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Defacing or Interfering with a Traffic Control Device - Vehicle Code 21464 VC

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Jun 05, 2023

California Vehicle Code 21464 VC prohibits intentional defacement, damage, removal of, or interference with traffic signs or signals.

The state law is clear: interfering with these pivotal road markers can compromise safety and order on the roadways, which is why the consequences of a violation can be severe.

Defacing or Interfering with a Traffic Control Device - Vehicle Code 21464 VC
It's a crime under Vehicle Code 21464 VC to deface or interfere with traffic control devices.

VC 21464 says, “(a) A person, without lawful authority, may not deface, injure, attach any material or substance to, knock down, or remove, nor may a person shoot at, any official traffic control device, traffic guidepost, traffic signpost, motorist callbox, or historical marker placed or erected as authorized or required by law, nor may a person without lawful authority deface, injure, attach any material or substance to, or remove, nor may a person shoot at, any inscription, shield, or insignia on any device, guide, or marker.

(b) A person may not use a vehicle other than an emergency vehicle or a public transit passenger vehicle and may not be equipped with any device, including a mobile infrared transmitter, that is capable of sending a signal that interrupts or changes the sequence patterns of an official traffic control signal unless that device or use is authorized by the Department of Transportation pursuant to Section 21350 or by local authorities pursuant to Section 21351.”

Subsection (c) says it is a crime for someone not authorized to possess, manufacture, install, sell, offer for sale, or distribute a device described in subdivision (b) above.  

Although it's typically charged as a misdemeanor offense, a conviction under VC 21464 can result in a fine of $5000 and up to 6 months in jail. If someone is hurt or killed, the charges can be escalated to a felony with a penalty of up to 3 years in prison. Let's review this state law in more detail below.

Vehicle Code 21464 VC - Explained

Under the law, protected traffic control devices include signs, signals, markings, or devices placed or erected by the authority of a public body or official having jurisdiction to regulate, warn, or guide traffic. Some examples include the following:

  • stop signs,
  • yield signs,
  • traffic lights,
  • call boxes,
  • speed limit signs,
  • road markings,
  • historical markers, etc.

What Constitutes Defacing or Interfering? 

Defacing or interfering with a traffic control device involves modifying, damaging, destroying, knocking down, removing, or altering these devices without appropriate authority.

It also includes acts that hinder the regular operation of these devices or their visibility—for example, placing a decal on a speed limit marker or using a transmitter that disrupts a traffic light.

What Does the Law Say?

Specifically, VC 21464 makes it a crime to do any of the following acts without specific authorization:

  • To willfully deface, damage, knock down, shoot at, obstruct, interfere with, or remove any traffic control sign or device;
  • To utilize a mobile infrared transmitter (MIRT) to disrupt the typical sequence of traffic signals; OR
  • To possess, make, sell, or attempt to sell a MIRT.

What Are the Exceptions to the Rule?

The operative phrase in this law is "without lawful authority." Thus, if someone has lawful authority to modify, remove, or interrupt the operation of a traffic control device, they are exempt from prosecution under VC 21464. Examples of authorized parties may include:

  • Emergency vehicles equipped with a MIRT to keep traffic signals from changing while they respond to a call.
  • Public buses are lawfully equipped with a MIRT to help them stay on schedule during heavy traffic.
  • Contractors hired by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to replace old signs or perform traffic signal maintenance.

What Are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: Bill sticks a band decal on a stop sign in his neighborhood to advertise his band, partially covering the letters in the process. Bill can be charged under VC 21464.

EXAMPLE 2: Susie borrows a MIRT from her friend to disrupt a traffic signal near her home as a prank. Susie can be charged with violating VC 21464.

EXAMPLE 3: Tom and his buddies drive into the country during a night of carousing. Tom uses a pistol to shoot holes in the speed limit signs as they drive by. As a result, Tom can be charged with defacing traffic control signs under VC 21464.

EXAMPLE 4: While driving, Erin swerves to miss hitting a deer, loses control of her car, and plows into a yield sign, knocking it over. Erin will likely not be charged under VC 21464 because her actions were not intentional.

What are the Related Crimes?

Several California laws are related to Vehicle Code 21464 VC defacing or interfering with a traffic control device, such as the following:

What Are the Penalties for VC 21464?

A violation of VC 21464 is typically charged as a misdemeanor but one that carries a larger-than-normal fine.

Penalties for Defacing or Interfering with a Traffic Control Device
VC 21464 is normally charged as a misdemeanor.

If convicted under VC 21464, you could face up to 6 months in county jail and a fine of up to $5000. However, the court can impose community service instead of a fine if the judge deems it appropriate.

That said, if the act of defacing or interfering with traffic signs or signals results in someone's injury or death, you'll be fined at least $5000 and possibly up to $10,000 for the offense.

In addition, the offense becomes a "wobbler,"—meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.

  • If you're convicted of a misdemeanor: you face up to 6 months in county jail.
  • If you're convicted of a felony: you face up to 3 years in state prison.

What Are the Defenses for VC 21464?

As discussed below, a skilled California defense attorney can employ several defense strategies to counter charges under VC 21464.

Defenses for Defacing or Interfering with a Traffic Control Device
Contact our defense lawyers for assistance.

Perhaps we can argue that there was a lack of intent. The prosecution must show that your actions were willful to convict you of a crime. If your attorney can show that the interference or defacement was an accident, you may be able to avoid a conviction.

Perhaps we can argue that it was not a traffic control device. Your attorney may argue that while you may or may not have defaced an object, the object in question didn't meet the definition of a traffic control sign or device.

Perhaps we can argue that you had lawful authority. You can dismiss the charges if you prove that you were authorized to interfere with the device in question.

You can contact our law firm for legal guidance by phone or using the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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