Crossing a Divided Highway in California
Vehicle Code 21651 (a)

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California Vehicle Code 21651 (a) VC prohibits drivers from driving on, or crossing over, the dividing section on a divided California roadway.


California Vehicle Code 21651 (a) VC prohibits drivers from driving on, or crossing over, the dividing section on a divided California roadway. The section also restricts turns on divided roadways.

There are four important points to know about this code section.

  • A motorist that crosses a divided highway must pay a fine of $238.00.
  • A driver that violates Vehicle Code 21651 (a) VC will also receive one point on his DMV driving record. A driver could potentially get a negligent operator license suspension if he receives a certain number of points in a given time period (e.g., 4 points in 12 months, 6 points in 24 months or 8 points in 36 months).
  • Legal defenses are available to those drivers that want to challenge a ticket for violating VC 21651 (a). But, it's in the driver's best interests to consult with an attorney before raising one.
  • Drivers must not ignore California tickets for crossing a divided highway. If they do, they may get charged with failure to appear, per California Vehicle Code 40508. Failure to appear, under California law, may be charged as a misdemeanor.

Our California personal injury attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

1. Vehicle Code 21651 (a) VC – Unlawful to cross a divided highway in California

For purposes of this section, a divided highway is a roadway divided by means of intermittent barriers, curbs, double-parallel lines, or “other markings on the roadway.”1

Under Vehicle Code 21651 (a), whenever there is a divided roadway, it's unlawful to do either of the following:

  1. To drive any vehicle over, upon, or across the dividing section.
  2. To make a left, semicircular, or U-turn, except through a plainly marked opening in the dividing section.2

It's important to note that VC 21651 (a) applies to vehicles crossing a divided highway. Vehicle Code 21651 (b) states that drivers must drive on the right side of a divided roadway.

2. The penalties for crossing a divided highway

A driver in violation of Vehicle Code 21651 (a) will receive two penalties. These are:

  1. A fine of $238.00; and,
  2. One point assessed to his DMV driving record.3

Please note that points put on a motorist's driving record are ultimately reported to that motorist's insurance carrier. The result is typically an increase in his insurance rates for several years.

Further, the DMV can declare a person a negligent driver if he accumulates a certain number of points within a 1-,2- or 3-year period. If this happens, the DMV can either suspend or revoke a motorist's driving privileges.

california traffic ticket attorneys
A driver can always try to beat a ticket for crossing a divided highway by raising a legal defense.

3. Legal defenses if a driver violates VC 21651 (a)

A driver can always try to beat a ticket for crossing a divided highway by raising a legal defense. If this is done, it's in the driver's best interests to speak with an attorney for help.

3.1. Common defenses for crossing a divided highway

There are two common defenses for violating Vehicle Code 21651(a). These are:

  1. The driver had to cross a divided highway because of an emergency; and,
  2. The officer issued a ticket by mistake.

No matter the defense used, a driver must support it with credible evidence. The best evidence comes from:

  • Witnesses
  • Photographs
  • Surveillance video

3.2. Get help from an attorney

It's critical for motorists to seek the help of an attorney if challenging a ticket. There are three main reasons why. These are:

  1. Prosecutors typically offer better deals to drivers with lawyers.
  2. Defense attorneys know how to get charges reduced and dismissed.
  3. If a driver has a lawyer, the driver does not have to go to court. The motorist's attorney can go on his behalf.

4. Violation of Vehicle Code 21651 (a) VC and traffic school

Drivers that violate VC 21651 (a) do not have to attend traffic school. But, they can elect to do so.

If a driver chooses to attend traffic school, he must still pay his fine.4 However, the driver generally should not get any points on his driving record if he completes the school.5

Drivers can choose to attend traffic school if:

  • The driver has a valid driver's license;
  • The offense occurred while the driver was driving a noncommercial vehicle; and,
  • The ticket is for an infraction that is a moving violation.

5. Crossing a divided highway and criminal charges

The State of California does not file criminal charges against a driver if he crosses a divided highway. This is because it's not a crime if a motorist violates Vehicle Code 21651 (a) VC.

Violations of VC 21651 (a) are infractions under California law. Violators are not subject to incarceration or other criminal penalties.

california traffic ticket attorneys defending girl who received a ticket
Drivers should not ignore tickets for crossing a divided highway.

6. Ignoring a ticket 

Drivers should not ignore tickets for crossing a divided highway. Two things happen if they do. These are:

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

6.1. Violation of Vehicle Code 40508 VC

After receiving a traffic ticket in California, the driver is obligated to sign a written promise to appear in court. The driver promises to appear in court at a certain time and place (if he does not have an attorney – please see 3.2 above).

If the driver willfully fails to appear as promised, he violates Vehicle Code 40508 VC.6 The driver willfully fails to appear when he is willingly a no-show. It is not a defense if the driver did not intend to break the law.7

It also does not matter whether the offending driver is guilty or innocent of the underlying traffic citation.8 He violates 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.9

6.2. Penalties for violating VC 40508

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 $1,000.10

7. Effect of crossing a divided highway on a personal injury lawsuit?

A driver that violates VC 21651 (a) may cause an accident with another motorist that results in an injury. If the motorist later files a personal injury lawsuit against the driver, the driver may be found "negligent."

California law defines "negligence" as the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or to others. Regarding auto accidents, negligent drivers are at fault for the accident and may have to pay for any damages caused.

Proving negligence in a personal injury case can sometimes be 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 crossed a divided highway since he would be in violation of VC 21651 (a).

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. Laws related to Vehicle Code 21651 (a) VC

There are three laws related to VC 21651 (a). These are:

  1. Reckless driving;
  2. Illegal U-turns; and,
  3. Evading a peace officer by driving in the opposite direction of traffic.

8.1. Reckless driving

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.11

If no one other than the reckless driver is injured in the incident, VC 23101 is a 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 $1,000.12

But the possible jail sentence and fine increase if the reckless driving causes an injury.13

And any reckless driving conviction will add two points to the driver's California DMV record.

California illegal u-turns legal defense attorneys
Pursuant to VC 22100.5, drivers make an illegal U-turn when they make one at an intersection controlled by a traffic signal where a sign prohibits it.

8.2. Illegal U-turns

Pursuant to VC 22100.5, drivers make an illegal U-turn when they make one at an intersection controlled by a traffic signal where a sign prohibits it.

California Vehicle Code 22100.5 states:

No driver shall make a U-turn at an intersection controlled by official traffic signals except as provided in Section 21451.14

According to Vehicle Code 21451 (a), a driver approaching a green light can make a U-turn unless a sign prohibits it.15 If a U-turn is allowed, the motorist must yield the right-of-way to any traffic or pedestrians within the intersection or crosswalk.16

Further, Vehicle Code 21451 (b) states that drivers approaching a green arrow signal can make a U-turn unless a sign prohibits it.17 Again, if a U-turn is allowed, the motorist must yield the right-of-way to any traffic or pedestrians within the intersection or crosswalk.18

A driver that violates 22100.5 will receive:

  1. A fine ranging from $200.00 to $400.00; and,
  2. One point assessed to his DMV driving record.

8.3. Evading a peace officer by driving in the opposite direction of traffic

Vehicle Code 2800.4 VC makes it illegal for a person to willfully flee from a peace officer by driving a vehicle in the opposite direction of traffic.19

A person that violates VC 2800.4 receives:

  1. A jail time of six months to one year; and/or,
  2. A fine ranging from $1,000 to $10,000.

Were you accused of crossing a divided highway in California? Call us for help…

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Call us at 855-LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been cited for violating VC 21651 (a), 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-LAW-FIRM.

Legal References:

  1. California Vehicle Code 21651 (a) VC.

  2. California Vehicle Code 21651 (a)(1) and (a)(2) VC.

  3. See DMV.org.

  4. See California Courts website.

  5. See same.

  6. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC.

  7. 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.

  8. See same.

  9. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.”

  12. 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.”

  13. 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.”

  14. California Vehicle Code 22100.5 VC.

  15. California Vehicle Code 21451 (a) VC.

  16. See same.

  17. California Vehicle Code 21451 (b) VC.

  18. See same.

  19. California Vehicle Code 2800.4 VC.

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