Vehicle Code 21801 CVC – Failure to Yield When Making a Left or U-Turn

Vehicle Code 21801 CVC is the California statute that applies when a driver is turning left or completing a U-turn to the left and is facing oncoming traffic. The law says that a motorist in this situation must yield the right-of-way to approaching traffic up until he/she can complete the turn with reasonable safety. A violation of this code section is an infraction and the driver will receive a ticket and one point on his/her driving record.

CVC 21801 states that “the driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left or to complete a U-turn upon a highway, or to turn left into public or private property, or an alley, shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles approaching from the opposite direction…and shall continue to yield the right-of-way to the approaching vehicles until the left turn or U-turn can be made with reasonable safety.”

Examples of Illegal Acts

  • turning left into a driveway and “gunning it” to beat an approaching vehicle
  • completing a U-turn in Los Angeles without looking for any oncoming drivers
  • ignoring an approaching truck while making a left turn

Legal Defenses

A defendant can raise a legal defense to challenge a traffic ticket issued under this statute. Common defenses include:

  • the accused yielded until he/she safely completed a turn,
  • any approaching vehicles did not pose a hazard, and/or
  • the accused acted out of necessity.


Failing to yield under Vehicle Code Section 21801 is an infraction in the State of California. This is opposed to a misdemeanor or a felony.

The moving violation is punishable by:

  • a ticket and a fine, and
  • one point on the motorist's DMV driving record.

If a driver of a vehicle receives a certain number of points within a 1-, 2- or 3-year period, then the Department can:

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

car skidding left on a turn as an example of a CVC 21801 violation
A driver can only make a legal left turn when it is reasonably safe to do so.

1. Is it illegal to fail to yield when making a left or U-turn?

California Vehicle Code 21801 applies to the situation where a driver is facing oncoming traffic and wishes to:

  • turn left,
  • complete a U-turn to the left, and/or
  • turn left into an alley or some public or private property.

Here, the law states that the driver must:

  1. yield the right-of-way to all approaching vehicles, and
  2. do so until he/she can complete the turn with reasonable safety.1

Note, though, that a motorist does not have to yield to all oncoming vehicles. He/she only has to yield to those close enough that “constitute a hazard.”2

Also note that the law requires a driver to yield to “approaching vehicles.” “Approaching vehicles” includes oncoming cars that are temporarily stopped at an intersection because of a traffic light.3

2. How can a person fight a CVC 21801 ticket?

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

  1. the defendant made a turn with reasonable safety.
  2. any approaching vehicle did not constitute a hazard.
  3. there was a necessity that forced the defendant to break the law.

2.1. Safe completion of a turn

These laws say that a driver only has to yield the right-of-way until he/she completes a turn with reasonable safety. This means it is always a defense for a driver to say that he/she:

  • may not have yielded to a driver, but
  • there was no requirement since he/she completed a turn with reasonable safety.

2.2. No hazard

Also recall that a motorist only has to yield to approaching motor vehicles that pose a hazard. A defense, therefore, is for an accused to say that he/she did not yield to a car because there was no hazard. Perhaps, for example, it was far away when a turning movement was being made.

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 21801, an accused could attempt to show that he/she committed the crime because there was no other choice. Perhaps, for example, a driver could not yield because he/she:

  1. was driving erratically because of an emergency, or
  2. was trying to get out of the way of an emergency vehicle.
driver receiving a traffic ticket from a police officer
A violation of CVC 21801 can result in a point placed on your driving record.

3. What happens if the ticket is sustained?

There are two penalties for violating this statute. These are:

  1. a ticket (usually in an amount of $237), and
  2. one point placed on the motorist's DMV driving record.

If a person earns enough 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.

Note too that, in response to traffic violations, insurance companies can increase a driver's insurance rates.

4. What happens if I ignore the ticket?

A driver cannot ignore and 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 commits the offense of “failing to appear,” per VC 40508.4

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

5. How does a violation of this statute impact a personal injury action?

A driver that violates these laws may cause an accident with another motorist (e.g., in a head on collision or a T-bone accident). If the motorist is injured and later files a personal injury lawsuit against the driver, the driver may be found "negligent."6

California law defines "negligence" as the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or to others.

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 failing to yield in violation of CVC 21801.

6. Are there laws related to failing to yield?

There are three laws related to failing to yield while turning left. These are:

  1. disobeying a sign, signal, or traffic control device – CVC 38300
  2. Illegal U-turns – CVC 22102, and
  3. Coasting in neutral – CVC 21710.

6.1. Disobeying a sign, signal, or traffic control device – CVC 38300

Vehicle Code 38300 CVC is the California statute that says it is a traffic offense for a driver to disobey any:

  • sign,
  • signal, or
  • traffic control device.

These include things like:

  • stop signs,
  • traffic lights, and
  • crosswalk signals.

Like with CVC 21801, violations of this law are charged as infractions.

6.2. Illegal U-turn – CVC 22102

Vehicle Code 22102 CVC makes it illegal for a person to make a U-turn in a business district, except at an opening where authorized.

Like with failing to yield while turning left, a violation of this law results in one point against the offender's driver's license.

6.3. Coasting in neutral – CVC 21710

Vehicle Code 21710 CVC makes it an offense for a driver to coast in neutral while going downhill.

A violation of this law leads to the same penalties as with CVC 21801.

For additional help...

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Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

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

Legal References:

  1. California Vehicle Code 21801 CVC. See also Gilmer v. Ellington (2008) 159 Cal.App.4th 190.

  2. California Vehicle Code 21801 CVC.

  3. People v. Marsh (1992) 8 Cal.App.4th Supp 1.

  4. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC.

  5. California Penal Code 19 PC.

  6. See Valerio v. Jahura (1961), 191 Cal. App. 2d 159.

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