California rules of the road


FORT IRWIN, Calif. ­­— Summertime is here, and that often means increased travel for changes of station, leave time, and weekend exploring and fun. Due to the nature of military life, the soldiers and civilians of the Fort Irwin community have come from all over the country – in fact, from all over the world – to live here in California for a time. Each state has its own driving rules, and the California rules of the road may differ from those where a soldier previously lived or learned to drive.

With that in mind, let’s review some of the laws you need to know when you drive in California:

• Seat Belts – California requires all passengers to wear a seat belt, including passengers who ride in the back seat of a vehicle. This differs from many states that require only front-seat passengers to wear a seat belt. Cal. Vehicle Code §§ 27315, 27360.5.

• Car Seats for Children – Children under eight (8) years of age generally must ride in a car seat in California, and children under two (2) years of age generally must ride in a rear-facing car seat. Cal. Vehicle Code § 27360.

• Children in the Back Seat – Children under eight (8) years of age must ride in the back seat of a vehicle, although there are some exceptions (for example, for cars with no back seat). Cal. Vehicle Code §§ 27360, 27363(e).

• Unattended Children – California law prohibits leaving children unattended in a motor vehicle under certain circumstances, including when the vehicle’s keys are in the ignition or when there is a significant risk to the child’s safety. The person supervising children in a vehicle must be at least twelve (12) years old. Cal. Vehicle Code § 15620(a). Be especially careful on these hot summer days at Fort Irwin; the inside of a parked car can become dangerously hot within a matter of seconds.

• Unattended Pets – California also has laws to protect unattended pets in many circumstances, so be aware and take care. Cal. Penal Code §597.7

• Cell Phone Usage – California prohibits the use of cell phones or other electronic communications devices, although adults may use a hands-free device. Cal. Vehicle Code § 23123.5. The prohibition includes telephone calls, sending and reading text messages while driving, and browsing the internet. If you need to make a call or send a message, the best option is to find a place to pull over and park.

If a child is at least 4’9”, the child is not required to use a car seat, even if the child has not yet reached eight years of age. If a car seat is not used, the child must wear a seat belt. Booster seats are often used for children of this age and size to allow the lap belt to be properly positioned on their hips.

If you have any questions about California’s rules of the road, you may refer to the California Driver Handbook published by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

The Fort Irwin Legal Assistance Office is here to assist when you need legal advice.  Walk in or call the Legal Assistance Office for an appointment at 760-380-5321.  Hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Thursdays 1-4 p.m.  The Fort Irwin Legal Assistance Office is located at Building 230 on the corner of C Avenue and Third Street.