California law permits drivers on two-lane roads to pass a slower driver on the left, provided sufficient clearance exists. Passing without good clearance can put other drivers and yourself at risk of unnecessary harm.
Therefore, it's against the law to pass on the left of a two-lane road without sufficient clearance under California's Vehicle Code 21751 VC.
Under VC 21751, drivers can overtake and pass other vehicles by moving into the left lane, but only if it's clearly visible and free of oncoming traffic. Drivers seeking to pass another car while approaching a curve are more responsible for staying on the right side of the road.
Suppose you violate this law. In that case, you will have to pay a $238 fine and will receive one point on your DMV driving record.
You could get a negligent operator license suspension if you receive a certain number of points in a certain period, such as four points in 12 months, six points in 24 months, or eight points in 36 months.
Points on your driving record could increase your car insurance rate. The DMV can suspend or revoke your driving privileges if you receive too many points, but it requires a California DMV hearing first.
Suppose you receive a citation for violating VC 21751 passing without sufficient clearance. In that case, you must take care of it or face failure to appear charges defined under Vehicle Code 40508, a misdemeanor crime. Let's review this law further below.
What is the Law and Its Elements?
The text of Vehicle Code 21751 VC is pretty straightforward, as discussed below.
"On a two-lane highway, no vehicle shall be driven to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless the left side is clearly visible and free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance ahead to permit such overtaking and passing to be completely made without interfering with the safe operation of any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction."
This law aims to prevent dangerous situations where a driver attempts to overtake another vehicle without an adequate view of the road ahead or sufficient space to complete the maneuver safely.
In some cases, the terms "clearly visible" and "free of oncoming traffic" can be ambiguous because circumstances may differ from incident to incident. Typically, law enforcement and the courts will determine these parameters based on the facts of the case.
However, they are also the areas where you may successfully contest a resulting traffic ticket. That being said, the following basic criteria apply:
- "Clearly visible" means you can see far enough ahead that an oncoming vehicle wouldn't take you by surprise if you passed on the left.
- "Free of oncoming traffic" comes with its criteria written in the law. It means you can pass without interfering with the safe operation of oncoming vehicles.
It should also be noted that VC 21751 does not preclude the law regarding not crossing a double-yellow line defined under VC 21460.
If the two-lane road has a double yellow line, you could be cited for crossing it to pass even if the lane is clearly visible and free of oncoming traffic. VC 21751 only applies if you have a broken double line, a broken single line, or no line at all.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: Jake is on a two-lane mountain road and is frustrated at the slow pace of the semi-truck in front of him. He quickly swerves into the left lane to pass the truck even though it's on a curve. Jake can be cited under VC 21751 because the left lane was not visible enough to pass safely on the left.
EXAMPLE 2: Gina is driving behind a slow driver in dense fog on a straight two-lane road with a broken double line on her side. She veers left to pass the slow driver. Although the road would have been safe for passing under normal circumstances, she can be cited under VC 21751 because the dense fog obstructed the clear visibility of the opposite lane.
EXAMPLE 3: Tom is late for work. Hindered by a slow tractor on a two-lane highway, he sees an oncoming car but believes he has time to pass if he "guns" it. He quickly passes, but the oncoming car has to veer onto the shoulder to avoid a collision. Tom can be ticketed for violating VC 21751 because his actions interfered with the safe operation of the oncoming car.
What Are the Related Laws?
Several California laws are related to Vehicle Code 21751 VC passing without sufficient clearance, such as the following:
- Vehicle Code 21460 VC – crossing double yellow lines;
- Vehicle Code 23103 VC – reckless driving;
- Vehicle Code 21712 VC – unlawful riding in a vehicle;
- Vehicle Code 21752 VC – unlawful driving on the left side of the road;
- Vehicle Code 21659 VC – unsafe driving on a three-lane highway.
What Are the Penalties for VC 21751?
Passing without sufficient clearance is an infraction. If you are found guilty of violating VC 21751, you can face the following consequences:
- A fine of $238. This is the standard fine for violating this rule, although additional fees may apply.
- One point on your DMV record. Points on your DMV record can increase insurance rates, and multiple points within a specific time frame can result in having your driving privileges suspended or revoked by the DMV.
Be aware that if your actions cause an accident, you could also face additional traffic citations—and if anyone is hurt or killed as a result, you could also face criminal charges with the potential for hefty fines and even jail or prison time.
Additionally, if you ignore the traffic ticket, don't pay the fine, and don't appear in court to contest it, you could face misdemeanor charges of violating a promise to appear in court as defined under Penal Code 853.7 PC.
What Are the Defenses for VC 21751?
If you disagree with the citation that you violated VC 21751, you and your attorney may be able to contest the ticket in court, as discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that you had sufficient clearance. You'll need to provide evidence to show that you had clear visibility and that no oncoming drivers were jeopardized.
Perhaps we can argue there was a law enforcement error. Maybe you can show that the officer was mistaken in citing you for the violation, such as it was another driver and not you.
Perhaps we can argue it was an emergency maneuver. If you can show that you veered into the opposing lane to avoid an obstruction or collision, for example, you may be able to get the ticket dismissed.
Contact our law firm for a case review and to discuss legal options. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, CA.