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Unlawful Riding in a Vehicle - Vehicle Code 21712 VC

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | May 22, 2023

The State of California has enacted numerous laws to enforce safety among drivers and passengers on California roadways. To this end, California Vehicle Code 21712 VC makes it illegal for drivers to allow passengers to ride on or in parts of the vehicle that aren't intended for passengers.

Unlawful Riding in a Vehicle in California - Vehicle Code 21712 VC
Vehicle Code 21712 VC makes it illegal to ride in parts of the vehicle not intended for passengers.

In other words, this statute prohibits a driver from letting a person ride in part of a vehicle not intended for passengers, ride in the trunk of a vehicle, and ride in a vehicle that the driver is towing.

VC 21712 says, “(a) A person driving a motor vehicle shall not knowingly permit a person to ride on a vehicle or upon a portion of a vehicle that is not designed or intended for the use of passengers. (d) A person shall not ride in the trunk of a motor vehicle.”

A motorist violating will be required to pay a fine depending on the violation type. A driver will also get one point on his DMV driving record. For example, someone could get a negligent operator license suspension if they receive four points in 12 months, six points in 24 months, or eight points in 36 months.

Violating this regulation is an infraction that can result in fines worth hundreds of dollars plus points on your DMV record. Let's review this state law in more detail below.

VC 21712 Explained

VC 21712 makes it illegal for a person to ride on portions of a vehicle not designed for passengers or to permit passengers to do so while it is in motion.

This applies to both public highways and off-street parking facilities. The main intention is to discourage risky behaviors that could lead to serious accidents and injuries. Examples of unlawful areas of the vehicle include, but are not limited to:

  • The trunk of a car;
  • Running boards and fenders;
  • A vehicle currently being towed by another vehicle (e.g., a trailer);
  • The cargo bed of a semi-truck;
  • The bed of a pickup (unless there are approved safety harnesses);
  • More than one motorcycle rider on a seat meant for one.

Note that this law applies to passengers who ride illegally and drivers who allow them to do so.In other words, either party (or both) can be ticketed for a violation.

What are the Exceptions to the Rule?

As with so many laws, VC 21712 allows for certain exceptions. These are discussed below. 

Authorized employees. Certain workers are exempt from citation under VC 21712 when performing their duties—for example, firefighters or trash collectors.

Cargo bed exceptions. Passengers may be allowed to ride in the cargo beds of a truck (including pickups) in the following situations:

  • If the truck has federally approved restraints and the passengers use them;
  • In a parade, provided the truck is moving slower than eight mph;
  • If it's an agricultural vehicle traveling less than one mile between fields;
  • In specific other emergencies;
  • Towed trailer exception. A passenger may be allowed in a towed trailer if that trailer is designed for a vessel and the passenger is engaged in launching or recovering the vessel.

What Are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: John is hosting a night out with a group of teenagers and allows them to ride loose in the bed of his pickup with no safety harnesses. John and his passengers may be cited under VC 21712.

EXAMPLE 2: Gina and her daughter participate in a parade float that rests on the flatbed of a truck crawling through the parade route. They will not be cited under VC 21712 because they qualify for an exception.

EXAMPLE 3: On a dare while out for a night on the town, Jerry climbs out of the sunroof of the limo he and his friends have rented and rides down the street on the limo's roof. Jerry can be cited for unlawful riding in a vehicle—and the limo driver may also be ticketed for allowing it.

What Are the Related Offenses?

Several California laws are related to Vehicle Code 21712 VC unlawful riding, such as the following:

What Are the Penalties for VC 21712?

A violation of VC 21712 is an infraction in the State of California, accompanied by the following penalties:

  • Fines - The base fine for a VC 21712 violation is $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second (if it occurs within one year of the first), and $250 for any subsequent offenses occurring within a year of each other. In most cases, however, the fines can be significantly greater due to added fees and assessments.
  • Points on Driver's License - A violation of VC 21712 also adds a point to the violator's driving record. This can affect the person's insurance rates and, with multiple points in a short time, potentially lead to the suspension of the driver's license.

If You Ignore the Ticket 

If you receive a ticket in California, you have two options: pay the fine or go to court to contest it.

By signing the citation, you agree to appear in court unless you choose to pay the fine. If you neither pay nor show up for your scheduled court date, you may face misdemeanor charges for Vehicle Code 40508 failure to appear, which carries a penalty of up to $1000 in fines and up to 6 months in county jail.

Personal Injury Lawsuit

Suppose a driver that violates Vehicle Code 21712 injures someone, such as a passenger or another motorist. In that case, the injured could file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver, who could be found negligent, which means failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm.

What Are the Defenses for VC 21712?

If you disagree with a citation under VC 21712, you can contest it in court. Having a California criminal defense attorney represent you can improve your chances for success. Common strategies against this charge are discussed below.

Defenses for Unlawful Riding in a Vehicle in California
Contact our law firm for help.

Perhaps we can argue that you qualified for an exception. For example, you were a farm worker riding on the running board between fields or in a safety harness in the back of a pickup.

Perhaps we can argue that there was an emergency situation. You can often get a VC 21712 citation dismissed if you show that emergency circumstances gave you no alternative.

Perhaps we can argue that you weren't in a prohibited area of the vehicle. You can challenge the officer's testimony that you were riding unlawfully. You'll likely need to provide clear proof, such as video evidence.

Perhaps we can argue that the car was not in motion. VC 21712 only applies to vehicles that are moving. If the vehicle was stopped, you may be able to get the citation dismissed. You can contact our law firm for a case review by phone or through the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, CA.

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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