California Vehicle Code 21709 VC is a crucial traffic law that aims to protect the safety of pedestrians around motorists. This law prohibits drivers from driving through a designated safety zone.
Safety zones are areas established by traffic control devices, striped areas of the road, or other indicators, which protect people from potential harm caused by passing vehicles. Examples of safety zones include school zones, loading zones, bus stops, medians, etc.
Simply put, a safety zone is a clearly marked area set aside for the use of pedestrians. Any violations will result in a fine and one point on your DMV driving record. You could get a negligent operator license suspension if you accumulate too many points in a certain period.
It's possible to challenge a ticket for violating Vehicle Code 21709 VC, but ignoring the citation could lead to failure to appear charges under Vehicle Code 40508 VC, a misdemeanor crime.
VC 21709 says, “No vehicle shall at any time be driven through or within a safety zone.” As noted, if you are cited for driving in or through a safety zone, you could face a fine and a point on your DMV record. Let's review this law in more detail below.
What Constitutes a Safety Zone in California?
The legal definition of a safety zone is codified in Vehicle Code 540 VC, which says, “A “safety zone” is the area or space lawfully set apart within a roadway for the exclusive use of pedestrians and which is protected, or which is marked or indicated by vertical signs, raised markers or raised buttons, to make such area or space plainly visible at all times while the same is set apart as a safety zone.”
By this definition, the state has some essential responsibilities when designating safety zones:
- They must set aside part of a roadway for pedestrians. In other words, they must delineate part of a road where a driver might otherwise feel free to drive. A sidewalk is not considered a safety zone—and in fact, vehicles are allowed to drive across the sidewalk to get to the adjacent property defined under Vehicle Code 21663 VC.
- They must be clearly marked and visible to drivers at all times. This is as much for the pedestrians' safety as it is to ensure drivers don't cross into the safety zone.
If these conditions are not present, you may have cause to challenge your traffic citation. Pedestrians also have a duty of watchfulness when crossing a street, which does not apply when standing in a safety zone.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: Janet must stop at a store quickly and can't find street parking anywhere. She pulls into a clearly marked pedestrian safety zone as a taxi stand. Janet can be cited for violating VC 21709.
EXAMPLE 2: George drives into an area marked off with white stripes on the side of the road. It looks to him like it's a regular part of the street, but he's crossed into a safety zone designated for pedestrians waiting at a bus station. As a result, he can be cited for violating VC 21709.
EXAMPLE 3: Fred sees a vehicle rear-ended another vehicle just ahead of his car. He quickly swerves into a safety zone to avoid hitting the car in front of him. Fred may be cited for violating VC 21709. Still, he can offer a valid defense that he was responding to an emergency and was avoiding causing additional harm to himself or the other drivers.
What Are the Related Offenses?
Several California laws are related to Vehicle Code 21709 VC driving through a safety zone, such as the following:
- Vehicle Code 21663 VC - driving on the sidewalk;
- Vehicle Code 21209 VC – driving on a bike lane;
- Vehicle Code 23127 VC – driving on trails or paths;
- Vehicle Code 4461 VC – misuse of handicap placards;
- Vehicle Code 20002(b) VC – runaway vehicle causing damage;
- Vehicle Code 21712 VC - unlawful riding in a vehicle;
- Vehicle Code 21464 VC – defacing a traffic control device;
- Vehicle Code 21460 VC - crossing double yellow lines.
What are the Penalties for VC 21709?
Violating VC 21709 is an infraction. If you are cited for driving through a safety zone, you could face the following:
- A base fine of $238.
- One point added to your DMV record can lead to increased insurance premiums.
- The DMV keeps records of points for three years. If you earned many points within a particular duration, such as four points in 12 months, six points in 24 months, or eight points in 36 months, the DMV may categorize you as a “negligent operator” and suspend your license.
Suppose a car driver that drives within a safety zone causes an injury to a pedestrian or another motorist. In that case, the injured party might file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver for negligence.
What happens if you ignore the ticket?
Ignoring a ticket for driving through a safety zone can lead to more serious consequences. If you don't pay the fine or appear on your appointed court date to challenge it, you could face additional fines, a license suspension, and possible criminal charges for failing to appear in court per Vehicle Code 40508 VC.
Challenging a VC 21709 Violation
If you disagree with your citation under VC 21709, you have the right to challenge it in court. Several potential defenses may apply to a Vehicle Code 21709 VC violation as discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that the safety zone was not properly marked. If the safety zone was not clearly marked or indicated or the driver's view of the signage was obstructed, you may argue that you were unaware of the restricted area. If visual evidence bears out your claim, your ticket may be dismissed.
Perhaps we can argue that there was an emergency or necessity. For example, you may claim you had to drive through the safety zone to avoid an accident or other imminent danger.
Perhaps we can argue that the police officer made a mistake. You can say the officer mistakenly accused you of having your vehicle in the safety zone when you avoided it.
For best results, you should seek advice and representation from an attorney when challenging a traffic ticket. You're also more likely to get your citation dismissed if you provide eyewitness testimony or video evidence of your claims.
You can contact us for a case review by phone or through the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, California.