Failure to Yield on California Roadways
Vehicle Code 21800-21804

California Vehicle Code Sections 21800-21804 make it illegal to fail yield to other motorists in certain situations.

These sections largely set forth yielding laws that apply to intersections and when drivers make left turns and enter a highway.

In short:

  • Vehicle Code 21800 (a) VC requires drivers entering an intersection to yield to motorists already at the intersection.
  • Vehicle Code 21800 (b)(1) VC states that if two vehicles enter an intersection at the same time, the driver on the left must yield to the driver on the right.
  • Vehicle Code 21800 (c) VC provides that when two vehicles enter an intersection controlled by stop signs at the same time, the driver on the left must yield to the driver on the right.
  • Vehicle Code 21800 (d)(1) VC requires drivers to stop when approaching intersections with traffic signals that are not working.
  • Vehicle Code 21800 (d)(2) VC states that if two vehicles enter an intersection at the same time, and the signals for the intersection are not working, the driver on the left must yield to the motorist on the right.
  • Vehicle Code 21801 VC mandates that drivers turning left, or completing a U-turn, must yield to motorists driving in the opposite direction.
  • Vehicle Code 21802 VC provides that drivers must stop at intersections with stop signs and yield to motorists already at the intersection.
  • Vehicle Code 21803 VC demands that motorists entering an intersection controlled by yield sign, yield to other drivers already at the intersection.
  • Vehicle Code 21804 VC orders motorists entering a highway to yield to all traffic approaching the highway.

In the article below, our California personal injury attorneys will address:

yield sign on the street
California has several main rules as to when drivers must yield to other motorists.

1. What are the laws on failure to yield in California?

California has several main rules as to when drivers must yield to other motorists.

Vehicle Code Sections 21800-21804 mostly set forth yielding laws that apply to intersections and when drivers make left turns and enter highways.

1.1 Must drivers approaching an intersection yield to other vehicles under Vehicle Code 21800 (a)?

VC 21800 (a) requires drivers approaching an intersection to yield to motorists that have already entered the intersection.1

The section states:

The driver of a vehicle approaching an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle which has entered the intersection from a different highway.2

1.2 Do motorists at an intersection have to yield to drivers on their right under Vehicle Code 21800 (b)(1)?

VC 21800 (b)(1) provides:

When two vehicles enter an intersection from different highways at the same time, the driver of the vehicle on the left shall yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on his or her immediate right, except that the driver of any vehicle on a terminating highway shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle on the intersecting continuing highway.3

Thus, if two vehicles arrive at an intersection at the same time, the driver on the left must yield to the driver on the right.

1.3 Do motorists at intersections controlled by stop signs have to yield to drivers on their right under Vehicle Code 21800 (c)?

The rule here is about the same as the rule in VC 21800 (b)(1).  The only difference is the fact that an intersection is now controlled by stop signs in all directions.

Under VC 21800 (c):

When two vehicles enter an intersection from different highways at the same time and the intersection is controlled from all directions by stop signs, the driver of the vehicle on the left shall yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on his or her immediate right.4

1.4 Must drivers stop at intersections with inoperative traffic signals under Vehicle Code 21800 (d)(1)?

VC 21800 (d)(1) applies to the situation where a driver approaches an intersection with a traffic signal that isn't working. According to Vehicle Code 21800 (d)(1), motorists must stop at these intersections and proceed with caution when safe to do so.5

1.5 Who has the right-of-way at intersections with inoperative traffic signals under Vehicle Code 21800 (d)(2)?

VC 21800 (d)(2) applies to the situation where both of the following happen:

  1. There is an intersection with a traffic signal that isn't working; and,
  2. Two drivers arrive at the intersection at the same time.

If these both take place, then Vehicle Code (d)(2) states that the driver on the left must yield to the driver on the right.6

1.6 Must left-turning drivers yield to other motorists driving in the opposite direction under Vehicle Code 21801?

Vehicle Code 21801 provides:

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 which are close enough to constitute a hazard at any time during the turning movement, 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.7

Once a driver yields in the above manner, he may turn left or complete a U-turn; and, all drivers approaching the intersection must yield to him.8

a stop sign at an intersection
There are three rules to note under VC 21802

1.7 Do drivers at intersections controlled by stop signs have to yield to other drivers under Vehicle Code 21802?

There are three rules to note under VC 21802. When a motorist approaches an intersection controlled by stop signs, he must:

  1. Stop at the stop sign;
  2. Yield to any drivers that have already reached the intersection; and,
  3. Proceed through the intersection after yielding.9

1.8 Who has the right-of-way at intersections with yield signs under Vehicle Code 21803?

VC 21803 states;

The driver of any vehicle approaching any intersection which is controlled by a yield right-of-way sign shall, upon arriving at the sign, yield the right-of-way to any vehicles which have entered the intersection, or which are approaching on the intersecting highway close enough to constitute an immediate hazard, and shall continue to yield the right-of-way to those vehicles until he or she can proceed with reasonable safety.10

Once a driver yields in the above manner, he may proceed through the intersection; and, all drivers approaching the intersection must yield to him.11

1.9 Must drivers entering a highway yield to other drivers under Vehicle Code 21804?

Under VC 21804, a driver entering or crossing a highway must yield to all traffic approaching on the highway.12

Once safe to proceed, the motorist may do so and all drivers approaching the highway shall yield to him.13

2. Are there legal defenses if a driver violates Vehicle Code Sections 21800-21804 VC?

There are legal defenses if a motorist is accused failing to yield. It's in the motorist's best interests, though, to consult with an attorney before raising one.

2.1 What are the most common defenses?

There are three common defenses if a driver is accused of violating Vehicle Code Sections 21800-21804. These are:

  1. The driver sufficiently yielded.
  2. There was an emergency that prohibited the driver from yielding.
  3. The driver was falsely accused, or the officer was mistaken.

Please note that if a motorist raises any of these defenses, it's in his best interest to have evidence that supports his claims. This evidence may include:

  • Surveillance video
  • Photographs
  • Eyewitnesses
attorney working on laptop
Motorists can represent themselves when fighting a California ticket for failing to yield. But, it's recommended that they hire an experienced lawyer to represent them.

2.2 Do I need an attorney?

Motorists can represent themselves when fighting a California ticket for failing to yield. But, it's recommended that they hire an experienced lawyer to represent them.

It's advantageous to hire an attorney for three main reasons. These are:

  1. Prosecutors tend to offer better deals to defendants with lawyers.
  2. Defense attorneys are knowledgeable on how to get charge reductions and dismissals.
  3. Defendants with defense lawyers do not have to go to court.

3. What are the penalties if a driver fails to yield?

Drivers that violate California Vehicle Code Sections 21800-21804 VC will receive:

  1. A fine of $238; and,
  2. One point assessed to the driver's DMV driving record.14

Please note that points assessed on a motorist's record are reported to that motorist's insurance carrier. The result is typically an increase in the driver's insurance rates for several years.

If a person accumulates a certain number of points within a 1-,2- or 3-year period in California, the DMV can declare that person a negligent operator. If this is done, the DMV can suspend or even revoke that person's driving privileges. Either action requires a California DMV hearing.

4. Do I have to attend traffic school if I violate Vehicle Code 21800-21804?

Motorists that fail to yield do not have to attend traffic school.

Drivers, though, can voluntarily choose to do so. Generally, you can go to traffic school if:

  1. You have a valid driver's license;
  2. The offense occurred while driving a noncommercial vehicle; and,
  3. Your ticket is for an infraction that is a moving violation.15

If a driver elects to go to traffic school, he must still pay his traffic fine.16 However, the driver generally should not get any points on his driving record if he completes the school.17

5. Is it a crime if I fail to yield in California?

It is not a crime if a motorist violates Vehicle Code Sections 21800-21804.

These violations are infractions under California law and an offender is not subject to incarceration.

6. What happens if I ignore a ticket for violating Vehicle Code Sections 21800-21804 VC?

Two things happen if you ignore a ticket for failing to yield. These are:

  1. You violate a new law, California Vehicle Code 40508 VC, for the failure to appear in court on a traffic citation; and,
  2. You may receive penalties for violating VC 40508.

6.1 What is the violation of Vehicle Code 40508 VC?

When you are issued a traffic ticket in California, the officer will have you sign a written promise to appear at the time and place specified.

If you willfully fail to appear as promised, you violate Vehicle Code 40508 VC.18 You willfully fail to appear when you are willingly a no-show. It doesn't matter if you didn't intend to break the law.19 

Nor does it matter whether you're guilty or innocent of the underlying traffic citation.20   You violate Vehicle Code 40508 just by breaking a promise to:

  • Appear in court,
  • Appear to pay bail,
  • Pay bail in installments,
  • Pay a fine within the time authorized, or
  • Comply with any condition of the court.21

6.2 What are the penalties for violating Vehicle Code 40508 VC?

Violation of Vehicle Code 40508 VC is a misdemeanor. The penalties are:

  • Up to six months in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $1,000.22
person on road, hurt, after car accident
A driver who violates Vehicle Code Sections 21800-21804 VC, and thereby causes an accident or injury, may be found negligent in a personal injury lawsuit.

7. What is the effect of violating Vehicle Code Sections 21800-21804 on a personal injury lawsuit?

A driver who violates Vehicle Code Sections 21800-21804 VC, and thereby causes an accident or injury, may be found negligent in a personal injury lawsuit.

California law defines "negligence" as the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or to others. In the context of an auto accident, the negligent driver is at fault for the accident and may have to pay for any damages caused.

Proving negligence in a personal injury case is sometimes difficult. In California though, a driver is considered "negligent per se" if he violates a statute.

Negligence “per se” is a legal theory in which negligence is presumed based upon a defendant's violation of a statute or ordinance

This means a driver would be negligent per se if he violated Vehicle Code Sections 21800-21804. 

Please note, however, that even if a driver is negligent per se, the driver may still be able to recover for any damages he incurs. This is because of California's comparative fault laws.

8. Are there laws related to California's failure to yield laws?

There are three laws related to Vehicle Code Sections 21800-21804. These are:

  1. California's "speeding laws;"
  2. California's law on driving on the wrong side of the road; and,
  3. California's laws on unsafe passing.

8.1 What are California's "speeding laws?"

"Speeding laws" refers to those California laws that impose penalties on motorists if driving too fast. Some of these include:

Penalties for violating these speeding laws typically include a fine and points assessed on the motorist's DMV driving record.

As to fines, the exact amount of a speeding ticket will depend on the speed at which the driver was driving. The amount will also include a base fine, fees, and penalty assessments.

If a driver exceeds the speed limit, but wasn't driving more than 100 miles per hour, then the base fine of a ticket will be:

  • $35 if faster than the limit by 1 to 15 miles per hour
  • $70 if faster than the limit by 16 to 25 miles per hour
  • $100 if faster than the limit by 26 miles per hour
car going in the wrong direction
Drivers cannot drive on the wrong side of the road in California

8.2 What is California's law on driving on the wrong side of the road?

Drivers cannot drive on the wrong side of the road in California

California Vehicle Code Section 21651 describes how traffic should flow on California's divided public roads.23

According to Vehicle Code 21651 (b):

It is unlawful to drive any vehicle upon a highway, except to the right of an intermittent barrier or a dividing section which separates two or more opposing lanes of traffic.24

This language is clear. All vehicles on California's highways must drive to the right of a barrier or dividing section. This means they must drive on the right side of the road.

Driving to the left of a barrier or dividing section is driving on the left side of the road. A motorist is driving on the wrong side of the road if he does this.

Driving on the wrong side of the road is a "wobbler" under California law. A "wobbler" is a crime that can be punished as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

Whether a violation of VC 21651 (b) results in a misdemeanor or felony depends on whether anyone was hurt or killed because of the violation.

A motorist guilty of driving on the wrong side of the road will also receive points on his driving record.

8.3 What are California's laws on unsafe passing?

California's traffic laws on improper passing and overtaking vehicles are found in Vehicle Code Sections 21750-21759 VC.

Each of these code sections provide specific rules on overtaking vehicles, passing vehicles, or both.

For example, Vehicle Code 21750 (a) states:

The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left at a safe distance without interfering with the safe operation of the overtaken vehicle, subject to the limitations and exceptions set forth in this article.25

Drivers that violate California Vehicle Code Sections 21750-21759 VC will receive:

  1. A fine of $238; and,
  2. One point assessed to the driver's DMV driving record.

Were you accused of failure to yield in California? Call us for help…

female operator smiling
Call us for help...

If you or someone you know has been cited for a violation of Vehicle Code Sections 21800-21804, or has been injured in an accident in California, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm.

Legal References:

  1. California Vehicle Code 21800 (a) VC.
  2. See same.
  3. California Vehicle Code 21800 (b)(1) VC.
  4. California Vehicle Code 21800 (c) VC.
  5. California Vehicle Code 21800 (d)(1) VC.
  6. California Vehicle Code 21800 (d)(2) VC.
  7. Vehicle Code 21801 (a) VC.
  8. California Vehicle Code 21801 (b) VC.
  9. California Vehicle Code 21802 (a) and (b) VC.
  10. California Vehicle Code 21803 (a) VC.
  11. California Vehicle Code 21803 (b) VC.
  12. California Vehicle Code 21804 (a) VC.
  13. California Vehicle Code 21804 (b) VC.
  14. See DMV.org.
  15. See California Courts website.
  16. See same.
  17. See same.
  18. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC.
  19. CALCRIM 2240, endnote 1: Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose. It is not required that he or she intend to break the law, hurt someone else, or gain any advantage.
  20. See same.
  21. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC, endnote 1.
  22. California Penal Code 19 PC.  Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both.
  23. See California Vehicle Code 21651 VC.
  24. California Vehicle Code 21651 (b) VC.
  25. California Vehicle Code 21750 (a) VC.

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