Unlawful Riding in a Vehicle
(California Vehicle Code 21712)

California Vehicle Code 21712 VC makes it illegal for a driver to let a person:

  1. Ride in part of a vehicle not intended for passengers;
  2. Ride in the trunk of a vehicle; and,
  3. Ride in a vehicle that the driver is towing.

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

  • A motorist that violates Vehicle Code 21712 must pay a fine of several hundreds of dollars. The exact amount will depend on the nature of the violation.
  • A driver that violates VC 21712 will also receive one point on his DMV driving record. A person risks getting a negligent operator license suspension if he receives 4 points in 12 months, 6 points in 24 months, or 8 points in 36 months.
  • Legal defenses exist for those that want to challenge a ticket for an unlawful ride or tow. However, a driver should consult with an experienced defense attorney before using one.
  • A motorist cannot ignore a ticket for a VC 21712 violation. If he does, he 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:

passengers in back of truck california unlawful riding and towing legal defense attorneys
Vehicle Code 21712 prohibits a driver from allowing a passenger to ride in vehicles or parts of vehicles that are not intended for passengers

1. Vehicle Code 21712 VC – Unlawful riding and towing under California law

Vehicle Code 21712 prohibits a driver from doing three things. These are:

  1. Allow a passenger to ride in vehicles or parts of vehicles that are not intended for passengers1;
  2. Allow a person to ride in the trunk of a vehicle2; and,
  3. Allow passengers to ride in vehicles that the driver is towing (e.g., boats, campers, trailers, etc.).3

California courts have provided a few additional rules while analyzing this code section. These include:

  • VC 21712 does not require all parts of a passenger's body to be completely inside a vehicle.4
  • Persons riding on the bed of a truck do not violate VC 21712 just because their feet or legs stick over the edge of the vehicle.5
  • A motorcycle rider violates this section if he shares the same seat with a person.6

Vehicle Code 21712 VC is meant to prevent people from hanging on outside portions of vehicles or riding in positions that create hazards.7

2. The penalties for unlawful riding and towing

A driver in violation of Vehicle Code 21712 receives two penalties. These are:

  1. A fine; and,
  2. Points assessed to his DMV driving record.

2.1. Fine

There are different fines under Vehicle Code 21712 depending on a driver's actions. If a driver allows a person to ride in the trunk of a vehicle, he receives the following base fines:

  • $100.00 for his first offense8
  • $200.00 for a second offense, if it occurs within one year from the first offense9
  • $250 for a third or a subsequent offense, if it occurs within one year from the second offense10

Please note that the above fines are “base fines.” These differ from the actual fines that a driver receives. Actual fines are significantly greater because they include fees and penalty assessments.

If a driver violates Vehicle Code 21712 in any other manner (e.g., by illegally towing a passenger), he must pay a fine of $238.00.11

california unlawful riding and towing legal defense attorneys
There are different fines under Vehicle Code 21712 depending on a driver's actions

2.2. Points on a motorist's DMV driving record

A motorist that violates Vehicle Code 21712 will also receive one point on his driving record.12 Points put on a motorist's driving record are ultimately reported to that person's insurance carrier. The result is an unfavorable increase in insurance rates.

Further, the DMV can declare a person a negligent operator 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.

Please note, though, that either of the latter actions will require a California DMV hearing.

3. Legal defenses if a driver violates VC 21712

A driver can always challenge a ticket for unlawfully riding or towing by raising a legal defense. If done, however, he should contact an experienced defense attorney for assistance.

3.1. Common defenses to a VC 21712 violation

There are three common defenses to a VC 21712 violation. These are:

  1. There was an emergency that made following Vehicle Code 21712 impossible;
  2. The officer issued a ticket by mistake; and,
  3. The vehicle was not moving.

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 they challenge a ticket for an unlawful ride or tow. There are three main reasons why. These include:

  1. Prosecutors give better deals to drivers with lawyers.
  2. Defense attorneys know how to get charges reduced and dismissed.
  3. A person represented by a lawyer does not have to go to court. The person's lawyer can go on his behalf.
california traffic school empty california traffic attorneys
Drivers that illegally ride or tow do not have to attend traffic school. But, they can elect to do so.

4. Violation of Vehicle Code 21712 and traffic school

Drivers that illegally ride or tow 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.13 However, the driver generally should not get any points on his driving record.14

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. Unlawful riding/towing and criminal charges

Criminal charges are not filed if a driver receives a ticket for an unlawful ride or tow. This is because it's not a crime if a motorist violates Vehicle Code 21712 VC.

Violations of VC 21712 are infractions under California law; and, violators are not subject to incarceration or other criminal penalties.

6. Ignoring a ticket for violating VC 21712

Drivers must not ignore tickets for violating Vehicle Code 21712. 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 must sign a written promise to appear in court.

If the driver willfully fails to appear as promised, he violates Vehicle Code 40508 VC.15 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.16

It also does not matter whether the offending driver is guilty or innocent of the underlying traffic citation.17 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.18

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 $1,000.19

7. Effect of an unlawful ride/tow on a personal injury lawsuit?

A driver that violates Vehicle Code 21712 may injure another party. For example, he might injure a passenger or another motorist. If the injured party 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 an auto accident, 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 injured a party while illegally towing or authorizing a prohibited ride, since he would be in violation of VC 21712.

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 21712 VC

There are three laws related to VC 21712. These are:

  1. Reckless driving;
  2. Whipping or swerving towed vehicles; and,
  3. Signaling when a driver stops or slows.

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.20

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 $1,000.21

But the possible jail sentence and fine increase if the reckless driving causes an injury.22

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

8.2. Whipping or swerving towed vehicles

According to Vehicle Code 21711:

No person shall operate a train of vehicles when any vehicle being towed whips or swerves from side to side or fails to follow substantially in the path of the towing vehicle.23

This section essentially prohibits a driver from whipping a towed vehicle or swerving while towing a vehicle.

A person that violates VC 21711 will receive:

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

8.3. Signaling when a driver stops or slows

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.24

Under this section, a driver is required to give a signal via his hand, his arm, a signal lamp, or a mechanical device.25

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 violating Vehicle Code 21712 while driving in California? Call us for help…

california unlawful riding and towing legal defense attorneys
Call us at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been cited for violating VC 21712, 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 21712 (a) VC.

  2. California Vehicle Code 21712 (c) VC.

  3. California Vehicle Code 21712 (g) VC.

  4. Albania v. Kovacevich (1941), 44 Cal. App. 2d 925.

  5. See same.

  6. James v. Myers (1945), 68 Cal. App. 2d 23.

  7. See Albania v. Kovacevich above.

  8. California Vehicle Code 21712 (e)(1) VC.

  9. California Vehicle Code 21712 (e)(2) VC.

  10. California Vehicle Code 21712 (e)(3) VC.

  11. See DMV.org.

  12. See same.

  13. See California Courts website.

  14. See same.

  15. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC.

  16. 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.

  17. See same.

  18. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.”

  21. 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.”

  22. 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.”

  23. California Vehicle Code 21711 VC.

  24. California Vehicle Code 22109 VC.

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

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