California Driving Laws

If visiting California and planning to drive the Pacific Coast Highway it's important to know California driving laws in case they differ from your own state.

Red car parked on the Pacific Coast Highway, facing the Pacific OceanTake Time to Read the California Driving Laws

It's important to know the California driving laws if you're from out-of-state or from overseas and driving the Pacific Coast Highway, so here's some advice on what to watch out for. Some regulations are pretty common in most states, like drink-driving, but they are worth repeating. 

DISCLAIMER

This information is correct at the time of writing and we will amend it if we hear of any changes in the law, but what follows does not constitute legal advice. You must double-check the current laws. Here's a link to the official California Drivers Handbook, which you can download free of charge.
https://www.dmv.ca.gov/web/eng_pdf/dl600.pdf

Or you can buy a California driving guide, if you prefer a physical book to refer to.

Getting High!

One new law that was introduced in California in 2018:
It's illegal for drivers or passengers to smoke or use other cannabis products.

This is the only way to get high driving the Pacific Coast Highway...

The Bixby Bridge on the Pacific Coast Highway in CaliforniaBixby Bridge

Pulling Over

A very important point that particularly affects you on the Pacific Coast Highway is that California driving regulations require you to use a turn-out or to pull over wherever you safely can do, if you have five or more vehicles following you. The PCH is a very twisty road in places, and mostly just two lanes, so slow-moving vehicles can start to cause tailbacks. 

Pulling over isn't merely being courteous, it's the law when you have that many other vehicles waiting to pass you. If a driver behind you seems to be getting impatient, it may be that he or she is local and knows the law better than you do. If you can pull over even a little to enable them to pass, you should do so without necessarily waiting till there are five cars queued up behind you.

The Bixby Bridge on the Pacific Coast Highway in CaliforniaBixby Bridge

More California Driving Laws

  • Drivers cannot use any kind of hand-held device while driving. You can use GPS if your phone is mounted either on the dashboard or in one of two places on the windscreen (bottom left and bottom right corners). You can only use one finger to tap or swipe the screen.
  • Seatbelts are compulsory for everyone in a vehicle.
  • Children who are eight and under must use a child safety seat. Children under the age of two must be in rear-facing seats in the back of the car.
  • Motorcyclists must wear a helmet.
  • Throwing litter out of a vehicle can incur very hefty fines. For a first conviction the fine can be from $100-$1000 and at least eight hours of cleaning up litter. That's going to be pretty inconvenient if you're from another state, so don't even think about littering. Even throwing a cigarette butt out of a car on a highway counts as littering.
Misty morning on the Pacific Coast Highway in CaliforniaDrive Carefully on Misty Mornings

California Drink-Driving Laws

Don't drink and drive. A first offence can get you from four days to six months in jail, a fine of up to $1000, losing your licence for up to ten months, and some counties require you to fit an Ignition Interlock Device to your car. That's a device that you have to blow into like a breathalyzer before your car will start.

Drivers under the age of 18 may not drive with any alcohol in their system at all.

Drivers under the age of 21 may not carry unsealed alcohol in the car if driving alone, may not consume alcohol in a car (including some cough syrups and prescription drugs), and must not drive with a blood alcohol concentration level (BAC) of .01% or higher.

The blood alcohol limit for drivers 21 and over is .08%. It's impossible to say what this equates to as there are so many factors involved, like drinking with or without food, and your size, but suffice it to say that if you have a couple of drinks without food, you're probably going to be near the limit. If you're under 21 you will definitely be over your lower limit.

Don't rely on being under the limit. If your driving is impaired you can still be charged whether you're over the limit or not.

In California if you refuse to take the breathalyzer test it's an automatic suspension of your licence for one year.

Other Driving Pages

  • When to Drive the Pacific Coast Highway

    When to Drive the Pacific Coast Highway depends on whether you want to drive in Oregon and Washington as well as California, and on the weather.

  • West Coast RV Parks

    One of the best guides to West Coast RV Parks, covering campgrounds in California, Oregon, and Washington, is West Coast RV Camping from Moon Guides.

  • Ways to Go

    Here are links to the different ways you can go along the Pacific Coast Highway, one of the most popular drives in the world but you can also cycle it.

  • San Francisco to San Diego

    Driving from San Francisco to San Diego has two main options, the fast way on I-5 or the scenic route along the Pacific Coast Highway.

  • The 17-Mile Drive between Carmel, Pacific Grove, and Monterey

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel takes the 17-Mile Drive from Carmel to Pacific Grove and Monterey, stopping to see the Lone Cypress and beautiful coastline views.

  • Route 66 Meets the Pacific Coast Highway

    Historic Route 66 winds from Chicago to LA, going through Los Angeles, meeting the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica, California, at the Santa Monica Pier.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Stops

    Pacific Coast Highway stops include big city vacation destinations like Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, and smaller places like Monterey.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Road Trips: Lonely Planet Guidebook Review

    Review of the Pacific Coast Highway Road Trips book from Lonely Planet, which includes a California Driving Guide, by the Pacific Coast Highway Travel website.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Guide

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel reviews the Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Guide book covering the drive from Vancouver to San Diego.

  • Pacific Coast Highway in California

    The Pacific Coast Highway in California book shows in historic photos the building of the Pacific Coast Highway from its earliest beginnings in 1911.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Driving Tips

    Pacific Coast Highway driving tips for this great American road trip include finding cheap gas, watching the speed limits, and allowing plenty of travel time.

  • Pacific Coast Highway Drive Times and Distances

    Drive times and distances on the Pacific Coast Highway or the quickest routes from Seattle to San Francisco to Los Angeles to San Diego.

  • Maps of the Pacific Coast Highway: Free Driving Maps of the PCH

    Road maps of the Pacific Coast Highway or PCH are essential for anyone planning to drive the trip, and detailed routes are available for free.

  • LA to Hearst Castle

    Pacific Coast Highway travel offers advice on driving from LA to Hearst Castle, including distance, journey time, and route.

  • Epic Drives of the World

    Epic Drives of the World from Lonely Planet describes 50 of the world's most exciting road trips, including, of course, the Pacific Coast Highway.

  • Driving the Pacific Coast Highway

    Driving the Pacific Coast Highway is made easier with Road Trip USA by Jamie Jensen, a good handbook for the west coast drive.

  • Driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Two Days

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel's advice on driving the Pacific Coast Highway in two days, including the best places to stay, and the best things to do and see.

  • Driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Three Days

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel's advice on driving the Pacific Coast Highway in three days, including the best places to stay, and the best things to do and see.

  • Driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Four Days

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel's advice on driving the Pacific Coast Highway in four days, including the best places to stay, and the best things to do and see.

  • Driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Five Days

    Pacific Coast Highway Travel's advice on driving the Pacific Coast Highway in five days, including the best places to stay over, and the best things to do and see.

  • Drive the Pacific Coast Highway

    Here are the basic facts if you plan to drive the Pacific Coast Highway, including which is the best direction and when is the best time to go driving.

  • Coastal California Guidebook

    Lonely Planet's Coastal California guidebook is the ideal travel guide for driving or cycling the Pacific Coast Highway from the Oregon border to Mexico.



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