Vehicle Code 21659:
Unsafe Driving on 3-lane Highway

Vehicle Code 21659 makes it unlawful for motorists in California to drive unsafely on the State's three-lane highways. This essentially means a motorist can only drive in the center lane, or far left lane, of such highways in limited circumstances.

There are five important points to know about this section:

  • The most common time a motorist is allowed to drive in the center and far left lane is when he is overtaking and passing another vehicle.
  • A driver that violates Vehicle Code 21659 must pay a fine of $238.00.
  • A motorist that does not follow VC 21659 also receives one point on his DMV driving record. A driver risks getting a negligent operator license suspension if he receives multiple points in a certain amount of time - 4 points in 12 months, 6 points in 24 months or 8 points in 36 months.
  • Drivers can challenge a ticket for unsafe driving on a three-lane highway by raising a legal defense. It's best, though, for drivers to consult with an attorney before doing so.
  • Motorists cannot ignore tickets for violating Vehicle Code 21659 VC. This results in the violation of a new law, failure to appear, pursuant to California Vehicle Code 40508. This violation may be charged as a misdemeanor.

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

california driver traffic three lane highway
It is unlawful for motorists in California to drive unsafely on the State's three-lane highways.

1. Vehicle Code 21659 – No unsafe driving on a California three-lane highway

California Vehicle Code 21659 VC applies to California highways that are divided into three lanes.

The section states that a motorist can only drive a vehicle in the center lane, or extreme left lane, on such highways under three circumstances. These are when:

  1. The motorist is overtaking and passing another vehicle;
  2. The motorist is preparing for a left turn; and,
  3. The center lane is being solely used for traffic moving in the same direction as the motorist's vehicle.1

Note that under the first circumstance, motorists can only pass other vehicles when the roadway ahead is:

  • Clearly visible; and,
  • Clear of traffic within a safe distance.2

California courts have ruled that VC 21659 also applies to California highways that are divided into more than three lanes.3 However, courts have also ruled that Vehicle Code 21659 does not apply to highways that have been divided into two lanes.4

2. The penalties for driving unsafe on a three-lane highway

A driver receives two penalties for violating Vehicle Code 21659 VC. These are:

  1. A fine; and,
  2. Points assessed on the motorist's driving record.

2.1. Fine

A driver receives a ticket for violating VC 21659 and must pay a corresponding fine.

The fine for violating Vehicle Code 21659 is $238.00.5

2.2. Points on the motorist's driving record

Motorists that violate VC 21659 will also receive one point on their DMV driving record.6 Points assessed on a driver's record are ultimately reported to his insurance carrier. The result is that the driver's insurance rates increase for several years.

A further problem occurs when a driver receives multiple points on his driving record over a certain period of time. If a driver in California receives 4 points in 12 months, 6 points in 24 months, or 8 points in 36 months, the DMV can either suspend or revoke his driving privileges.

Please note, however, that either action will require a California DMV hearing.

3. Legal defenses if a driver violates Vehicle Code 21659 VC

A driver that receives a ticket for driving unsafe on a three-lane highway can always challenge the ticket. He can do so by raising a legal defense to show that he was not guilty. If this is done, though, it's best for the driver to contact an attorney for help.

3.1. Common defenses if accused of driving unsafe on a three-lane highway

There are three common defenses to a violation of Vehicle Code 21659. These are:

  1. The officer made a mistake.
  2. An emergency caused the motorist to drive in the center or far left lane.
  3. The motorist drove in the center or far left lane to avoid injury.7

No matter the specific defense raised, a driver must support it with credible evidence. The best evidence to use is:

  • Witness statements;
  • Photographs; and/or,
  • Surveillance video.

3.2. Contact an experienced attorney for help

Drivers can represent themselves when trying to beat a ticket for a VC 21659 violation. However, it's best for drivers to contact an experienced California traffic ticket attorney for assistance.

Hiring a lawyer for help is critical for three main reasons. These are:

  1. Prosecutors tend to give better deals to drivers with lawyers.
  2. Defense attorneys understand how to get charges reduced and dismissed.
  3. A driver with an attorney does not have to go to court. The driver's attorney can go on his behalf.

4. Violations of Vehicle Code 21659 VC and traffic school

Drivers that violate VC 21659 do not have to go to traffic school. But, they can volunteer to do so.

Note that if a driver goes to traffic school, he must still pay his fine of $238.00.8 However, the driver generally does not receive any points on his California State driving record.9

In general, a driver in California can volunteer for traffic school if:

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

5. Violations of VC 21659 and criminal charges

Violating Vehicle Code 21659 does not result in criminal charges. This is because it's not a crime in California if a motorist drives unsafe on a three-lane highway (in violation of VC 21659).

Violations of Vehicle Code 21659 are infractions under California law. As such, a driver does not have to face jail time or other criminal penalties if ticketed for a VC 21659 violation.

california traffic ticket three lane highway
Drivers should not ignore, or even forget about, a ticket for violating Vehicle Code 21659.

6. Ignoring a ticket for driving unsafe on a three-lane highway

Drivers should not ignore, or even forget about, a ticket for violating Vehicle Code 21659. Two things happen if this occurs. These are:

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

6.1. Violation of Vehicle Code 40508 VC

If a driver gets a traffic ticket in California, he must sign a written promise to appear in court. He promises to appear at a certain time and place.

If the driver willfully fails to appear, he violates Vehicle Code 40508 VC.10 The driver willfully fails to appear when he is willingly a no-show. It's not even a defense if the driver did not intend to break the law.11

It also does not matter whether the offending driver is guilty or innocent of the underlying traffic ticket.12 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.13

6.2. Penalties for violating VC 40508

A violation of Vehicle Code 40508 VC is a misdemeanor. The penalties include:

  • Up to six months in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $1,000.14

7. How a VC 21659 violation impacts a personal injury lawsuit

A driver that drives unsafe on a three-lane highway may cause an accident with another motorist. If the motorist is injured and 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. In the context of auto accidents, negligent drivers are considered at fault for the accident. Further, hey may have to pay for any damages caused.

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

Negligence “per se” is a type of legal theory. It presumes a driver is negligent if he violates a statute or ordinance

This means a driver would be negligent per se if driving unsafe on a three-lane highway because the act is in violation of VC 21659.

Please note, however, that even if a driver is negligent per se, he 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 21659 VC

There are several laws related to VC 21659. These include:

  1. Unsafe passing - Vehicle Code 21750-21759;
  2. Unlawfully crossing a divided highway – Vehicle Code 21651 (a); and,
  3. Sudden stopping without signaling – Vehicle Code 22109.

8.1. Unsafe passing – Vehicle Code 21750-21759

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

Each code section provides specific rules on overtaking vehicles, passing vehicles, or both.

In short:

  • Vehicle Code 21750 VC requires motorists to pass on the left.
  • Vehicle Code 21751 VC mandates that drivers pass to the left of center only when there is sufficient clearance.
  • Vehicle Code 21752 VC prohibits drivers from overtaking and passing on the left in specific circumstances.
  • Vehicle Code 21753 VC requires motorists that are getting passed to yield to the passing vehicle.
  • Vehicle Code 21754 VC allows drivers to overtake and pass on the right in only specific situations.
  • Vehicle Code 21755 VC provides further restrictions on right side passing.
  • Vehicle Code 21756 VC limits when drivers may pass busses and streetcars.
  • Vehicle Code 21757 VC provides further limitations with buses and streetcars and prohibits left side passing in specific situations.
  • Vehicle Code 21758 VC sets forth safety rules when motorists pass slow moving vehicles traveling on grades.
  • Vehicle Code 21759 VC requires all drivers to use caution when passing animals.15

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.

8.2. Unlawfully crossing a divided highway – Vehicle Code 21651 (a)

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.”16

Under California 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.17

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.

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.18

8.3. Sudden stopping without signaling – Vehicle Code 22109

California Vehicle Code 22109 VC states that no person shall stop or suddenly decrease the speed of a vehicle without first giving an appropriate signal, provided there is a chance to do so.19

Under this section, a driver is required to give a signal via his hand, his arm, a signal lamp, or a mechanical device.20

A driver that violates VC 22109 will receive:

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

Were you accused of driving unsafe on a California three-lane highway? Call us for help…

california three lane highway legal defense attorneys
Call us at 855-LAWFIRM

If you or someone you know has been cited for violating VC 21659, 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 21659 VC.

  2. See same.

  3. Tuderios v. Hertz Drivurself Stations, Inc. (1945), 70 Cal. App. 2d 192.

  4. See same.

  5. See DMV.org.

  6. See same.

  7. This defense was held valid in the California court case of Benton v. Douglas (1947), 82 Cal. App. 2d 402.

  8. See California Courts website.

  9. See same.

  10. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC.

  11. 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.

  12. See same.

  13. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC, endnote 1.

  14. 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.

  15. California Vehicle Code 21750-21759 VC.

  16. California Vehicle Code 21651 (a) VC.

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

  18. See DMV.org.

  19. California Vehicle Code 22109 VC.

  20. Fueste v. Johnson (1962), 207 Cal. App. 2d 790.

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