurance to cover medical bills and property damage. You’ll need $15,000 in coverage for injury or death to one person, $30,000 for injury or death to more than one person and $5,000 to cover any property damage.

California is an at-fault state. Car accident victims should file a claim with the insurance provider of the at-fault party rather than with their own insurance company. It’s also a state with pure comparative negligence. This rule means two or more parties can share liability for an accident and be eligible for compensation even if they’re partially responsible.

When Do You Need a Personal Injury Lawyer in CA?

In some situations, you can benefit from having a legal representative by your side. You should contact a California car accident lawyer if you were involved in a car accident that resulted in injuries or property damage. You can also get help from a lawyer if you have any doubts about liability.

Do you have questions about California traffic laws or need help after being involved in an accident? Accident.com can connect you with a lawyer from our network for a free initial consultation.

by Jack Chemtob

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