21650. Upon all highways, a vehicle shall be driven upon the right half of the roadway, except as follows:
(a) When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction under the rules governing that movement.
(b) When placing a vehicle in a lawful position for, and when the vehicle is lawfully making, a left turn.
(c) When the right half of a roadway is closed to traffic under construction or repair.
(d) Upon a roadway restricted to one-way traffic.
(e) When the roadway is not of sufficient width.
(f) When the vehicle is necessarily traveling so slowly as to impede the normal movement of traffic, that portion of the highway adjacent to the right edge of the roadway may be utilized temporarily when in a condition permitting safe operation.
(g) This section does not prohibit the operation of bicycles on any shoulder of a highway, on any sidewalk, on any bicycle path within a highway, or along any crosswalk or bicycle path crossing, where the operation is not otherwise prohibited by this code or local ordinance.
(h) This section does not prohibit the operation of a transit bus on the shoulder of a state highway in conjunction with the implementation of a program authorized pursuant to Section 148.1 of the Streets and Highways Code on state highways within the areas served by the transit services of the Monterey-Salinas Transit District or the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District.
Examples of illegal acts
- driving in the center lane of a state highway near Los Angeles when no other cars are around.
- a driver of a motor vehicle driving in the far-left traffic lane for no reason.
- swerving to the left lane on a Los Angeles County road while joyriding.
Persons accused of violating this traffic law can raise a legal defense to challenge the accusation. Common defenses include for the defendant to show that:
- his/her driving fell into an exception under the law,
- he/she was following the guidance of police, and/or
- he/she was responding to an emergency.
The offense is punishable by:
- a ticket and a fine, and
- one point on the motorist’s DMV driving record.
If a motorist gets a certain number of points on his/her record within a 1-, 2- or 3-year period, then the DMV can:
- declare him/her a negligent operator, and
- suspend or revoke his/her driving privileges.
Our California auto accident attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. When are right-hand lane violations in California?
- 2. Are there legal defenses?
- 3. How do I fight a 21650 CVC ticket?
- 4. What happens if I just ignore the ticket?
- 5. How does this statute impact a personal injury case?
- 6. Are there traffic laws related to this statute?
1. When are right-hand lane violations in California?
Under this statute, drivers are required to drive on the right-hand side of the road. It is a traffic violation if they fail to do so.1
There are some exceptions to this rule though. This means it is permissible for motorists to not drive on the right when:
- passing another vehicle,
- making a left turn,
- the right side of the road is closed because of construction,
- driving on a road restricted to one-way traffic, and
- the road is too narrow.2
The law also says that the
“section does not prohibit the operation of bicycles on any shoulder of a highway, on any sidewalk, on any bicycle path within a highway, or along any crosswalk or bicycle path crossing, where the operation is not otherwise prohibited by this code or local ordinance.”3
With regards to passing, note that California law says that passing is only legal when it can be done safely. Further, a driver that is passing on the left must make sure the left lane is free from traffic before passing.4
2. How do I fight a 21650 CVC ticket?
Defense lawyers use certain legal strategies to challenge allegations under these laws. These include showing that:
- the accused’s driving fell into an exception under the law.
- the defendant was following police instruction.
- the accused was reacting to an emergency.
Recall that CVC 21650 sets forth several exceptions that allow motorists to legally drive in the middle or left of the road. This means an accused can always assert that:
- he/she was not driving on the right, but
- his/her driving fell into an exception specified in the statute.
2.2. Following police instruction
Sometimes local authorities or police waive drivers in a certain direction, which forces them to leave the right-hand lane. It is a defense, therefore, for an accused to say that he/she was not on the right because he/she was following police guidance.
Persons driving a vehicle often have to react to emergencies (e.g., out of control cars). Drivers also have to react to emergency vehicles, either driving behind them or in the opposite direction. A defense, then, is for a defendant to say that he/she was not on the right side of the road because of an emergency or an emergency vehicle.
3. What are the penalties?
A driver that breaks this law receives:
- a ticket (usually in an amount of $238), and
- one point against his/her driver’s license.
If a motorist gets a certain amount of points within a 1-, 2- or 3-year period, the DMV can:
- declare him/her a negligent operator, and
- suspend, or even revoke, his/her driving privileges.
4. What happens if I just ignore the ticket?
A driver cannot ignore a traffic ticket. Ignoring a ticket means he/she will not show up in court for it and this is a crime per Vehicle Code 40508 CVC.
When a person is issued a traffic ticket in California, he/she has to sign a written promise to appear in court.
A party violates the law if he/she willfully fails to appear as promised.5
A violation of this law is charged as a misdemeanor. The penalties are:
5. How does this statute impact a personal injury case?
A driver that violates these laws may cause an accident with another motorist (e.g., in a rear-end collision). If the motorist is injured and later files a personal injury lawsuit against the driver, the driver may be found “negligent.”
In a personal injury action, the negligent driver has to compensate the plaintiff for any injuries that he/she suffered.
- caused an injury in a car accident, and
- was not driving on the right side of the road (in violation of CVC 21650) when the accident occurred.7
6. Are there traffic laws related to this statute?
There are three laws related to Vehicle Code 21650. These are:
- unsafe passing on the right – CVC 21755,
- slow vehicle not driving on the right – CVC 21654, and
- right-hand lane violation for bicyclists – CVC 21202.
6.1. Unsafe passing on the right – CVC 21755
Vehicle Code 21755 CVC is the California statute that makes it an offense for motorists to:
- pass other vehicles on the right, and
- do so when the movement is made in an unsafe manner.
As with not driving on the right, a violation of this law is an infraction.
6.2. Slow vehicle not driving on the right – CVC 21654
Vehicle Code 21654 CVC makes it an offense for a slow motorist to drive a vehicle in any lane but the right-hand lane.
An exception is if the driver intends to make a left turn.
A violation of this law results in the same penalties as with a violation of CVC 21650.
6.3. Right-hand lane violation for bicyclists – CVC 21202
Vehicle Code 21202 CVC is a California bicycle law that says any person riding a bike on a street must do so as close as practicable to the right-hand curb of the roadway.
Like with right-hand lane violations for cars, there are exceptions to this general rule. For example, a biker can drive to the left when passing another biker.
A violation of this law results in a fine of $197.00.
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a personal injury or criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
- California Vehicle Code 21650 CVC.
- See same.
- See California Vehicle Code 21650g CVC.
- People v. Escarcega (2019) 32 Cal.App.5th 362.
- California Vehicle Code 40508 VC.
- California Penal Code 19 PC.
- See, for example, Spriesterbach v. Holland (2013) 215 Cal.App.4th 255.