California Vehicle Code 21809—Failure to Slow When Approaching or Passing Stationary Emergency Vehicle
CVC Section 21809 is the “Move Over” law that requires vehicles to attempt to move to another lane or to use caution when passing a stationary emergency vehicle with its amber lights flashing. The code section states:
“A person driving a vehicle on a freeway approaching a stationary authorized emergency vehicle that is displaying emergency lights, a stationary tow truck that is displaying flashing amber warning lights, or a stationary marked Department of Transportation vehicle that is displaying flashing amber warning lights, shall approach with due caution and, before passing in a lane immediately adjacent to the authorized emergency vehicle, tow truck, or Department of Transportation vehicle.
When approaching an emergency vehicle, drivers should do one of the following:
- Change lanes into a lane that is not directly adjacent to the emergency vehicle
- If changing lanes would be unsafe or impracticable, slow to a reasonable speed
Specifically, if you are on the freeway and an emergency vehicle has its lights flashing, you should first slow down and then attempt to move to a different lane that is not immediately next to or adjacent to the emergency vehicles if you are able to do so safely. If there is too much traffic, then stop if possible or slow considerably and wait so that you can change lanes.
What Constitutes an “Emergency Vehicle”?
Knowing when you need to slow down or move over can be confusing as emergency vehicles can take a variety of forms. Some examples of emergency vehicles include:
- Police Cars
- Tow Trucks
- Any other Department of Transportation Vehicle
Keep an eye out for any vehicle with amber flashing lights. When in doubt, it is best to be cautious.
CVC 21809 is Confusing
This law is confusing to many motorists. When motorists see an emergency vehicle on the shoulder, many continuing driving but slow down without changing lanes. If a police officer is monitoring traffic, he or she will likely pull over motorists who simply pass the vehicles even at the posted speed limit.
Your first reaction when seeing one of described vehicles with its lights flashing on the shoulder should be to immediately slow down and seek to get into a lane as far from the vehicle as possible. The code section states that if you are unable to do this with reasonable safety, then you may proceed to a “reasonable and prudent speed” based on the existing traffic conditions.
Whether you violated CVC 21809 is largely subjective and up to the judgment of the police officer who decided that you (1) failed to move into a different lane that was not immediately adjacent to the emergency vehicle, or (2) that you were traveling too fast for the current traffic conditions when you passed the stopped vehicle.
The penalty for failing to slow down or move over for an emergency vehicle starts at $237 plus a point on your driving record.
If you received a citation for CVC 21809, our team may be able to assist. Give us a call or submit your citation for a free ticket review.