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New California Driving Laws for 2021

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Make sure you know what laws start applying in 2021

Here's everything you need to know about the new California driving laws for 2021, along with some thoughts on 2020.

By Reed Berry

Wed, Dec 30, 2020 03:38 PM PST

I can remember, exactly one year ago as a matter of fact, wishing friends, family and those around me “All the best in 2020!”


How were any of us to know at that point that not only would we NOT experience the best of a new year, we were about to be hit with something that would change lives, industries and the way we interact with others forever.

I guess I shouldn’t complain. I was fortunate to attend a wide variety of events during the first few months of 2020, including CES, the huge Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a VIP Lunar New Year Celebration in Beverly Hills and, on March 2nd, the season premiere taping of “America’s Got Talent.” Little did I know that just two weeks after attending that taping at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, everything that felt “normal” would come to a grinding halt.

It’s been a wild ride over the last nine months or so, and it’s not over yet. Vaccines have started arriving so, while there is a light at the end of the tunnel, we still have to exercise care and caution to protect ourselves and others because, as the old saying goes, “It always gets worse before it gets better.”

As for driving, the pandemic has affected California drivers in a variety of ways. In the plus column, we have seen much less traffic on the roads because people were staying at home so, for those of us who had to engage in essential travel for work, or to pick up groceries or take-out food, the traffic was extremely light. Less cars on the roads means fewer crashes and insurance claims, so we have enjoyed lower insurance premiums this year.

But, from a safety standpoint, while there may have been fewer crashes and claims, the wide open streets and freeways seem to serve as an open invitation for some people to ignore speed limits and other driving laws and drive however they please. Law enforcement has turned a blind eye toward errant drivers, particularly when courts are closed during a pandemic. It’s difficult to cite a traffic violator when you can’t give them a date on which to appear in court.

Despite everything that is going on in our world right now, there are some new laws and changes to be aware of, so here is my annual summary. Unless otherwise noted, the new laws are effectivefrom January 1st, 2021:


One of the most commonly violated driving laws in California is current law regarding cell phone use while driving. Using a cell phone in a hand held manner while driving is punishable by a fine but, starting July 1, 2021, do it a second time within 36 months of a prior conviction and you will receive a point on your driving record. This applies to violations of talking or texting while driving (except for hands-free communications,) but it applies to ANY use of cell phones by drivers under 18 years old. And, just so you know, current California law requires drivers to have their cell phone mounted in a bracket on the dashboard, in the console or in the lower left corner of the windshield while operating a motor vehicle.


There is currently a “Move Over, Slow Down” law that requires freeway drivers to move over to another lane or slow to a reasonable speed as they approach a stationary emergency vehicle displaying emergency lights, including tow trucks and Caltrans vehicles. New law extends the provisions of this law to local streets and roads, not just freeways. This should be common sense, but now it’s actually a life-saving law!


Should you see a small child six years old or younger alone in a vehicle in immediate danger from heat, cold, lack of ventilation or other dangerous circumstances, new law exempts a person from civil or criminal liability for trespassing or damaging a vehicle to rescue that child, once other options, such as checking for an unlocked door or calling 911, have been exhausted. I guess kids over six will just have to tough it out until mom or dad gets back, but I would suggest staying with the vehicle and alerting law enforcement if you see children of any age in distress.


This law, which went into effect September 29, 2020, allows authorized emergency vehicles to use a Hi-Lo warning sound to notify the public of an immediate need to evacuate an area in an emergency. The sound is different from a conventional siren. The CHP is developing regulations to standardize the Hi-Lo warning sound statewide but, in the meantime, law enforcement agencies can use the Hi-Lo warning sound by obtaining a permit from the CHP.

For more information on California driving law:

Featured photo by Roberto Nickson

About The Author

Reed Berry's profile picture

Reed Berry

Known professionally as "The Traffic Guy," Reed Berry has been a driver safety educator for over 30 years. Reed has conducted traffic school classes and suspended license workshops throughout California, and has served as keynote speaker at safety conferences and corporate events across America. He has appeared on radio and television programs both in the U.S. and internationally to discuss safety-related issues. A contributor to LA Car since 2003, Reed Berry is a member of Motor Press Guild, the Los Angeles Press Club and SAG-AFTRA.

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