CA Safety Laws

As a California driver, it is essential that you are fully aware of the various California safety laws within the state. This improves not only your safety, but the safety of others on the California roadways that you may encounter or pass by from day to day. As you prepare to take your California driver’s test, you should be aware of these safety laws, even after testing is complete and you are a licensed driver in the state.

  • To study the various traffic rules and safety laws in California, you should really take time to read and study the California Driver’s Handbook, which will detail the various rules of California, including laws for safety. You can find the California Driver Handbook online with an HTML version offered at California Driver Handbook Master Table of Contents.
  • California safety laws are also found in the California vehicle code, which is also available online at Vehicle Code General Provisions and Divisions 1 thru 18: Table of Contents. The vehicle code provides a comprehensive description of various California traffic and safety laws that are enforced within the state. You can also find resources and other details within the vehicle code for California drivers.

Child Restraint Laws

In the state of California, the safety of children is a top priority for drivers. In order to ensure that child passengers are always safe, there are child restraint laws in place that must be followed by all drivers. For children that are under the age of 6 or under 60 pounds, a federally approved child safety seat must be in use for any length of ride. That means that even if you are going down the street, the child must be fastened and secure within a child restraint approved by the federal government.

Any child restraint used must be specified as appropriate for the weight, age, and height of your child or any child that rides as a passenger in your vehicle. As you shop for child safety seats, you will find details that determine the appropriate size, weight, and height of the child that uses such a seat. Shopping for an approved seat can be done online for easy and quick shopping.

Children are most encouraged to remain seated in the rear seat of the vehicle due to safety hazards presented by air bags. While adults may be safer with the use of airbags, it is proven that airbags can be highly dangerous to children, seen to cause head, neck, and chest injuries. Any child under the age of 12 must remain in the rear seat of the vehicle with very few exceptions, which include:

  • Vehicle has side or back facing rear seats
  • Vehicle has no rear seats
  • Child restraint cannot be correctly fastened in rear seat of vehicle
  • Medical purposes
  • Rear seat of vehicle is occupied by other passengers under 12

In order to allow children in the front seat, air-bag equipped vehicles offer an on/off switch to ensure optimized safety for the child. A child is restricted from riding in the front seat of an air-bag equipped vehicle if the child is:

  • Under the age of 1
  • Under 20 lbs. in weight
  • Seated in rear-facing safety seat

Seat Belt/Safety Belt Laws

Seat belt restraints are required within the state of California for all drivers of all vehicles, including passengers as well. Drivers must understand that when taking the wheel, they become responsible for themselves and other passengers in the vehicle, which means that citations are given to the driver for all violations within the vehicle. At the same time, passengers aged 16 and over may also receive a citation if they are not wearing a seat belt or safety belt.

The only drivers or passengers exempt from wearing their safety belt are those given a medical waiver by a health care provider. Without this medical waiver, there are penalties for failure to wear your seatbelt while in a vehicle operated on California roadways.

California Helmet Laws

Under the age of 18, you are bound by California helmet laws that require you to utilize the use of an approved helmet while operating anything on wheels, including:

  • Bicycle
  • Skateboard
  • Roller/inline skates
  • Non-motorized scooters

Helmets must be worn properly in the state of California, which means a secure and snug fit that is appropriate for your head circumference. You must have it fastened at all times or you are subject to penalties. Helmets must also be approved by the ASTM or CPSC before they are legally considered appropriate.

If you have a child that is riding as a passenger or fastened within a child safety restraint attached to a bicycle, they too are subject to helmet laws, which could result in a $25 fine for anyone, even children passengers, who are not wearing their helmet.

Any person in California who operates a motorcycle in the state of California, no matter what age, including all passengers are required to use an approved helmet. This includes any motorized cycle, bicycle, or scooter.

California Vehicle Headlight Laws

Driver safety has a lot to do with the use of headlights. They are there for you to use to ensure you can see other drivers and items in the roadways, as well as to give other drivers a clear visual of yourself. Headlights should be used anytime you face the following conditions:

  • Cloudy, snowy, foggy, and rainy weather
  • Weather that requires wipers to be on for clear visual
  • Mornings in which windows are subject to fog and frost
  • Any weather that creates a distorted visual of other drivers
  • While driving on mountain or narrow winding roads
  • When deemed necessary to ensure you raise other drivers’ attention to your presence

Cell Phone and Text Messaging Laws in California

Use of cellphones and text messaging can pose great risks for drivers, and California has fought back to ensure that the use of these devices doesn’t interrupt your best judgment while driving. Drivers under the age of 18 are restricted from any type of cellphone or text message use even if there is use of hands-free devices like a Bluetooth or speakerphone. Teen drivers present the largest risk to California streets, which requires stricter laws, prohibiting the use of any portable communication device whether hand-free or not.

  • Drivers over the age of 18 are required to follow similar laws, however are permitted to utilize communication devices such as cellphones and other similar devices that permit use of hands-free devices. However, they are still not permitted to utilize text messaging while driving. Drivers over 18 are encouraged to follow safe driving practices if they are utilizing such devices to ensure that other drivers, as well as themselves, are safe while driving California roadways.
  • Penalties for driving while using a cellphone or text messaging are $20 for the first offence and $50 for any following offense, but there are other fees that are added to these original fees. In the end, you could end up paying over $75 for the first offence and over $190 for the second and any offense thereafter.
  • Emergency use of cellphones and text messages is permitted for all drivers, provided there is a call being placed to the police, fire department, or emergency rescue personnel.

Reporting Drunk or Unsafe California Drivers

Drunk and unsafe drivers present a risk not only to themselves, but all others on the road. While you may not be impacted, someone else will, and that could include injury or death, as well as damage to personal property. If you witness a driver that seems reckless due to drunkenness or simply following unsafe maneuvers on the road, it is your duty as a citizen and fellow driver to report such behavior to the California state highway patrol.

  • Call 911
  • Report vehicle
  • Identify vehicle make, model, color, and license plate number if possible
  • Visit Potentially Unsafe Driver to file a report with DMV which will lead to DMV retesting of the driver

Children and Pets Left Unattended in California Vehicles

California drivers are bound by many safety laws, one of which concerning children and/or pets that are left in a vehicle unattended. While running into the gas station to pay for gas is one thing, leaving the child or pet in the vehicle to go shopping is another. There are certain situations that prohibit you from leaving a child aged 6 or younger in the vehicle.

  • Leaving child in vehicle presents a high risk to health or safety, such a high crime area or extremely hot weather.
  • Leaving child in vehicle with engine still running, keys still in ignition, or both, as someone can easily steal the vehicle with the child trapped or the child may cause the vehicle to move causing harm to others.

If you are found to have left your child in the vehicle unattended and these conditions apply, you will be fined and possibly required to complete a community education program, with other penalties also possible. If the child is injured, killed, or requires medical attention, your penalties will increase.

Pets are also valued in California, with penalties for leaving pets unattended in a vehicle where these situations and risks apply. If you find a child or pet unattended in a vehicle within California, you should call 911 immediately and remain beside the vehicle until law enforcement arrives.

Smoking in Vehicle with Minor Present

Second-hand smoke is just as dangerous as first-hand smoke, especially when it comes to children. While you won’t be pulled over for smoking in a vehicle where a minor is present, you will be fined $100 if you are pulled over for another traffic violation and found to be smoking near a minor. This includes smoking of a cigarette, cigar, or tobacco pipe.


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