Safety Laws in California

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Child Car Seat

All children shorter than 4 feet 9 inches younger and younger than 8 years old must ride in a booster seat or child car seat in the back seat. Children may ride in the front seat of a car if:

  • There is no rear seat.
  • All seats in a car are either side-facing.
  • All rear seats are already occupied by children younger than 8 years old.
  • The child restraint system cannot be installed properly in the back seat.
  • A child has a physical or medical condition that requires them to ride in front seat.

General Seat Belt Laws

All car occupants must wear seat belts, ride in safety seats or use approved safety-restraint systems. Some passengers may be exempted from this requirement due to physical or medical condition. All passengers older than 16 years old can be cited if they fail to comply with this law. Drivers who are caught violating this law will face the following penalties:

  • First offense ― $20.
  • Subsequent offenses ― $50.

Helmet Laws

All riders younger than 18 years old must wear helmets when riding. This includes operators of motorcycle, non-motorized scooters, bicycles, skateboards or rollers. The helmet must meet the CPSC and ASTM standards. This requirement also applies to kids riding in a bicycle restraining seat. If your child violates this law, you will face a fine of up to $25. All motorcycle passengers and drivers, regardless of age, are required by law to wear an approved safety helmet when riding.

Headlight Laws

You must turn on headlights:

  • When it is raining, snowing, cloudy or foggy or when the weather is forcing you to use windshield wipers.
  • When you can’t see approaching cars or those cars behind you.
  • After sunset until sunrise.
  • If the country or mountain roads are narrow.
  • When you want to get another driver's attention.

Cell Phone Laws

Drivers are not allowed to use hand-held cell phones. They are only allowed to use hand-free devices. Anybody caught violating this law will face the following penalties:

  • First offense: $20.
  • Subsequent offenses: $50.

The conviction will appear on your driving record. However, no points will be added.

Text Messaging

Reading, writing or sending text messages while driving is not allowed. This law applies to all drivers in California, regardless of age. If caught violating this law, you will face the following fines:

  • $20 for first offense.
  • $50 for each subsequent offenses.

GPS and Other Map Apps

You will not receive a ticket if you use your cell phone’s GPS or other mapping apps.

Drivers Younger Than 18

Drivers younger than 18 years old have less driving experience, a fact that increases teen related accidents. Keeping this in mind, California has enacted laws that ban teens from using laptops, wireless telephones, or other mobile devices to text, make a call or receive a call while driving.

Drivers aged 18 and over

Drivers older than 18 years old are allowed to use cell phones. They are also allowed to use earpieces, but on one ear only. If you are allowed to use a cell phone to make emergency calls, be sure to take great caution. Following are the best practices will help you stay safe while using a cell phone:

  • Always pull your car off the road to use your cell phone.
  • Never use a cell phone during hazardous conditions.
  • Be sensible about dialing.
  • Don't feel compelled to answer a ringing phone.
  • Pay attention to the road.
  • Don't engage in distracting conversations.
  • Use your phone when calling for help.

Reporting Unsafe or Drunk Drivers

If you suspect a drunk or unsafe driver, inform the law enforcement authorities. If the suspected driver is driving dangerously, call 911. If you feel a driver is driving dangerously because of a physical or medical condition, inform the California DMV. You can do so by filling Form DS 699 (Request for Driver Reexamination).

Unattended Children or Pets in a Car

It is illegal to leave a child younger than 6 years old or a pet unattended in a vehicle. If you must do so, the child or pet must be supervised by someone older than 12 years old. If you spot an endangered child or pet in a car, call 911.

Smoking in a Vehicle with a Minor

It is illegal if you are caught smoking a cigarette, cigar or pipe in a vehicle that also carry a minor. If you are caught violating this law, you will receive a fine of up to $100.