Wrong-Way Driving  - California Vehicle Code VC 21651

Posted by Raoul Severo | Oct 10, 2020 | 0 Comments

There are a plethora of videos on the internet showcasing hilarious instances where people somehow drive on the wrong side of the road. Indeed, we laugh out loud when we watch them, but when the tables turn, you won't really find it funny anymore. 

According to California Vehicle Code VC 21651, any motorist or vehicle operator who drives on the wrong side of the road will be penalized accordingly. But what is the “wrong” side of the road, anyway? The state of California mandates all drivers to drive on the right side of the road. If a highway barrier is present, then that means the barrier should be on the left side of the driver. If there are two or more lanes on each side of the opposing traffic, the driver must be driving at the right side of the dividing section. Doing anything else except this will be considered as an offense under VC 21651. 

There are many causes as to why a driver turns up on a road or street he/she is not supposed to be heading, such as:

  • Making U-turn in a no U-turn spot;
  • Overtaking a vehicle upfront;
  • Making a left-hand turn across a double yellow line; and/or
  • Accidental drifts by a driver.

Obviously, this law was enacted to ensure peace, safety, and order on the road. Remember that the law's sole function is to set the standards -- the rest of the responsibility is shared among community members who use the highways, roads, and pedestrians. Hence, if you drive on the wrong side of the road, you will be ticketed. It will not matter how trivial your reasons are, the fact remains that you violated the law. 

It may seem harmless, but it is actually a very dangerous maneuver. In fact, in the United States alone, about 355 people are killed each year in crashes caused by drivers headed in the wrong direction on the highway. That's almost one person per day. It is truly tempting to break the law sometimes, especially if no one is watching, but think about that statistic the next time you contemplate driving on the wrong side of the road. 

There are several related offenses that often go hand-in-hand with wrong-way driving. This includes:

Each of these has its own set of penalties. Additional punishments, or lack thereof, will depend upon the court. 

Punishments for Wrong-Way Driving in California

Driving on the wrong side of the road is a serious offense as it disrupts the order in the road and endangers the safety of everyone else nearby. With that said, wrong-way driving can either result in a misdemeanor or a felony conviction. 

For an offense to be categorized as a misdemeanor, there must be no recorded injury or fatality due to the violation. Let's suppose you're running late for a meeting and the driver ahead of you is driving quite slowly. You look around and realize that there is no one ahead of the driver in front of you. Since you don't want to arrive late, you decided to overtake the driver by driving briefly on the left side of the road. Unbeknownst to you, however, a police officer sees it and pulls you over. You are given a ticket and you appear before the judge to present your case. You are still found guilty, but since you did not kill or injure anyone, you are only convicted of a misdemeanor. The penalties for that will be:

  • A maximum sentence of one year in county jail, and/or
  • A maximum fine of $1,000

Meanwhile, let's say you miscalculated your overtaking maneuver and crash head-on with a vehicle heading towards you. You are badly injured while the other driver is dead on the spot. You will most likely be convicted guilty of a felony where the penalties are:

  • A maximum jail or prison sentence of 3 years, and/or
  • Approximately $10,000 fine

Aside from the aforementioned penalties, you will also be receiving two points on your DMV record. If you garner enough points, you may be declared as a negligent operator, which may result in the revocation or suspension of your driving license. 

Get a Criminal Defense Attorney

Drivers who are ticketed for driving on the wrong side of the road may self-represent before the court on the day of their trial. However, if you want the best results, it is always recommended to hire a professional criminal defense attorney. 

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