Following too Closely (Tailgating) on California Roadways
(Vehicle Code 21703)

California Vehicle Code 21703 states that drivers in California cannot follow vehicles too closely. Following too closely is also referred to as tailgating. There are five important points to know about following too closely in California.

  • A driver is following another motorist too closely if he is closer than what is "reasonable and prudent." "Reasonable and prudent" is determined on a case-by-case basis after examining all the given circumstances.
  • Legal defenses exist for those accused of violating VC 21703 and violators can hire an attorney to fight any charge(s).
  • The fine for violating Vehicle Code 21703 is $238.
  • A driver that tailgates will also receive one point on his DMV record. You risk getting a negligent operator license suspension if you get 4 points in 12 months, 6 points in 24 months or 8 points in 36 months.
  • Drivers cannot ignore a California ticket for following too closely. This act will likely result in a charge of failure to appear, per California Vehicle Code 40508, which can be charged as a misdemeanor. It can also trigger a hold on your driver's license under Vehicle Code 40509.5.

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

closeup of rear of a vehicle on freeway
California Vehicle Code 21703 states that drivers in California cannot follow vehicles too closely

1. Is it illegal to tailgate in California?

California Vehicle Code 21703 VC states:

The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicle and the traffic upon, and the condition of, the roadway.1

Thus, drivers are tailgating if they are following more closely than what is reasonable and prudent. The determination of what is, or is not, reasonable and prudent depends on all the circumstances of a given case.2 The conditions highlighted in VC 21703 (i.e., the speed of the vehicles, traffic, and conditions of the roadway) are but just a few circumstances courts consider. California courts look to several other factors to help determine whether a driver is following too closely. These include the:

  • Alertness of the following driver3;
  • Braking efficiency of the vehicles4;
  • Distance between the vehicles5;
  • Suddenness of a vehicle stopping6
  • Direction the lead car was traveling;7and,
  • Road surface and whether it was slippery or wet8.

2. Are there legal defenses if a driver violates Vehicle Code 21703 VC?

There are legal defenses if a motorist is accused of following too closely. 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 21703. These are:

  1. The driver was following at a reasonable and prudent distance given the facts of the case.
  2. The officer did not clearly see the vehicles and was mistaken.
  3. The motorist in front was driving erratically.

It's important to note, that if a driver raises any of the above defenses, that he have photographs or surveillance video to support his claims.

2.2 Do I need an attorney?

Motorists can represent themselves when fighting a California ticket for following too closely. But, it's recommended that anyone charged with this violation 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.

girl receiving traffic ticket
Drivers that follow too closely on a California roadway will receive: A fine of $238; and, One point assessed to the driver's DMV driving record

3. What are the penalties if I follow too closely in California?

Drivers that follow too closely on a California roadway will receive:

  1. A fine of $238; and,
  2. One point assessed to the driver's DMV driving record.9

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 21703 VC?

Motorists that violate VC 21703 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.

If a driver elects to go to traffic school, he must still pay his traffic fine.10 However, the driver generally should not get any points on his driving record if he completes the school.11

5. Is it a crime to tailgate in California?

It is not a crime if a motorist violates Vehicle Code 21703 VC. 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 VC 21703?

Two things happen if you ignore a ticket for following too close. 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.
girl looking puzzled or confused
If you willfully fail to appear as promised, you violate Vehicle Code 40508 VC

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.12 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.13 Nor does it matter whether you're guilty or innocent of the underlying traffic citation.14 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.15

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 $1,000.16

7. What is the effect of a tailgating violation on a personal injury lawsuit?

A driver who violates Vehicle Code 21703 VC, and thereby causes an accident, 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 following too closely since he would be in violation of VC 21703. 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. Is there a real following distance that is truly safe?

There is not one universal following distance that is safe under every driving circumstance. However, the "3 second rule" is a helpful method to avoid tailgating. According to this method, a driver begins counting (by one second intervals) when the vehicle ahead passes a certain point, such as a traffic sign. If the driver passes the same point before he counts to 3 seconds, he is following too closely.17 Further, a motorist should allow for 4 or more seconds when:

  • Driving on slippery roads.
  • Following motorcyclists or bicyclists on wet or icy roads, metal surfaces, and gravel.
  • Towing a trailer or carrying a heavy load.
  • Following large vehicles that block your view ahead.
  • Merging onto a freeway.18

9. Are there laws related to Vehicle Code 21703?

Drivers often follow too closely because they're:

  • Speeding;
  • Under the influence of alcohol or drugs; or,
  • Driving recklessly.

Therefore, three laws related to VC 21703 are:

  1. Speeding in violation of California's "speeding laws;"
  2. Driving under the influence; and,
  3. Reckless driving.
car driving fast at night time
"Speeding laws" refers to those California laws that impose penalties on motorists if driving too fast.

9.1 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

9.2 What is driving under the influence in California?

A driver in California may tailgate because the motorist was driving under the influence (DUI). If so, the DUI is treated as a separate offense. Driving under the influence is against the law in California. It's against the law to:

  1. Drive under the influence of alcohol; and,
  2. Drive under the influence of drugs.

Please note that the penalties for a California DUI can grow quite severe. Thus, you must consult with a California DUI attorney if charged with this offense. Legal defenses to a California DUI charge do exist, but a California DUI lawyer is necessary to assert the right one on your behalf.

9.3 What is reckless driving under California law?

California Vehicle Code 23103 is the State's law on reckless driving. It makes it a crime to drive with wanton disregard for the safety of people or property.19 If no one other than the reckless driver is injured in the incident, VC 23101 is a California misdemeanor. It can be punished at most by:

  1. Five to 90 days in county jail, and/or,
  2. A fine of between $145 and $1,000.20

But the possible jail sentence and fine increase if the reckless driving causes an injury.21 And any reckless driving conviction will add two points to the driver's California DMV record.

Were you accused of following too closely 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 VC 21703, 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. If your case is in Nevada, please visit our page on NRS 484B.127 - tailgating tickets in Las Vegas Nevada.

Legal References

  1. California Vehicle Code 21703 VC.
  2. Gornstein v. Priver, 64 Cal. App. 249.
  3. Pittman v. Boiven (1967) 249 Cal. App. 2d 207.
  4. See same.
  5. See same.
  6. See same.
  7. See same.
  8. Leighton v. Dodge, 236 Cal. App. 2d 54.
  9. See DMV.org.
  10. See California Courts website.
  11. See same.
  12. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC.
  13. 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.
  14. See same.
  15. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC, endnote 1.
  16. 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.
  17. See dmv.ca.gov.
  18. See same.
  19. California Vehicle Code 23103 VC: “(a): A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving. (b) A person who drives a vehicle in an off-street parking facility, as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 12500, in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.”
  20. Vehicle Code 23103(c): “Except as otherwise provided in Section 40008, persons convicted of the offense of reckless driving shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for not less than five days nor more than 90 days or by a fine of not less than one hundred forty-five dollars ($145) nor more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment, except as provided in Section 23104 or 23105.”
  21. California Vehicle Code 23104 (a) VC: “Except as provided in subdivision (b), whenever reckless driving of a vehicle proximately causes bodily injury to a person other than the driver, the person driving the vehicle shall, upon conviction thereof, be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for not less than 30 days nor more than six months or by a fine of not less than two hundred twenty dollars ($220) nor more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment.”

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