Driving on Trails or Paths in California
Vehicle Code 23127

California Vehicle Code 23127 VC says that it's against the law for persons to drive "unauthorized vehicles" on California trails and paths.

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

  • An "unauthorized vehicle" is a vehicle driven by a driver on a path where the owner of the path has not consented to.
  • A driver that violates Vehicle Code 23127 can be charged with a misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 6 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
  • Persons can challenge accusations of driving on a trail or path. However, it's critical for these people to gain the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney before doing so.
  • Drivers must not ignore violations for driving on a trail or path. A person that ignores a VC 23127 violation can get charged with an additional crime - failure to appear (Penal Code 1320 & 1320.5)

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

driving on trails in california legal defense
California Vehicle Code 23127 VC says that it's against the law for persons to drive "unauthorized vehicles" on California trails and paths.

1. Vehicle Code 23127 VC – Unauthorized vehicles prohibited on trails and paths

Under California Vehicle Code 23127, no person(s) may drive an "unauthorized vehicle" on any state, county, city, private, or district path/trail that is marked with proper signage.1

The term, "unauthorized vehicle," means any motor vehicle that is driven without the written permission of the owner of the trail or path, or, the owner's agent.2

As to what is proper signage under this section, VC 23127 says that the signs on a trail or path must:

  1. Be located at a path's entrances, exits and at one-mile intervals along the trail/path; and,
  2. Show that no unauthorized vehicles are allowed on the path/trail.3

VC 23127 applies to hiking trails, horseback riding trails, and bike paths.4

Vehicle Code 23127 VC does allow for one exception. The section states that it does not apply to the operation of an authorized emergency or maintenance vehicle.5

2. Penalties for driving on a California trail or path

Vehicle Code 23127 states:

Any person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor.6

A misdemeanor is a criminal charge. In California, a misdemeanor is more serious than an infraction, but less serious than a California felony.

Standard California misdemeanors are punishable by:

  1. Up to six months in jail; and/or,
  2. A fine of up to $1,000.7

3. Defenses if a person violates Vehicle Code 23127 VC

A person charged with illegally driving on a California trail does not have to automatically plead guilty. There are legal defenses available to fight the charge.

Some of the most common defenses are:

  1. The person was not operating "an unauthorized" vehicle as defined in VC 23127;
  2. The trail/path was not properly marked; and,
  3. The accused was operating an authorized emergency or maintenance vehicle.

When it comes to defenses, please recall that driving on a trail or path in California can result in a misdemeanor, which is a criminal charge. Given the severity of this charge, a person accused of violating VC 23127 should contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney. A knowledgeable criminal lawyer can help build the best defense on your behalf.

4. Violation of Vehicle Code 23127 VC and traffic school

Motorists that receive tickets for moving violations often attend traffic school. A benefit of traffic school is that drivers can avoid getting any points on their driving record. This helps prevent an increase in insurance rates.

Traffic school, however, is only available if a driver receives a ticket for an infraction that is a moving violation. A violation of Vehicle Code 23127 is a misdemeanor, which is different and more serious than an infraction. As such, traffic school does not apply to those persons found guilty of driving on a California path.

5. Ignoring a charge of driving on a trail or path

Persons that ignore a charge of violating Vehicle Code 23127 can:

  1. Get charged with an additional crime – failure to appear, pursuant to either California Penal Code 1320 or California Penal Code 1320.5; and,
  2. Receive additional penalties for failure to appear.

5.1 The crime of failure to appear

You can be charged with the crime of failure to appear in California if:

  1. You are charged with or convicted of a California crime,
  2. You are released from custody, and
  3. You willfully fail to appear in court when required to do so, in order to evade the process of the court.8

California Penal Code 1320 sets out the crime of failing to appear for defendants who are released on their own recognizance.9 Penal Code 1320.5 describes failure to appear for California defendants who are released on bail.10

5.2 Penalties for failure to appear

The penalties for failure to appear in California depend on the type of crime you were initially charged with or convicted of.

Given the subject matter of this article, a person is guilty of a misdemeanor if he drives on a trail or path. If you are charged with or convicted of a California misdemeanor and released on your own recognizance, then failure to appear is another misdemeanor charge.11

The penalties include:

  1. Up to six (6) months in county jail; and/or,
  2. A fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).12

6. Effect of violating Vehicle Code 23127 on a personal injury lawsuit

A driver that drives on a California trail or path may cause an injury to another party. If so, the injured party may decide to file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver, and 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. With regards to motor vehicle accidents and injuries, negligent drivers are at fault for the accidents and injuries. Further, they must pay for any damages caused.

In California, 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 driver's violation of a statute or ordinance

This means a driver would be negligent per se if he caused injuries while driving on a trail or path because he would be in violation of Vehicle Code 23127.

7. Laws related to Vehicle Code 23127 VC

There are three laws related to VC 23127. These are:

  1. California's law on driving in a bike lane;
  2. Driving on the wrong side of the road; and,
  3. California's law regarding the direction of bicycles on roadways.

7.1 California's law on driving in a bike lane

California Vehicle Code 21209 (a) prohibits drivers from driving a vehicle in a bike lane.

The section states:

No person shall drive a motor vehicle in a bicycle lane…13

VC 21209 does provide three exceptions to this general rule. Motorists can drive in a bicycle lane in California to:

  1. Park where parking is permitted;
  2. Enter or leave the roadway; and,
  3. Prepare for a turn within 200 feet from the intersection.14

Motorists that violate California Vehicle Code 21209 VC will receive:

  1. A fine of $238; and,
  2. One point assessed to their DMV driving record.15

As to points, please note that a driver could 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).

7.2 Driving on the wrong side of the road

Motorists in California cannot drive on the wrong side of the road, per Vehicle Code 21651b.

California Vehicle Code Section 21651 describes how traffic should flow on California's divided public roads.16

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.17

All vehicles on California's highways, therefore, 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.

7.3 California's law regarding the direction of bicycles on roadways

According to California Vehicle Code 21650.1:

A bicycle operated on a roadway, or the shoulder of a highway, shall be operated in the same direction as vehicles are required to be driven upon the roadway.18

This means bike drivers cannot ride their bicycle against traffic.

The penalties for those bike drivers that violate Vehicle Code 21650.1 are:

  1. A fine of $179; and,
  2. One point assessed on the bicyclist's DMV driving record.

Were you accused of driving on a trail or path in California? Call us for help…

california driving on trails or paths legal defense attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been cited for violating VC 23127, 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 23127 VC.

  2. See same.

  3. See same.

  4. See same.

  5. See same.

  6. See same.

  7. California Penal Code 19 PC.

  8. Penal Code 1320 PC – Failure to appear after release upon own recognizance; violation; presumption; penalty. (“(a) Every person who is charged with or convicted of the commission of a misdemeanor who is released from custody on his or her own recognizance and who in order to evade the process of the court willfully fails to appear as required, is guilty of a misdemeanor. It shall be presumed that a defendant who willfully fails to appear within 14 days of the date assigned for his or her appearance intended to evade the process of the court. (b) Every person who is charged with or convicted of the commission of a felony who is released from custody on his or her own recognizance and who in order to evade the process of the court willfully fails to appear as required, is guilty of a felony, and upon conviction shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars ($5,000) or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170, or in the county jail for not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment. It shall be presumed that a defendant who willfully fails to appear within 14 days of the date assigned for his or her appearance intended to evade the process of the court.”)

    Penal Code 1320.5 PC – Release on bail; willful failure to appear. (“Every person who is charged with or convicted of the commission of a felony, who is released from custody on bail, and who in order to evade the process of the court willfully fails to appear as required, is guilty of a felony. Upon a conviction under this section, the person shall be punished by a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170, or in the county jail for not more than one year, or by both the fine and imprisonment. Willful failure to appear within 14 days of the date assigned for appearance may be found to have been for the purpose of evading the process of the court.”)

  9. Penal Code 1320 PC – Failure to appear after release upon own recognizance; violation; presumption; penalty, endnote 1, above.

  10. Penal Code 1320.5 PC – Release on bail; willful failure to appear, endnote 1, above.

  11. Penal Code 1320 PC – Failure to appear after release upon own recognizance; violation; presumption; penalty, endnote 1, above.

  12. California Penal Code 19 PC, endnote 7, above.

  13. California Vehicle Code 21209 (a) VC.

  14. California Vehicle Code 21209 (b)(1) – (b)(3) VC.

  15. See DMV.org above.

  16. See California Vehicle Code 21651 VC.

  17. California Vehicle Code 21651 (b) VC.

  18. California Vehicle Code 21650.1 VC.

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