Tailgating - California Vehicle Code VC 21703

Posted by Raoul Severo | Nov 11, 2020 | 0 Comments

Tailgating is defined as an act done by drivers on the road who follow too closely to a vehicle in front of them. The motive behind this behavior differs from driver to driver -- some do it just to piss other people off, while some simply do not understand the concept of giving people enough breathing room. Regardless of the reason, the fact remains that tailgating is not only irritating to experience but also incredibly dangerous. If the car in front abruptly stops, there is barely enough room for the car behind it to stop without crashing into the trunk of the vehicle ahead of it.

If you have received a traffic citation for “following too closely”, you might already be familiar with California Vehicle Code VC 21703, as it is the law that you have allegedly violated. It states that drivers are not allowed to drive behind another moving vehicle if the distance between is too narrow than necessary. 

In order to convict someone guilty of tailgating, the prosecutor must look at the following conditions:

  • The speed of the vehicle ahead;
  • The traffic conditions; and
  • Road surface (wet or slippery).

These conditions will help the court to determine whether or not the driver is guilty of tailgating. Simply relying on the definition of the court as to what constitutes a “safe distance” between vehicles is not necessarily effective. For one thing, the language of the law is too vague -- the distance may seem fair and reasonable to the driver, but it may not always be the same to the witnessing officer. Thus, there's an issue of subjectivity. The conditions stated above, as well as other factors not mentioned such as the direction being traveled and type of roadway, help provide some clarity to law enforcers.


The term tailgating itself is quite self-explanatory, but sometimes it is hard to determine whether or not a driver is guilty of the crime. Hence, we provided some scenarios that would be considered illegal under California Vehicle Code VC 21703:

  • A teenage boy just got a brand new car for his birthday. Unable to contain his excitement, he drove around the city to show off his new wheels. The traffic was very light, so he decided to go faster than he normally would. The problem is, he's a bit short-tempered and he didn't like to share his lane with other drivers. So, he started to intimidate every single driver who is in his way by going bumper-to-bumper with them.
  • A woman just got her license and started driving herself to work. As a newbie, however, she finds it difficult to determine the proper space to give the car ahead of her. No one corrects this behavior so she continues to do it until a police officer notices what she is doing and gives her a ticket for it.
  • You are behind another vehicle that is traveling at 65-70 mph on a freeway. Confident that there would be nothing to impede the flow of traffic, you start to inch closer to the car ahead of you. Given the speed, it would most likely be considered as a violation since you would not have been able to step on the brakes if the car in front suddenly stopped.

Related Laws

It is not impossible that by tailgating someone, you would be violating other laws as well. In California, there are closely related offenses to VC 21703, such as:

Penalties for Tailgating in California

A police officer will first have to give you a ticket for “following too closely”, and if proven guilty by a court, you will have to face the following penalties:

  • Pay a fine of $238, and
  • Receive one point on his DMV record.

If you ignore your ticket, you will be violating another law which is California Vehicle Code VC 40508, otherwise known as failure to appear in court for a traffic ticket.

Call A Criminal Defense Attorney For Help

Given how subjective and vague the definition of “safe distance” in this law is, it is not a surprise that many people have been charged for “following too closely” even if they believed they weren't. This is just another case of your word against the officer's word -- but this can be changed with the help of a criminal defense lawyer. Reach out to us now so we can discuss your case and come up with a concrete defense plan immediately.


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