California Vehicle Code 21461
You may have noticed that the California Vehicle Code consists of a jumble of overlapping regulations, many of which say approximately the same thing. That leads to confusion on the part of police officers who try to choose an appropriate violation when they write tickets. Traffic ticket experts take advantage of that confusion when they work to get tickets dismissed. Section 21461 is a “catch all” regulation that makes it “unlawful for a driver of a vehicle to fail to obey a sign or signal … or to fail to obey a device erected or maintained by lawful authority of a public body or official.” This is a handy violation for officers to cite when they cannot find or remember the sections of the traffic code that apply to more specific violations (such as disobeying a “no turn on red” sign).
Signs or signals
The statute applies to signs or signals that conform to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Most traffic signals and signs erected by state or local governments will meet that standard. There is a reason that nearly all speed limit signs look alike. They have all been manufactured to meet the specifications of the Manual. Every now and then, however, the police write a ticket in an effort to enforce a nonstandard sign. For example, bureaucrats in a local government building wanted drivers to enter their parking lot from one driveway and to exit using a different driveway. They had the city’s sign shop make a “no exit” sign that they posted next to entrance. When drivers disregarded the sign and exited using that driveway, the police would ticket them. Traffic ticket experts were able to get those tickets dismissed because the “no exit” sign did not conform to the requirements of the Manual and because the government employees were not acting with the authority that makes a sign enforceable. Some private businesses will put up their own “official looking” signs, like stop signs, in private parking lots. Since private businesses are not the government, those signs do not fall within the scope of section 21461. That does not stop the police from writing tickets when drivers ignore those signs, but it does enable traffic ticket experts to get those tickets dismissed.
The word “device” is also a catch-all phrase that includes not only signs and signals, but markings on pavement (such as “Left Turn Only” painted in a left turn lane). Drivers are required to obey those markings if they are legible, but traffic ticket experts can often point out that skid marks and foul weather have all but obliterated the paint. When the “device” no longer exists, a ticket based on disregarding it must be dismissed. The police also try to ticket drivers under section 21461 who drive around traffic barriers. A traffic barrier does not meet the definition of a device. Since it is also not a sign or signal, a traffic ticket expert can get those tickets dismissed.