Fighting "Unsafe Passing" tickets in Nevada
(NRS 484B.203)

Passing a car in an unsafe manner is a misdemeanor in Las Vegas carrying a $305 fine and four (4) driver's license demerit points. The fine doubles if it occurred in a work or pedestrian zone in Nevada. And it takes a full year after the case closes to seal the criminal record. 

It is often possible to get unsafe passing charges reduced to a non-moving violation or even dismissed. Typical defenses are:

  • The defendant was acting safely,
  • There was an emergency situation, or
  • The defendant was falsely accused

It is important not to ignore traffic citations. Otherwise, the judge will issue a bench warrant. So it is important to seek legal counsel as soon as possible to handle the ticket.

In this article, our Las Vegas traffic ticket attorneys will discuss:

No 20passing 20zone 20sign
Unsafe passing is a misdemeanor in Nevada carrying a fine and 4 demerit points.

1. When is passing a car illegal in Las Vegas, Nevada?

Nevada law prohibits passing vehicles in an unsafe way. The passing drivers are required to:

  1. wait until conditions are clear with no oncoming traffic to make a pass, and
  2. maintain a safe speed and distance from other vehicles and road barriers while overtaking another car.

Drivers must also obey signs and traffic-control devices that indicate when passing is prohibited. 

The drivers of the vehicles being passed also have duties: When they observe another car beginning to pass them, they must not increase speed until the other vehicle completely overtakes them. In other words, they cannot try to deter the other car from passing them by going faster themselves.1

1.1. Passing on the left vs. right

Double 20line
Double lines mean no passing allowed in either direction.

The default rule for safe passing is to overtake a car on the left side. On a two-lane road, for instance, cars may pass each other only on the left side. (Also, the lane marker needs to be a dotted line; solid lines indicate that passing is prohibited.)

It is unlawful to pass on the left side in any of the following conditions (unless it is a one-way road):

  • when approaching the crest of a grade...or upon a curve in the highway...where the driver's view is obstructed;
  • within 100 feet of any intersection or railroad grade crossing; or
  • within 100 feet of any bridge, viaduct or tunnel when the driver's view is obstructed2

Meanwhile, it is legal to pass a car on the right in any of the following circumstances as long as it is done safely:

  • on a one-way road, as long as there is sufficient width for two vehicles; or
  • the driver of the vehicle being passed is making a left turn, or signaling to make a left turn; or
  • the road has two or more lanes moving in one direction; or
  • the shoulder of the road is wide enough for the passing car, and
    • the passing driver travels no more than 200 feet on the shoulder, or
    • the shoulder is not part of an intersection or highway exit or entrance

Note that drivers may not pass on the right if it would require driving over unpaved road.3

1.2. Passing school buses

Drivers may not pass school buses that have stopped and are displaying flashing red signals. Instead, drivers are required to stop until the flashing red light ceases. Learn more about the Nevada crime of passing a stopped school bus.4 (This is similar to California Vehicle Code 22454 VC, prohibiting passing school buses with flashing lights.)

2. How do I fight the charges?

Passing 20hill

The best defenses to Nevada charges of unsafe passing depend on the specific facts of the case: Where the incident took place, who was there, and when it allegedly happened. Some common defense strategies include these arguments:

  1. The driver acted safely and lawfully
  2. The driver acted reasonably in an emergency situation
  3. The driver was falsely accused by another driver

2.1. The driver acted safely and lawfully

What constitutes safe is sometimes subjective. What may appear hazardous to one police officer may, in fact, be perfectly within limits of what is legal.

A defense attorney would try to find surveillance video and eyewitnesses in an effort demonstrate that the defendant had clear visibility, maintained a safe speed and distance, and passed in the correct direction. As long as the prosecutor cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant broke the law, the case should be dropped.

2.2. The driver acted reasonably in an emergency situation

Roads are hotbeds for emergency situations: Sometimes a driver loses control of his/her car, or a tree branch falls onto the road, or a heavy object drops off a truck, etc. In any of these situations, drivers may have to execute a spontaneous and risky car passing to avoid an accident and stay safe.

Nevada's "sudden emergency doctrine" relieves drivers of civil liability when unexpected conditions confront them and they react reasonably.5 Depending on the case, this doctrine may protect the driver from criminal liability as well. If the defense attorney can show that any reasonable person in the defendant's situation would have acted the same way, the charge for unsafe passing may be dropped.

2.3. The driver was falsely accused by another driver

Road rage is real, and everyday drivers lose their cool and hurl false allegations at each other over minor incidents. This a time where surveillance video and eyewitness testimony could prove invaluable in showing that the accuser is lying (or simply mistaken). As long as the D.A. has insufficient evidence to sustain a guilty verdict, the defendant should not face a conviction.

Note that most traffic cases do not involve heavy litigation where the defendant has to defend him/herself on the merits. Oftentimes, the defense and prosecution can negotiate a favorable deal without undertaking an extensive investigation.

3. What are the penalties for unsafe passing in Las Vegas, Nevada?

In the City of Las Vegas, the fine for passing a car unsafely is $305.6 Every city and county imposes its own fine amount. For example, the fine for passing a car in an unsafe manner in the City of Reno is $115.7

As a misdemeanor, unsafe passing carries a maximum sentence of $1,000 and/or six (6) months in jail. But it is extremely rare for a judge to impose jail for just a traffic ticket.8

3.1. Unsafe passing in a work zone or pedestrian zone

Nevada imposes double penalties for improper passing in a work zone or a pedestrian zone. So a ticket that would otherwise carry a $305 fine would double to $610 if the incident occurred in a construction area or a space designated for pedestrians.

Work zones and pedestrian safety zones are supposed to be clearly marked with signs so that drivers have notice they are in special zones that have double penalties. If these signs are missing when a defendant gets a ticket in a work or pedestrian zone, a defense attorney would argue that the double penalty should be lifted since the driver had no notice.

Learn more about Nevada work zone penalties.9

3.2. Passing a school bus

The penalties for wrongfully passing a school bus increase with each successive offense:10

Illegally Passing a School Bus in Nevada Penalties

1st offense

·$250 to $500 in fines

2nd offense within one year of the 1st offense

·$250 to $500 in fines, and

·6 month suspension of the defendant's driver's license

3rd or subsequent offense within two years of the most recent offense

·Up to $1,000 in fines, and

·Up to 1 year suspension of the defendant's driver's license

4. Can I get a charge reduced to a non-moving violation in Las Vegas, Nevada?

No 20passing 20sign

In many cases, yes. Unless the defendant has a history of traffic violations, the D.A. is often generous about reducing moving violation charges down to non-moving violations.

It may even be possible to get the citation totally dismissed. To do this, the defense attorney would have to convince the prosecutors that their evidence is too inadequate to support a conviction. Unless the prosecutors can prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the case should be thrown out.

5. How many points will go on my Nevada driver's license?

The Nevada DMV adds four (4) demerit points on a defendant's driver's license for passing in an unsafe way.11 After one year, the demerit points will disappear.

Accumulating twelve (12) or more demerit points will cause the license to be suspended for six months. It may be possible to fight the license suspension by requesting a DMV administrative hearing, which is similar to a small-scale trial.12

People who are caught driving on a suspended license can be charged with a misdemeanor carrying up to six (6) months in jail and/or up to $1,000 in fines.13

6. Will my auto insurance rates go up?

Yes, moving violations usually do cause a hefty rate hike. This is another reason why it is worth it to fight traffic cases. If the defense attorney succeeds in getting the charge reduced to a non-moving violation, the defendant's car insurance will probably not go up.

7. Do I have to do traffic school?

It depends on the case...

Sometimes, the prosecutor offers a plea deal that does not require traffic school. Other times, the judge will let a defendant pay a higher fine in exchange for not doing traffic school. Many times, doing traffic school is a way to get an unsafe passing charge reduced to a non-moving violation, which carries no demerit points or insurance hikes.14

And in the best case scenario, the defense attorney convinces the prosecutor to completely dismiss the charges with no penalties whatsoever.

8. What happens if I ignore my ticket?

Unsafe 20passing 20water

Anyone who blows off their traffic ticket in Nevada will get a bench warrant issued for their arrest. Once a person has a bench warrant, he/she can be arrested at any time and possibly held without bail.

A defense attorney can try to get the warrant recalled ("quashed") by requesting a court hearing and arguing that the defendant is ready to address the traffic ticket. If the judge agrees to quash the warrant, the defendant must be careful not to miss another court deadline or fine payment. Otherwise, the judge will issue another warrant and will not be as willing to recall it.15

9. What will happen to my Nevada commercial driver's license?

The Nevada DMV will add four (4) demerit points to a person's commercial license (CDLs) for an unsafe passing citation.16

9.1. CDL Suspension

Federal law considers it a "serious offense" to make improper traffic lane changes, such as an unsafe pass. Committing two serious offenses within three years carries a 60-day CDL suspension. A third conviction within three years carries a 120-day CDL suspension.17

10. What will happen to my out-of-state license?

Consult with an attorney in the home state to discuss if and how the DMV will penalize the person's license. In general, DMVs impose the same penalties as they would if the incident took place in the home state.

11. When can I seal a conviction for unsafe passing in Nevada?

People convicted of unsafe passing in Nevada must wait one (1) year after the case closes to petition the court to seal the criminal record.18 If they do not seal the record, background checks will show the person's citation and conviction. 

Note that if the unsafe passing charge gets dismissed, there is no waiting period to petition to seal the record. If the defendant chooses not to pursue a record seal, his/her background check will not show a conviction...but it will show that a citation was issued.19

12. Will I get deported?

Passing 20country 20road

No. Passing in an unsafe way is not a deportable offense. That being said, immigration law is constantly shifting. Any immigrant charged with a crime is advised to talk with an attorney to discuss if recent laws threaten their resident status. Learn more about the criminal defense of immigrants in Nevada.

But remember that undocumented immigrants can be deported at any time, even if they do not commit a crime. Illegal aliens should consult with a Nevada immigration attorney to discuss how to obtain legal residency in the U.S.

13. Should I fight my citation or just pay the fine?

Fight, because prosecutors are usually willing to offer a charge reduction or dismissal without extensive litigation. It may be tempting to "throw money at the problem" and pay the fine to make the case go away. But it is usually worth the effort to pursue a resolution that carries no demerit points or insurance rate hikes.

14. Can I go to trial?

Yes. Moving violations in Nevada are misdemeanors, which entitle the defendant to a bench trial. The primary difference between a bench trial and a jury trial is that the judge ("bench") decides the verdict.

Under some circumstances, going to trial on a traffic ticket may be a good idea. But in the majority of cases, the prosecutor and defense attorney can negotiate a favorable resolution without the time or expense of trial.20

15. Do I need a criminal defense attorney for a traffic ticket?

The deck is always stacked against the defendant, so it is a smart idea for defendants to arm themselves with experienced and skilled legal counsel. Having an attorney provides several advantages:

  1. The attorney is familiar with the prosecutors and judges and will know the best ways to wheedle a dismissal or charge reduction from them.
  2. Attorneys can appear at court hearings without the defendant having to show up (with rare exception). So defendants who live far from court or who have day jobs do not have to travel and miss work if they hired an attorney to represent them.
  3. In practice, prosecutors tend to extend better plea deals and take defendants more seriously if they are represented by counsel.

Furthermore, the court system is extremely intimidating and overwhelming. Having an undaunted advocate looking out for the defendant's best interests makes him/her feel more empowered.

15.1. Las Vegas Justice Court "attorney sessions"

No 20passing 20zone

Another advantage of hiring an attorney for traffic matters is that the attorney may be able to resolve the matter very quickly. For instance, Las Vegas Justice Court hosts biweekly "attorney sessions" on Tuesdays and Thursdays just for defense attorneys and prosecutors to negotiate traffic tickets. These attorney sessions keep traffic ticket cases from dragging on for weeks or months.

16. If a driver causes an accident by unsafe passing, can I file a lawsuit?

Yes. Drivers who pass in an unsafe way are being negligent to other drivers on the road. And if their negligence causes a collision, the drivers should be liable for the property and physical damage they caused.

Under Nevada law, victims (the plaintiffs) can sue bad drivers (the defendants) under the legal doctrine of negligence per se. A defendant is liable under negligence per se if:

  1. the defendant violated a statute (such as a traffic law);
  2. this violation caused an injury (such as a car accident); and
  3. the victim is part of the class of people that the statute is meant to protect (such as other drivers sharing the road).21

It may be easier to win a personal injury case by suing for "negligence per se" instead of straight negligence. In a negligence per se case, the court does not need to decide whether the defendant's actions were reasonable; instead, the court can presume it. The plaintiff just has the burden to prove that the defendant's unreasonable conduct resulted in the accident.

Most personal injury lawsuits resolve out of court without extensive litigation. In any event, our Las Vegas car accident attorneys strive for the largest settlement possible to cover the victims':

Even victims who partially contribute to a collision may still be eligible for a substantial financial settlement. Learn more about our Las Vegas personal injury attorneys.

17. Related traffic violations in Nevada

Traffic ticket? Call a Nevada criminal defense attorney...

Were you cited for passing a vehicle in Clark County or elsewhere in Nevada? Then our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) want to help. Call us for a FREE consultation, and we will discuss how we will fight to get your citation dismissed or reduced. For California cases, please visit our page on traffic tickets for unsafe passing in California - Vehicle Code 21750.


Legal References:

  1. NRS 484B.203. Duties of drivers passing vehicles proceeding in opposite directions; additional penalty for violation committed in work zone or pedestrian safety zone.

    1. Drivers of vehicles proceeding in opposite directions shall pass each other keeping to the right, and upon highways having width for not more than one line of traffic in each direction, each driver shall give to the other at least one-half of the paved portion of the highway as nearly as possible.

    2. A person who violates any provision of this section may be subject to any additional penalty set forth in NRS 484B.130 or 484B.135.

    NRS 484B.207. Overtaking vehicle on left side: Duties of drivers of overtaking and overtaken vehicle; additional penalty for violation committed in work zone or pedestrian safety zone.

    1. The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left thereof at a safe distance and shall not again drive to the right side of the highway until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle.

    2. Except when overtaking and passing on the right is permitted, the driver of an overtaken vehicle shall give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle upon observing the overtaking vehicle or hearing a signal. The driver of an overtaken vehicle shall not increase the speed of the vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle.

    3. A person who violates any provision of this section may be subject to any additional penalty set forth in NRS 484B.130 or 484B.135.

  2. NRS 484B.213 Limitations on overtaking on left side; additional penalty for violation committed in work zone or pedestrian safety zone.

    1. A vehicle must not be driven to the left side of the center of a two-lane, two-directional highway and overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction, unless such left side is clearly visible and is free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance ahead to permit such overtaking and passing to be completely made without interfering with the safe operation of any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction or any vehicle overtaken.

    2. A vehicle must not be driven to the left side of the highway at any time:

    (a) When approaching the crest of a grade or upon a curve in the highway where the driver's view is obstructed within such distance as to create a hazard in the event another vehicle might approach from the opposite direction.

    (b) When approaching within 100 feet or traversing any intersection or railroad grade crossing.

    (c) When the view is obstructed upon approaching within 100 feet of any bridge, viaduct or tunnel.

    3. Subsection 2 does not apply upon a one-way highway.

    4. A person who violates any provision of this section may be subject to any additional penalty set forth in NRS 484B.130 or 484B.135.

    NRS 484B.217 Zones in which overtaking on left side or making left-hand turn prohibited; exceptions; additional penalty for violation committed in work zone or pedestrian safety zone.

    1. The Department of Transportation with respect to highways constructed under the authority of chapter 408 of NRS, and local authorities with respect to highways under their jurisdiction, may determine those zones of highways where overtaking and passing to the left or making a left-hand turn would be hazardous, and may by the erection of official traffic-control devices indicate such zones. When such devices are in place and clearly visible to an ordinarily observant person, every driver of a vehicle shall obey the directions thereof.

    2. Except as otherwise provided in subsections 3 and 4, a driver shall not drive on the left side of the highway within such zone or drive across or on the left side of any pavement striping designed to mark such zone throughout its length.

    3. A driver may drive across a pavement striping marking such zone to an adjoining highway if the driver has first given the appropriate turn signal and there will be no impediment to oncoming or following traffic.

    4. Except where otherwise provided, a driver may drive across a pavement striping marking such a zone to make a left-hand turn if the driver has first given the appropriate turn signal in compliance with NRS 484B.413, if it is safe and if it would not be an impediment to oncoming or following traffic.

    5. A person who violates any provision of this section may be subject to any additional penalty set forth in NRS 484B.130 or 484B.135.

  3. NRS 484B.210 When overtaking on right side allowed; additional penalty for violation committed in work zone or pedestrian safety zone.

    1. The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass upon the right of another vehicle only under the following conditions:

    (a) When the driver of the vehicle overtaken is making or signaling to make a left turn.

    (b) Upon a highway with unobstructed pavement which is not occupied by parked vehicles and which is of sufficient width for two or more lines of moving vehicles in each direction.

    (c) Upon a highway with unobstructed pavement which is not marked as a traffic lane and which is not occupied by parked vehicles, if the vehicle that is overtaking and passing another vehicle:

           (1) Does not travel more than 200 feet in the section of pavement not marked as a traffic lane; or

           (2) While being driven in the section of pavement not marked as a traffic lane, does not travel through an intersection or past any private way that is used to enter or exit the highway.

    (d) Upon any highway on which traffic is restricted to one direction of movement, where the highway is free from obstructions and of sufficient width for two or more lines of moving vehicles.

    2. The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass another vehicle upon the right only under conditions permitting such movement in safety.

    3. The driver of a vehicle shall not overtake and pass another vehicle upon the right when such movement requires driving off the paved portion of the highway.

    4. A person who violates any provision of this section may be subject to any additional penalty set forth in NRS 484B.130 or 484B.135.

  4. NRS 484B.353 Overtaking and passing school bus: Duties of driver; exceptions; penalties.

    1. Except as otherwise provided in subsection 2, the driver of any vehicle, when meeting or overtaking, from either direction, any school bus, equipped with signs and signals required by law, which has stopped to receive or discharge any pupil and is displaying a flashing red light signal visible from the front and rear, shall bring the vehicle to an immediate stop and shall not attempt to overtake or proceed past the school bus until the flashing red signal ceases operation.

    2. The driver of a vehicle upon a divided highway need not stop upon meeting or passing a school bus which is positioned in the other roadway. The driver of a vehicle need not stop upon meeting or passing a school bus where traffic is controlled by a traffic officer.

    3. Any person who violates any of the provisions of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and:

    (a) For a third or any subsequent offense within 2 years after the most recent offense, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $1,000 and the driver's license of the person must be suspended for not more than 1 year.

    (b) For a second offense within 1 year after the first offense, shall be punished by a fine of not less than $250 nor more than $500 and the driver's license of the person must be suspended for 6 months.

    (c) For a first offense or any subsequent offense for which a punishment is not provided for in paragraph (a) or (b), shall be punished by a fine of not less than $250 nor more than $500.

  5. See Posas v. Horton, 228 P.3d 457, 126 Nev. 112 (2010)("[A] sudden emergency occurs when an unexpected condition confronts a party exercising reasonable care.").
  6. Las Vegas Municipal Bail Schedule & Sentencing Guidelines; The violation codes are 602 through 606.
  7. Reno Municipal Bail Schedule; the violation codes are 6.06.135(1-6).
  8. NRS 193.150. NRS 484B.203 violations are prosecuted as misdemeanors, not infractions. See, e.g., Man charged with 12 felonies, misdemeanors, The Record-Courier, (August 31, 2012).
  9. NRS 484B.130; NRS 484B.135.
  10. NRS 484B.353.
  11. Nevada DMV Violation Codes.
  12. NAC 483.500; NAC 483.510; NAC 483.764.
  13. NRS 484B.560.
  14. See, e.g., Traffic School Information, North Las Vegas Municipal Court; Las Vegas Justice Court Traffic School.
  15. NRS 173.155; see, e.g. motion to place on calendar to quash the warrant at Las Vegas Justice Court; Nevada DMV Suspension Information Page.
  16. NAC 483.500; NAC 483.510.
  17. 49 CFR §383.51.
  18. NRS 179.245.
  19. NRS 179.255.
  20. Sixth Amendment.
  21. Sagebrush Ltd. v. Carson City, 660 P.2d 1013, 1015, 99 Nev. 204, 207, (Nev.,1983).

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