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California Vehicle Code 21651 Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

California Vehicle Code Section 21651 VC is the laws against driving on the wrong side of the road. Crossing over the center divide in traffic can be very dangerous and drifting into oncoming traffic is also a sign for police to stop the driver and check for an impaired driver.  Driving on the wrong side of the road can be an infraction that will result in a fine, or it can be charged as a misdemeanor. 

Unfortunately, a driver only has to roll slightly over center lines to end up getting pulled over. The police officer may even make a mistake about the driver crossing over and still pull the driver over. A ticket can be a pain to deal with and may increase your insurance costs. However, a traffic stop could lead to more serious charges, like a DUI if the police suspect the driver is under the influence. If you were pulled over for 21651 VC and ended up with a DUI, contact a local East Bay DUI and criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. 

Vehicle Code 21651 VC Text 

Under California Vehicle Code Section 21651, when a highway has been divided into two or more roadways with curbs, double-parallel lines, or other markings on the roadway, it is unlawful to: 

  • Drive any vehicle over, upon, or across the dividing section, or
  • Make any left, semicircular, or U-turn with the vehicle on the divided highway, except through an opening in the barrier designated and intended by public authorities for the use of vehicles or through a plainly marked opening in the dividing section.

Additionally, “it is unlawful to drive any vehicle upon a highway, except to the right of an intermittent barrier or a dividing section which separates two or more opposing lanes of traffic.”

Driving on the Wrong Side Causing an Injury or Death

Any willful driving on the wrong side of a highway that results in injury to or death of a person shall be punished by imprisonment for up to 6 months. This could include someone driving on the wrong side of the road to avoid traffic or make an illegal turn. 

Crossing a Divided Highway or Driving on the Wrong Side

The vehicle code differentiates between crossing a divided highway and driving on the wrong side of the road. Under VC 21651(a), it is a violation to cross the dividing line, even for a few feet. This commonly involves making illegal U-turns across a double yellow line, or making a left-hand turn across a double yellow line. The other common violation may be accidental, where a driver is not paying attention, is distracted, or drowsy, and drifts over the center lines. 

Violation of  VC 21651(a) is punishable by a fine of up to $238 and one point on your driving record. Getting too many points on your driving record can increase your insurance rates. Enough points may also result in designation as a negligent operator

There are 3 levels of negligent operator based on driver points. Level I results in a warning letter. Level II results in a Notice of Intent to Suspend letter. Level III results in suspension of driving privileges. A driver is presumed to be a “prima facie” negligent operator at Level III. This results in a one-year probation and a 6-month license suspension.

Under VC 21651(b), it is a violation to drive on the wrong side of the road. Driving on the wrong side of the road can be a misdemeanor or felony offense. If anyone is injured or killed in the accident, the prosecutor may try and charge the offense as a felony, depending on the circumstances. Driving on the wrong side of the road will also put 2 points on the driver's DMV record, which can increase insurance costs and put the driver at risk of a negligent operator license suspension. 

Defense to Charges of Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

The driver may have legal defenses to charges for driving on the wrong side of the road, to avoid criminal charges. Charges for a wrong-side-of-the-road violation that causes injury requires a willful violation. If the driver made a mistake or did not intend to drive on the other side, they may face reduced penalties. 

A lot of roadways in California are in pretty poor condition. Asphalt may be cracked and the paint can be faded. In heavy traffic areas, a driver may not even know that the dividing line is 2 solid yellow lines that should not be crossed. It may be a defense to charges of driving on the wrong side of the road if the divider was not clearly marked. 

If the police were wrong about the driver crossing over, a driver's dashcam footage can be helpful in showing the driver did not violate any traffic law. Your criminal defense attorney may also be able to review any police camera footage that shows the driver's vehicle, which could be used to dispute the police officer's version of what happened. 

Defense Lawyer for 21651 VC Charges in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties

East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 36 years of criminal defense experience, and understands the consequences of misdemeanor and felony traffic charges for California drivers. Representing drivers in Alameda County and Contra Costa County, Lynn Gorelick is familiar with the local criminal laws, local officers, and the prosecutors involved. Contact East Bay vehicle code defense lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.

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