California Move Over Law

Responding to roadside emergencies can be dangerous to emergency personnel and those in need of assistance. According to a recent Caltrans press release, 170 California Highway Patrol officers were injured or killed while assisting others along the roadside between 2018 and 2022.

For over 15 years, California’s Move Over law has required motorists to move over when approaching emergency vehicles, tow trucks, and road maintenance vehicles. However, some Californian drivers either do not know or choose not to follow this important safety law. 

In light of the Move Over law, what should you do as you approach certain safety vehicles on the road?

Failing to Slow When Approaching or Passing Stationary Emergency Vehicles

Section 21809 of the California Vehicle Code is commonly known as California’s Move Over law. It requires drivers to take one of several actions if they come upon certain vehicles stopped alongside the road.

Motorists Affected by the Move Over Law

Any “person driving a vehicle on a highway” is subject to the Move Over law. The law does not distinguish between drivers of private vehicles or commercial vehicles, nor does it only apply to drivers on the road at certain times of the day. All motorists in all vehicles on the highway at any given moment must move over when required.

Drivers Must Move Over for Certain Vehicles

The Move Over law only requires a driver to take action if they are approaching:

  • An authorized emergency vehicle, such as a fire truck or police car
  • A tow truck
  • A Department of Transportation (Caltrans) vehicle

The Move Over law only applies to stationary vehicles displaying emergency or warning lights. Drivers are not obligated to take any special measures if the emergency or maintenance vehicle is not stationary or does not have its warning or emergency light activated.

Actions Drivers Must Take Under the Move Over Law

If you approach a vehicle covered by the Move Over law, you must take one of two actions. The prevailing road and traffic conditions will be the factors that primarily impact which of the two choices you should make. No matter which choice you make, you must perform the maneuver safely and without endangering others.

You must first attempt to move over at least one lane so you are not immediately adjacent to the lane with the emergency vehicle or Caltrans vehicle. 

For example, suppose that a CHP cruiser is stopped on the right-hand shoulder of a highway with two lanes of traffic going in the same direction. In this situation, you must move into the lane furthest from the right-hand shoulder when passing by the CHP cruiser.

Keep in mind that you must change lanes safely and legally. You cannot cause a traffic hazard for others when changing lanes. Additionally, you must give an appropriate signal before changing lanes and should not move into a lane for opposing traffic.

If you cannot move over safely, or if there is no other lane into which you can legally move, your action will be different. In this situation, you must slow down and exercise additional caution until you pass by the emergency vehicle. 

The law does not specify the specific speed motorists must travel when passing stationary emergency vehicles. Instead, the law only requires that you reduce your speed to a safe speed in accordance with the traffic, road, and weather conditions.

Penalties for Move Over Violations

If you are cited for violating the Move Over law, you could face up to a $50 fine. The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles will assess points against your license, which can cause your insurance rates to increase. Finally, you can face additional civil and criminal liability if you fail to move over and end up striking an emergency worker or their vehicle.

Move Over for Everyone’s Safety

Moving over and giving additional space for maintenance workers and first responders addressing roadside emergencies is an easy way to increase highway safety. 

This simple maneuver can give first responders and maintenance workers additional space to perform their duties safely. Even slowing down and remaining aware of your surroundings as you pass a stopped emergency vehicle can reduce the likelihood of a serious accident.

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