Vehicle Code 21755 CVC – Unsafe Passing on the Right

Vehicle Code 21755 CVC is the California statute that makes it an offense for motorists to pass other vehicles on the right, if the movement is made in an unsafe manner. Whether or not a movement is performed safely is determined by the facts of the particular case. In no event, however, shall a driver of a motor vehicle make a pass by driving on the right-side shoulder of the road. A violation of this law is an infraction and a driver will receive a traffic ticket and one point on his/her driving record.

CVC 21755 provides that “the driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass another vehicle upon the right only under conditions permitting that movement in safety. In no event shall that movement be made by driving off the paved or main-traveled portion of the roadway.”

Examples

  • driving a car on a San Francisco freeway and quickly swerving to the right traffic lane and “gunning it” to pass a car.
  • passing a driver of a vehicle on the right shoulder.
  • speeding past a decelerating truck on the right side to avoid a red light.

Defenses

Persons accused of violating this traffic law can raise a legal defense to challenge the alleged violation. Common defenses include for the accused to show that:

  • the facts of the case show that he/she safely passed on the right,
  • he/she did not pass on the right, and/or
  • he/she acted out of necessity.

Penalties

Unsafe passing on the right is charged as an infraction under California law. This is opposed to a misdemeanor or a felony.

A moving violation under this law 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 record within a 1-, 2- or 3-year period, then the DMV can:

Our criminal defense and personal injury attorneys will explain the following in this article:

right shoulder highway - passing on the shoulder would be a violation of CVC 21755
Passing on the right shoulder is illegal in California

1. When is it illegal to pass on the right?

California Vehicle Code Section 21755 says that is it an offense if a motorist:

  1. passes another driver on the right, and
  2. does so in an unsafe manner.1

This means if a driver has to pass on the right, he/she must do so safely.

Whether or not a motorist passes safely is determined by the facts of a given case.2

The rules of the road also state that it is a violation of California traffic laws if:

  1. a driver passes on the right, and
  2. does so by driving on the shoulder of the road.3

Note that many drivers guilty of this offense are also cited for speeding. Therefore, it is possible for a motorist to receive:

  • a ticket for an unsafe pass on the right, and
  • a speeding ticket.

2. Can a driver contest a charge under CVC 21755?

Defense lawyers draw on several legal strategies to contest charges under this statute. These include showing that:

  1. the accused passed on the right but did so safely.
  2. the defendant did not pass on the right side.
  3. the defendant acted out of necessity.

2.1. Safe pass

A driver is only guilty under this statute if he/she passed on the right and did so unsafely. This means it is always a defense for a driver to use the facts of a case to demonstrate that he/she:

  1. passed on the right, but
  2. did so in a safe manner.

2.2. No pass on the right

This code section only applies if a driver passes another vehicle, in the same direction of travel, on the right side. A defense, therefore, is for a defendant to show that he did not pass on the right. Perhaps, for example, the motorist made a pass but did so on the left side.

2.3. Necessity

Under a necessity defense, a defendant tries to avoid guilt by showing that he/she had a sufficiently good reason to commit the crime.

In the context of CVC 21755, an accused could attempt to show that he/she committed the crime because there was no other choice. Perhaps, for example, he/she passed on the right or passed using the shoulder because he/she:

  1. was reacting to an emergency or some hazard, or
  2. needed to make a lane change or get into a turn lane because of a mechanical issue with the vehicle.
driver receiving moving violation ticket
Violating Vehicle Code 21755 CVC will result in a point on your driving record.

3. What are the penalties for violating this code section?

A violation of this statute is charged as an infraction.

A driver will receive:

  1. a ticket (usually in an amount of $237), and
  2. one point on his/her DMV driving record.

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 if a driver fails to show up in court for a traffic ticket?

A driver cannot fail to show up in court for a traffic ticket. 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.

If the party willfully fails to appear as promised, he/she violates VC 40508.4

A violation of this law is charged as a misdemeanor. The penalties are:

5. How does this section impact a California personal injury action?

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, a negligent party bears the responsibility for compensating the plaintiff for any injuries incurred.

Proving negligence can sometimes be difficult. But, in California a driver is considered “negligent per se” if he violates a statute. This means a driver would be negligent per se for passing unsafely on the right in violation of CVC 21755.6

6. Are there traffic laws related to this statute?

There are three offenses related to unsafe passing on the right. These are:

  1. lane weaving – CVC 21658,
  2. slow vehicle not driving on the right – CVC 21654, and
  3. right hand lane violation – CVC 21650.

6.1. Lane weaving – CVC 21658

Vehicle Code 21658 CVC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a motorist to weave inside a traffic lane or to straddle a marked line.

Straddling a line means driving over a marked line as opposed to driving in between two marked lines.

A motorist faces the same penalties under this statute as he/she does under CVC 21755.

6.2. Slow vehicle not driving on the right – CVC 21654

Vehicle Code 21654 CVC makes it a traffic 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.

Like with an unsafe pass on the right, a violation of this law is an infraction.

6.3. Right hand lane violation – CVC 21650

Vehicle Code 21650 CVC says that drivers must drive their vehicles on the right side of the road.

The statute does provide a few exceptions (e.g., when passing a car going in the same direction).

As with unsafe passing on the right, an offense under this law will result in one point on a person's driving record.

For additional help...

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For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.


Legal References:

  1. California Vehicle Code 21755a CVC.

  2. Chapman v. Mason (1948) 83 Cal.App.2d 685.

  3. California Vehicle Code 21755a CVC.

  4. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC.

  5. California Penal Code 19 PC.

  6. See also Casey v. Russell (1982) 138 Cal.App.3d 379.

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