Alcohol and Other Substances
Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is taken seriously in LA and sobriety check points spring up often in popular entertainment areas. The legal blood alcohol limit is 0.08%, but you can be charged with lower levels if they can show you are impaired. If you're drinking or using other substances, take a cab, hire a limo, use public transportation, use Y Drive LA or have a designated driver in your group who is not partaking. The legal drinking age in California is 21. You can also be cited for DUI if you are groggy from prescription drugs or over the counter cold or allergy remedies.
Open Alcohol - Driving (or sitting) with opened alcohol in the passenger area of the car, including the glove compartment, is against the law. Any opened container of alcohol has to be transported in the trunk. Anyone under 21 years old caught with alcohol in the car can lose their license for a year, car for 30 days and face a $1000 fine.
On many LA freeways, one or more lanes at the far left is designated as a High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane. Carpool Lanes are designated with a diamond painted on the pavement and most of them have limited access where there is a break in the double yellow line. Most carpool lanes require a minimum of 2 occupants in the car, some require 3. It is marked at the lane entrances. In some parts of California, carpool lanes are only valid during rush hour. In LA and Orange County, the high occupancy limitation is 24/7.
The limited entry to carpool lanes causes traffic in the other lanes to slow down when people are trying to exit the carpool lane into the flow of traffic, so the limited entry has been removed as an experiment on the 22 freeway in Orange County. On that freeway, cars with two or more passengers can enter at any time.
Motorcycles and some low emission vehicles with a special CA DMV decal can also drive in the carpool lane unless otherwise marked.
Vehicles towing trailers are NOT allowed in the carpool lane, regardless of how many people are in the car.
It may seem like a good idea to take the risk and jump into the carpool lane to get around a traffic jam, but the ticket will cost you hundreds of dollars, and you can be cited if the incident is picked up on a traffic camera, even if there is no police officer in sight.
Talking on the phone at all while driving is discouraged, but it is legal to talk on a cell phone while driving in California ONLY IF you use a hands-free device. Holding a cell phone to your ear while driving is a good way to get a ticket.
Texting while driving is against the law, whether typing or reading. Typing into your GPS is just as bad, so plan your alternate routes ahead of time.
Car Seats - Children under the age of 6 or 60 lbs (27 kg) must be in an approved child safety seat, booster seat or child restraint in the back seat.
No Child (or Pets) Unattended - It is against the law to leave a child 6 years old or younger in an unattended car. Even with the window cracked, the temperature inside the car can become dangerous in just a few minutes. A child must be 12 or older to watch other children 6 or under in a car (i.e. You can leave an 8-year-old alone for a few minutes while you run in to the store, but you can't leave them in charge of a 4-year-old.). It is also against the law to leave pets unattended in cars under any conditions that may endanger their health. Note: If you don't want to wake the baby, and you leave him/her sleeping in the car seat while you run in somewhere for a few minutes, concerned Angelenos WILL report you. There have been too many cooked babies (and pets) for people to take this lightly.
No Smoking with Kids in the Car - It is against the law in California to smoke in a car if you have a minor with you.
Yield to Emergency Vehicles - Emergency vehicles including police, fire or ambulances with sirens or lights flashing always have the right of way, and you must pull over to the right and stop to allow them to pass, regardless of which direction they are coming from. Don't stop in intersections, and wait until the last emergency vehicle is at least 300 feet ahead of you before moving back into traffic.
Move Over, Slow Down - Motorists are required to move over or slow down when approaching a stationary emergency vehicle displaying emergency lights or a stationary tow truck or marked Caltrans vehicle that has its flashing amber warning lights activated. The law is designed to reduce the deaths of police officers, highway workers, tow truck drivers, paramedics, and other emergency personnel who are aiding stranded or injured motorists. Use caution if lane changes are required. This is being strictly enforced after several emergency personnel were killed in on the side of the freeway in different incidents.
Earphones - When choosing a hands-free device for your cell phone, pick one that doesn't cover both ears. You're not allowed to block both ears with ear plugs, earphones, or other head sets so you can hear emergency vehicles coming and other imminent dangers.
To drive in the state of California, you must be able to show Proof of Insurance, regardless of where your car is registered or the laws in your state. If traveling from another state, check with your insurance company to insure you have bodily injury and collision coverage in California.
There is a $1000 fine in California for throwing litter, especially smoldering cigarette butts, from a vehicle. Don't do it!
Helmets - Motorcyclists must wear approved helmets.
Lane Splitting - Motorcycles can legally split lanes (drive in between traffic lanes), so watch out for them.
Car Stereo - It is illegal to play your car stereo loud enough that it can be heard more than 50 feet from the vehicle.
Don't Honk - Angelenos don't honk unless there is imminent danger or possibly a light tap to get the person distracted at a red light to notice the light is green. It's actually in the CA driver code "Do not honk your horn unless it is a safety warning to avoid a collision." Honking simply because traffic isn't moving just identifies you as a tourist (or transplant). Don't do it.
No animal Unattended - No animal may be left unattended in a vehicle under conditions that "endanger the health or well-being of an animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, lack of food or water, or other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death to the animal." In 2008, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a law that would have prohibited drivers from having pets on their lap while driving, but the practice is still discouraged and you can still get a ticket if a police officer notices you being distracted by your lap dog.
Tricked Out Cars
If you're planning to bring your pimped out ride to California, make sure it meets these Guidelines for Street Legal Vehicles.
- Driving in Los Angeles Intro
- LA Driving Vocabulary
- Navigating Surface Streets in Los Angeles
- Cities within Cities and How this Impacts Driving in LA
- Driving Behavior Laws in Los Angeles
- Traffic Laws in Los Angeles
- Los Angeles Traffic Etiquette and Unique Customs
- Names and Numbers of Freeways in Los Angeles
- Los Angeles Traffic Reports