California Driver Handbook

Driver Education illustration

Additional Formats

  • Open selection options
    Download PDF
  • American Sign Language Video Play Video on YouTube

Section 14 of 28

Laws and Rules of the Road

Right-of-Way Rules

General Information

Never assume other drivers will give you the right-of-way. Respecting the right-of-way of others is not limited to situations such as yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks, or watching carefully to ensure the right-of- way of bicyclists and motorcyclists. Yield your right-of-way when it helps to prevent collisions.

Pedestrians

A pedestrian is a person on foot or who uses a conveyance such as roller skates, skateboard, etc., other than a bicycle. A pedestrian can also be a person with a disability using a tricycle, quadricycle, or wheelchair for transportation.

  • If you approach a pedestrian crossing at a corner or other crosswalk, even if the crosswalk is in the middle of the block, at a corner with or without traffic signal lights, whether or not the crosswalk is marked by painted lines, you are required to exercise caution and reduce your speed, or stop if necessary, to ensure the safety of the pedestrian.
  • Do not pass a vehicle stopped at a crosswalk. A pedestrian you cannot see may be crossing the street. Stop and proceed when all pedestrians have crossed the street.
  • Do not drive on a sidewalk, except to cross it to enter or exit a driveway or alley. When crossing, yield to all pedestrians.
  • Do not stop in a crosswalk. You will place pedestrians in danger.
  • Remember, if a pedestrian makes eye contact with you, they are ready to cross the street. Yield to the pedestrian.
  • Allow sufficient time to cross the street for:
    • Older pedestrians
    • Disabled pedestrians
    • Pedestrians with young children
  • Obey signs pertaining to pedestrians. Examples include::
Pedestrian crossing street

Important: Blind pedestrians rely on the sound of your vehicle to become aware of your vehicle’s presence, and the sound of the pedestrian signal to know when they are able to safely cross the street. It is important that you stop your vehicle within 5 feet of the crosswalk. Drivers of hybrid or electric vehicles must remain especially aware that the lack of engine or electric motor noise may cause a blind pedestrian to assume there is not a vehicle nearby. Follow this cue:

  • When a blind person pulls in their cane and steps away from the intersection, this gesture usually means for you to go (additional information regarding blind pedestrians can be found here).

Crosswalks

A crosswalk is the part of the roadway set aside for pedestrian traffic. When required to stop because of a sign or signal, you must stop before the stop line, crosswalk, stop sign, or signal. You must yield to pedestrians entering or in a crosswalk. Not all crosswalks are marked. If there is a stop line before the crosswalk, the stop line must be obeyed first. Pedestrians have the right-of-way in marked or unmarked crosswalks. Although pedestrians have the right-of-way, they also must abide by the rules of the road. If you approach a crosswalk while driving, you are required to exercise caution and reduce your speed to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian. You may need to stop to ensure the safety of the pedestrian, as outlined in CVC §21950. Crosswalks are often marked with white lines. Yellow crosswalk lines may be painted at school crossings. Some crosswalks have flashing lights to warn you that pedestrians may be crossing. Look for pedestrians and be prepared to stop, whether or not the lights are flashing.

Intersections

An intersection is any place where one line of roadway meets another roadway. Intersections include cross streets, side streets, alleys, freeway entrances, and any other location where vehicles traveling on different highways or roads join each other.

  • At intersections without “STOP” or “YIELD” signs, slow down and be ready to stop. Yield to traffic and pedestrians already in the intersection or just entering the intersection. Also, yield to the vehicle or bicycle that arrives first, or to the vehicle or bicycle on your right if it reaches the intersection at the same time as you.
  • At “T” intersections without “STOP” or “YIELD” signs, yield to traffic and pedestrians on the through road. They have the right-of-way.
  • When you turn left, give the right-of-way to all vehicles approaching that are close enough to be dangerous. Also, look for motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
    Safety suggestion: While waiting to turn left, keep your wheels pointed straight ahead until it is safe to start your turn. If your wheels are pointed to the left, and a vehicle hits you from behind, you could be pushed into oncoming traffic.
  • When you turn right, be sure to check for pedestrians who want to cross the street and bicyclists riding next to you.
  • On divided highways or highways with several lanes, watch for vehicles coming in any lane you cross. Turn either left or right only when it is safe.
  • When there are “STOP” signs at all corners, stop first and then follow the rules listed above.
  • If you have parked on the side of the road or are leaving a parking lot, etc., yield to traffic before reentering the road.

Roundabouts

A roundabout is an intersection where traffic travels around a central island in a counter-clockwise direction. Roundabouts do not have bicycle lanes, so traffic must share the road. Vehicles or bicycles entering or exiting the roundabout must yield to all traffic including pedestrians:

When you approach a roundabout:

  • Slow down as you  approach the  roundabout.
  • Yield to pedestrians and bicyclists crossing the roadway.
  • Watch for signs and/or pavement markings that guide you or prohibit certain movements.
  • Enter the roundabout (heading to the right) when there is a big enough gap in traffic to merge safely.
  • Travel in a counter-clockwise direction. Do not stop or pass.
  • Signal when you change lanes or exit the roundabout.
  • If you miss your exit, continue around until you return to your exit. For roundabouts with multiple lanes, choose your entry or exit lane based on your destination as shown in the graphic. For example, to:
    • Turn right at the intersection (blue car), choose the right-hand lane and exit in the right-hand lane.
    • Go straight through the intersection (red car), choose either lane, and exit in the lane you entered.
    • Turn left (yellow car), choose the left lane, and exit.

Multiple and single-lane roundabout
Multiple and single lane roundabout

On Mountain Roads

When 2 vehicles meet on a steep road where neither vehicle can pass, the vehicle facing downhill must yield the right-of-way by backing up until the vehicle going uphill can pass. The vehicle facing downhill has the greater amount of control when backing up the hill.

Speed Limits

California’s “Basic Speed Law” means that you may never drive faster than is safe for current conditions.

Regardless of the posted speed limit, your speed should depend on:

  • The number and speed of other vehicles on the road.
  • Whether the road surface is smooth, rough, graveled, wet, dry, wide, or narrow.
  • Bicyclists or pedestrians on or crossing the roadway.
  • Whether it is raining, foggy, snowing, windy, or dusty.

Unless otherwise posted, the maximum speed limit is 55 mph on a two-lane undivided highway and for vehicles towing trailers.

Reduced Speeds

Heavy Traffic or Bad Weather

You must drive slower when there is heavy traffic or bad weather. However, if you block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic by driving too slowly, you may be cited. If you choose to drive slower than other traffic, do not drive in the “Number 1 Lane” (fast lane) (refer to “Choosing a Lane”). When another driver is close behind you and wishes to drive faster, you should move to the right.

Towing Vehicles, Buses, or Large Trucks

When you tow a vehicle or trailer, or drive a bus or 3 or more axle truck, you must drive in the right most lane or in a lane specially marked for slower vehicles. If no lanes are marked and there are lanes or more in your direction, you may only drive in either of the 2 lanes closest to the right edge of the road. Pedestrians, bicyclists, or other vehicles alongside you may experience sudden strong winds when passing or being passed. Slow down and pass safely, and pass only at a safe distance (3 feet or more for bicyclists).

Around Children

When driving within 500 to 1,000 feet of a school while children are outside or crossing the street, the speed limit is 25 mph unless otherwise posted. Also, if the school grounds have no fence and children are outside, never drive faster than 25 mph. Some school zones may have speed limits as low as 15 mph.

All vehicles must stop
Stopped school bus with flashing red lights.

Near schools, look for:

  • Bicyclists and pedestrians.
  • School safety patrols or crossing guards. Be sure to obey their directions. For the crossing guard’s safety, allow them to safely get to the side of the road before driving ahead.
  • Stopped school buses and children crossing the street. Some school buses flash yellow lights when preparing to stop to let children off the bus. The yellow flashing lights warn you to slow down and prepare to stop. When the bus flashes red lights (located at the top front and back of the bus), you must stop from either direction until the children are safely across the street and the lights stop flashing. The law requires you remain stopped as long as the red lights are flashing (CVC §22454). If you fail to stop, you may be fined up to $1,000 and your driving privilege could be suspended for 1 year. If the school bus is on the other side of a divided or multilane highway (two or more lanes in each direction), you do not need to stop.

Blind Intersections

The speed limit for a blind intersection is 15 mph. An intersection is considered “blind” if there are no stop signs at any corner and you cannot see for 100 feet in either direction during the last 100 feet before crossing. If your view is blocked, move slowly forward until you can see.

Alleys

The speed limit in any alley is 15 mph.

Near Railroad Tracks

The speed limit is 15 mph within 100 feet of a railroad crossing where you cannot see the tracks for 400 feet in both directions. You may drive faster than 15 mph if the crossing is controlled by gates, a warning signal, or a flagman.
Image of car going around Rail Road grade crossing controls.

At railroad or train crossings:

  • Look in both directions and listen for trains. Many crossings have multiple tracks; so, be ready to stop before crossing, if necessary. Cross railroad tracks only at designated crossings and only when it is safe to do so.
  • Expect a train on any track, at any time, traveling in either direction. If you need to stop after crossing the tracks, wait until you can completely cross the tracks before proceeding. Make sure your vehicle clears the tracks before you stop.
  • Never stop on the railroad tracks. If you are on the tracks, you risk injury or death.
  • Watch for vehicles that must stop before they cross train tracks. These vehicles include buses, school buses, and trucks transporting hazardous loads.
  • Remember that flashing red traffic signal lights mean STOP! Stop at least 15 feet, but no more than 50 feet, from the nearest track when the crossing devices are active or a person warns you a train is coming. Stop if you see a train coming or you hear the whistle, horn, or bell of an approaching train.
  • Do not go under lowering gates or around lowered gates. Flashing red warning lights indicate you must stop and wait. Do not proceed over the railroad tracks until the red lights stop flashing, even if the gate rises.  If the gates are lowered and you do not see a train approaching, call the posted railroad emergency toll-free number or 9-1-1. Be ready to give a detailed description of your location.

Light Rail Transit Vehicle Crossings

The same rules apply to light-rail transit vehicle crossings as to train crossings.

Light-rail transit vehicles are very quiet and accelerate more quickly than trains.

Near Streetcars, Trolleys, or Buses

The passing speed limit, when safe to pass, is no more than 10 mph. This speed limit applies at a safety zone or an intersection where a streetcar, trolley, or bus is stopped and traffic is controlled by a peace officer or traffic signal light. A safety zone is marked by raised buttons or markers on the road and is set aside for pedestrians. You will most often see safety zones in areas where street cars or trolleys and vehicles share the roadway.

Yellow Safety Bumps

Business or Residential Districts

The speed limit is 25 mph, unless otherwise posted.

Near Animals

Nearby Animal Sign

If you see a sign with a picture of an animal (see example), be alert for possible animals in or near the roadway. If you see animals or livestock near the roadway, slow down and proceed with caution. Be sure to follow directions from the person in charge of the animals. If you see a stray animal in your path, slow down or stop if it’s safe. Do not swerve as you may lose control of your vehicle and cause an accident. Be aware of sudden movements from the animals as they are unpredictable and may run into the roadway.