California Laws: Cars, Motorcycle, Trucks, & Motor Vehicles


Basic Standard of Care

A person must use reasonable care in driving a vehicle. Drivers must keep a lookout for pedestrians, obstacles, and other vehicles. They must also control the speed and movement of their vehicles. The failure to use reasonable care in driving a vehicle is negligence.

  • The common-law duty supplements statutory driving regulations: “[A driver is] under a duty, both by statute and common law, to operate his vehicle without negligence so as to abstain from injuring any other person or his property.” (Bewley v. Riggs (1968) 262 Cal.App.2d 188, 194 [68 Cal.Rptr. 520].)

  • The standard of care is that of a reasonably careful person under the circumstances: “[The driver] was required to act as a reasonably prudent person under the same or similar circumstances ”  (Watkins v. Ohman (1967) 251Cal.App.2d 501, 502-503 [59 Cal.Rptr. 709].)

  • “ ‘The degree of care required in watching the movements of a particular machine depends upon the facts and circumstances existing at the time and place of the accident’ and a driver is required to use that degree of care, only, which would be required of a reasonably prudent driver under similar circumstances.” (Whitford v. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (1955) 136 Cal.App.2d 697, 702 [289 P.2d 278], internal citations omitted.)

  • The common-law requirement goes to the issues of lookout and control. Regardless of whether a driver was complying with the speed limit, “[he was] still bound to anticipate that he might meet persons at any point of the street and in order to avoid a charge of negligence he was bound to use ordinary care and to keep an ordinarily careful lookout for such persons and keep his machine under such control as would enable him to avoid a collision.” (Boccalero v. Wadleigh (1931) 113 Cal.App. 376, 379, [298 P. 526], internal citation omitted.)

  • “The operator of a vehicle must keep a proper lookout for other vehicles or persons on the highway and must keep his car under such control as will enable him to avoid a collision; failure to keep such a lookout constitutes negligence.” (Downing v. Barrett Mobile Home Transport, Inc. (1974) 38 Cal.App.3d 519, 524 [113 Cal.Rptr. 277].)

  • On the lookout requirement, one court observed: “The driver of an automobile is bound to use reasonable care to anticipate the presence on the highway of others who have equal right to be there and the fact that his vision is temporarily interfered with, either by the glaring sun or headlights, does not relieve him from that duty.” (Hill v. Peres (1934) 136 Cal.App. 132, 137.

  • On the control requirement, one court observed: “Cases in which the problem has been presented adhere to the view that a driver must at all times exercise ordinary care to avoid a collision including swerving or altering his course, in addition to applying his brakes, if that would be a reasonable means of avoiding the collision.” (Guyton v. City of Los Angeles (1959) 174 Cal.App.2d 354, 362 [344 P.2d 910].)

  • “The age of a minor who operates a motor vehicle will not excuse him from liability for driving it in a negligent manner, and he will be required to meet the standard established primarily for adults.” (Prichard v. Veterans Cab Co. (1965) 63 Cal.2d 727, 732 [47 Cal.Rptr. 904, 408 P.2d 360].)

  • Drivers with mental disabilities are required to exercise the ordinary care required of an adult without such disability. (Fox v. City and County of San Francisco (1975) 47 Cal.App.3d 164, 173 [120 Cal.Rptr. 779].)


Definition of Right-of-Way

When the law requires a driver or pedestrian to “yield the right-of-way” to another vehicle/pedestrian, this means that the driver or pedestrian must let the other car/pedestrian go first. Even if someone has the right-of-way, that person must use reasonable care to avoid an accident.

  • “Right of Way” Defined. Vehicle Code section 525.
  • Intersection Right of Way. Vehicle Code section 21800.
  • Left Turn Right of Way. Vehicle Code section 21801.
  • Approaching Entrance to Intersection. Vehicle Code section 21802.
  • Intersection Controlled by Yield Right-of-Way Sign. Vehicle Code section 21803.
  • Entry Onto Highway. Vehicle Code section 21804.
  • Equestrian Crossings. Vehicle Code section 21805.
  • Authorized Emergency Vehicles. Vehicle Code section 21806.

  • “Right of way rules have been described as simply establishing ‘a practical basis for necessary courtesy on the highway.’ ” (Eagar v. McDonnell Douglas Corp. (1973) 32 Cal.App.3d 116, 122 [107 Cal.Rptr. 819].)

  • “[A] driver entering a public highway from private property who collides with a vehicle traveling on the public road is not necessarily liable for a violation of [Vehicle Code] section 21804. Rather, the driver violates this section only if he or she fails to act as a ‘ “reasonably prudent and cautious [person].” ’ Whether the driver failed to so act is a question of fact for the trier of fact to decide.” (Spriesterbach v. Holland (2013) 215 Cal.App.4th 255, 266 [155 Cal.Rptr.3d 306], internal citation omitted.)

  • “Of course, even if [defendant] had the right of way, he had a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid an accident, and the jury was so instructed.” (Eagar, supra, 32 Cal.App.3d. at p. 123, fn. 3, internal citation omitted.)

  • “Where a car has actually entered an intersection before the other approaches it, the driver of the first car has the right to assume that he will be given the right of way and be permitted to pass through the intersection without danger of collision. He has a right to assume that the driver of the other car will obey the law, slow down, and yield the right of way, if slowing down be necessary to prevent a collision.” (Minnegren v. Nozar (2016) 4 Cal.App.5th 500, 508 [208 Cal.Rptr.3d 655].)

  • “When, as here, each motorist has acted reasonably and the pedestrian has failed to exercise due care for her own safety, the law of this state does not permit the technical violation of the pedestrian’s right of way statute to impose negligence on the motorists as a matter of law. The statute creates a preferential, but not absolute, right in favor of the pedestrian who is still under a duty to exercise ordinary care.” (Byrne v. City and County of San Francisco (1980) 113 Cal.App.3d 731, 742 [170 Cal.Rptr. 302].)

  • “ ‘Even where a right of way is given by statute, if conditions so require it to avoid injury to others, the right of way must be yielded.’ ” (Bove v. Beckman (1965) 236 Cal.App.2d 555, 563 [46 Cal.Rptr. 164], internal citation omitted.)

  • “Although such a driver may have the right-of-way, he is not absolved of the duty to exercise ordinary care; may not proceed blindly in disregard of an obvious danger; and must be watchful of the direction in which danger is most likely to be apprehended.” (Malone v. Perryman (1964) 226 Cal.App.2d 227, 234 [37 Cal.Rptr. 864].)


Waiver of Right-of-Way

A [driver/pedestrian] who has the right-of-way may give up that right and let [another vehicle/a pedestrian] go first. If a [driver/pedestrian] reasonably believes that [[another/a] driver/a pedestrian] has given up the right-of-way, then [the driver/the pedestrian] may go first.

  • “[I]f one who has the right of way ‘conducts himself in such a definite manner as to create a reasonable belief in the mind of another person that the right-of- way has been waived, then such other person is entitled to assume that the right of way has been given up to him . . .’.” (Hopkins v. Tye (1959) 174 Cal.App.2d 431, 433 [344 P.2d 640].)

  • “A conscious intentional act of waiver of the right of way by the pedestrian is not required. Whether there is a waiver depends upon the acts of the pedestrian. If they are such that a driver could reasonably believe that the pedestrian did not intend to assert her right of way, a waiver occurs.” (Cohen v. Bay Area Pie Company (1963) 217 Cal.App.2d 69, 72-73 [31 Cal.Rptr. 426], internal citation omitted.)



Definition of “Immediate Hazard”

The statute just read to you uses the words “immediate hazard.” An immediate hazard exists if the approaching vehicle is so near or is approaching so fast that a reasonably careful person would realize that there is a danger of collision [or accident].

  • “It is to be noted that the legislature has not set a hard and fast rule for the conduct of drivers approaching through highways but has provided the general rule that such drivers must yield the right of way to others traveling on the highway who are approaching so closely as to constitute ‘an immediate hazard.’ Our complex traffic problems are such that the circumstances of the traffic on a through highway as a driver approaches must govern his conduct in determining whether it is an immediate hazard. Whether a driver acts with due care or negligently in proceeding across a through highway must as a general rule be left to the determination of the jury in view of all the circumstances.” (Wilkinson v. Marcellus (1952) 51 Cal.App.2d 630, 633 [125 P.2d 584].)

  • At least one court has held that the term “immediate hazard” should be defined for the jury if a party so requests. (Hickenbottom v. Jeppesen (1956) 144 Cal.App.2d 115, 121 [300 P.2d 689].) However, any error in failing to define the term will be considered harmless if other instructions cover that point: “The words ‘immediate hazard’ seem reasonably clear in the context in which they appear, both in the statute and in the instruction given; the hazard of a collision.” (Ibid.)


Left Turns (Veh. Code, § 21801)

The statute just read to you uses the word “hazard.” A “hazard” exists if any approaching vehicle is so near or is approaching so fast that a reasonably careful person would realize that there is a danger of a collision [or accident].

[A driver who is attempting to make a left turn must make sure that no oncoming vehicles are close enough to be a hazard before the driver proceeds across each lane.]

  • Duty to Yield Right of Way: Left Turn. Vehicle Code section 21801(a).

  • “We hold section 21802, subdivision (a), requires that where, as here, some, but not all, of the oncoming vehicles have yielded their right-of-way to a left-turning driver, that driver has a continuing duty during the turning movement to ascertain, before proceeding across the next open lane(s), if any vehicle is approaching from the opposite direction so close as to constitute a hazard.” (Sesler, supra, 219 Cal.App.3d at pp. 224-225)

  • Noting that in 1957 the Legislature added the phrase “at any time during the turning movement” to this section, the court in In re Kirk (1962) 202 Cal.App.2d 288, 291, reasoned that “if the oncoming vehicle in the lane closest to the left turning vehicle surrenders its right of way by indicating to the operator of the left turning vehicle that it desires him to proceed, such operator may not proceed beyond that first lane of traffic, now effectively blocked by the waiving vehicle, if in fact other vehicles approaching in any of the other oncoming lanes will constitute a hazard to the left turning vehicle during the turning movement.”


Turning (Veh. Code, § 22107)

A driver must use reasonable care when turning [or moving to the right or to the left].

  • Turning and Changing Lanes. Vehicle Code section 22107.

  • “This provision does not require the driver to know that a turn can be made with safety but only that he must exercise reasonable care, and whether such care has been exercised is normally a question of fact.” (Butigan v. Yellow Cab Co. (1958) 49 Cal.2d 652, 656 [320 P.2d 500].)

  • Courts have held that a reading of section 22107 should be followed by an instruction clarifying that the driver is under a duty to exercise only as much care as a reasonably prudent person when making a turn or movement: “An instruction to a jury concerning Vehicle Code, section 544 [now 22107] must make it clear that the driver who is about to turn must exercise such care as would a reasonably prudent man under similar circumstances, no more and no less.” (Lewis v. Franklin (1958) 161 Cal.App.2d 177, 184 [326 P.2d 625].)


Basic Speed Law (Veh. Code, § 22350)

A person must drive at a reasonable speed. Whether a particular speed is reasonable depends on the circumstances such as traffic, weather, visibility, and road conditions. Drivers must not drive so fast that they create a danger to people or property.

If [name of plaintiff/defendant] has proved that [name of defendant/plaintiff] was not driving at a reasonable speed at the time of the accident, then [name of defendant/plaintiff] was negligent.

  • Speeding. Vehicle Code section 22350.

  • “The so-called basic speed law is primarily a regulation of the conduct of the operators of vehicles. They are bound to know the conditions which dictate the speeds at which they can drive with a reasonable degree of safety. They know, or should know, their cars and their own ability to handle them, and especially their ability to come to a stop at different speeds and under different conditions of the surface of the highway.” (Wilding v. Norton (1957) 156 Cal.App.2d 374, 379 [319 P.2d 440].)

  • “Whether Vehicle Code section 22350 has been violated is a question of fact.” (Leighton v. Dodge (1965) 236 Cal.App.2d 54, 57 [45 Cal.Rptr. 820], internal citation omitted.)

  • “A number of cases have held that it is proper to give an instruction in the terms of this section and to inform the jury that a violation of the statute is negligence.” (Hardin v. San Jose City Lines, Inc. (1953) 41 Cal.2d 432, 438 [260 P.2d 63].)

  • Compliance with the posted speed law does not negate negligence as a matter of law. (Maxwell v. Colburn (1980) 105 Cal.App.3d 180, 186 [163 Cal.Rptr. 912].)


Speed Limit (Veh. Code, § 22352)

The speed limit where the accident occurred was [insert number] miles per hour.


The speed limit is a factor to consider when you decide whether or not [name of plaintiff/name of defendant] was negligent. A driver is not necessarily negligent just because the driver was driving faster than the speed limit. However, a driver may be negligent even if the driver was driving at or below the speed limit.

  • Speed Limits. Vehicle Code section 22352.

  • Speeding as Negligence. Vehicle Code section 40831.

  • A party is entitled to an instruction that the prima facie speed limit is a factor for the jury to consider in making its negligence determination. (Hardin v. San Jose City Lines, Inc. (1953) 41 Cal.2d 432, 439 [260 P.2d 63].)

  • “The mere driving of an automobile in excess of the speed limit does not show negligence as a matter of law. The jury was free to find [defendant] not guilty of negligence even if they found that he was exceeding the speed limit.” (Williams v. Cole (1960) 181 Cal.App.2d 70, 74 [5 Cal.Rptr. 24], internal citations omitted.)

  • The burden of proving negligence in a civil action is on the party charging negligence, and even if such party has established speed in excess of the applicable prima facie limit the party must establish negligence under the circumstances. (Faselli v. Southern Pacific Co. (1957) 150 Cal.App.2d 644, 648 [310 P.2d 698].)

  • “Even though the Texaco truck was traveling at a speed less than the maximum specified in the Vehicle Code, the reasonableness of its speed was a question of fact under all the circumstances, and circumstances may make travel at a speed less than the maximum rate a negligent operation of a motor vehicle.” (Scott v. Texaco, Inc. (1966) 239 Cal.App.2d 431, 436-437 [48 Cal.Rptr. 785], internal citations omitted.)


Maximum Speed Limit (Veh. Code, §§ 22349, 22356)

The maximum speed limit where the accident occurred was [insert number] miles per hour.

  • General Maximum Speed is 65 Miles Per Hour. Vehicle Code section 22349(a).

  • Basic Maximum Speed for Two-Lane Undivided Highways is 55 Miles Per Hour. Vehicle Code section 22349(b).

  • Maximum Speed at Selected Locations is 70 Miles Per Hour. Vehicle Code section 22356.

  • Driving Too Slowly. Vehicle Code section 22400(a).


Driving Under the Influence (Veh. Code, §§ 23152, 23153)

The statute just read to you uses the term “under the influence.” A driver is not necessarily “under the influence” just because the driver has consumed some alcohol [or drugs]. A driver is “under the influence” when the driver has consumed an amount of alcohol [or drugs] that impairs the driver’s ability to drive in a reasonably careful manner.

  • Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs. Vehicle Code sections 23152(a), 23153(a).

  • “All of the decided cases on the subject recognize that it is negligence as a matter of law to drive a vehicle upon a public highway while in an intoxicated condition.” (Zamucen v. Crocker (1957) 149 Cal.App.2d 312, 316 [308 P.2d 384], internal citations omitted.)

  • The term “under the influence” was first defined in People v. Dingle (1922) 56 Cal.App. 445, 449 [205 P. 705], as follows: “[I]f intoxicating liquor has so far affected the nervous system, brain, or muscles of the driver of an automobile as to impair, to an appreciable degree, his ability to operate his car in the manner that an ordinarily prudent and cautious man, in the full possession of his faculties, using reasonable care, would operate or drive a similar vehicle under like conditions, then such driver is ‘under the influence of intoxicating liquor’ within the meaning of the statute.”

  • “One is not necessarily under the influence of intoxicating liquor as the result of taking one or more drinks. The circumstances and effect must be considered; whether or not a person was under the influence of intoxicating liquor at a certain time is a question of fact for the jury to decide.” (Pittman v. Boiven (1967) 249 Cal.App.2d 207, 217 [57 Cal.Rptr. 319].)

  • Driving while “under the influence” under Vehicle Code sections 23152 and 23153 is not the same as “being under the influence” of a controlled substance under Health and Safety Code section 11550. Under the Vehicle Code provisions, “the defendant’s ability to drive must actually be impaired,” while the Health and Safety Code provision is violated as soon as the influence is present “in any detectable manner.” (People v. Enriquez (1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 661, 665 [49 Cal.Rptr.2d 710].)

  • Courts have also distinguished the “under the influence” standard from the “obvious intoxication” standard used in Business and Professions Code section 25602.1. (Jones v. Toyota Motor Co. (1988) 198 Cal.App.3d 364, 368 [243 Cal.Rptr. 611]: “ ‘Under the influence’ is defined by a person’s capability to drive safely, whereas ‘obvious intoxication’ is defined by a person’s appearance.”)


Duties of Care for Pedestrians and Drivers in Crosswalk (Veh. Code, § 21950)

A driver of a vehicle must yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian who is crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection. When approaching a pedestrian who is within any marked or unmarked crosswalk, a driver must use reasonable care and must reduce the vehicle’s speed or take any other action necessary to ensure the safety of the pedestrian.


Pedestrians must also use reasonable care for their own safety. Pedestrians may not suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. Pedestrians also must not unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.


The failure of a pedestrian to exercise reasonable care does not relieve a driver of a vehicle from the duty of exercising reasonable care for the safety of any pedestrian within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.

  • Right-of-Way at Crosswalks. Vehicle Code section 21950.

  • Vehicles Stopped for Pedestrians at Crosswalks. Vehicle Code section 21951.

  • “Driving a motor vehicle may be sufficiently dangerous to warrant special instructions, but it is not so hazardous that it always requires ‘extreme caution.’ ” (Menchaca v. Helms Bakeries, Inc. (1968) 68 Cal.2d 535, 544 [67 Cal.Rptr. 775, 439 P.2d 903], internal citations omitted.)

  • “When the pedestrian suddenly leaves his place of safety, the vehicle must be so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. Such wording [in Veh. Code, § 21950] indicates the statute was intended to apply to those situations where a pedestrian unexpectedly asserts his right-of-way in an intersection at a time when the vehicle is so close that it is virtually impossible to avoid an accident. Typical situations include when a pedestrian steps, jumps, walks or runs directly in front of a vehicle travelling in lanes which are adjacent to the curb or other place of safety occupied by the pedestrian. Under such circumstances, the vehicle would most certainly constitute an immediate hazard to the pedestrian.” (Spann v. Ballesty (1969) 276 Cal.App.2d 754, 761 [81 Cal.Rptr. 229], original italics.)

  • “It is undisputed that defendant did not yield the right of way to plaintiff. Such failure constitutes a violation of the statute and negligence as a matter of law in the absence of reasonable explanation for defendant’s conduct.” (Schmitt v. Henderson (1969) 1 Cal.3d 460, 463 [82 Cal.Rptr 502, 462 P.2d 30].)

  • “When, as here, each motorist has acted reasonably and the pedestrian has failed to exercise due care for her own safety, the law of this state does not permit the technical violation of the pedestrian’s right of way statute to impose negligence on the motorists as a matter of law. The statute creates a preferential, but not absolute, right in favor of the pedestrian who is still under a duty to exercise ordinary care.” (Byrne v. City and County of San Francisco (1980) 113 Cal.App.3d 731, 742 [170 Cal.Rptr. 302], internal citation omitted.)

  • “While it is the duty of both the driver of a motor vehicle and a pedestrian, using a public roadway, to exercise ordinary care, that duty does not require necessarily the same amount of caution from each. The driver of a motor vehicle, when ordinarily careful, will be alertly conscious of the fact that he is in charge of a machine capable of projecting into serious consequences any negligence of his own. Thus his caution must be adequate to that responsibility as related to all the surrounding circumstances. A pedestrian, on the other hand, has only his own physical body to manage and with which to set in motion a cause of injury. While, usually, that fact limits his capacity to cause injury, as compared with a vehicle driver, still, in exercising ordinary care, he, too, will be alertly conscious of the mechanical power acting, or that may act, on the public roadway, and of the possible, serious consequences from any conflict between himself and such forces. And the caution required of him is measured by the possibilities of injury apparent to him in the conditions at hand, or that would be apparent to a person of ordinary prudence in the same position.” (Cucinella v. Weston Biscuit Co. (1954) 42 Cal.2d 71, 75-76, 81 [265 P.2d 513] [proposed jury instruction correctly stated the law].)


The Passenger’s Duty of Care for Own Safety

A passenger is not required to be aware of the conditions on the highway and is entitled to expect that a driver will use reasonable care. However, if a passenger becomes aware of [a danger on the highway] [the driver’s impairment or failure to use reasonable care], then the passenger must take reasonable steps to protect the passenger’s own safety.

  • “ ‘In the absence of some fact brought to his attention which would cause a person of ordinary prudence to act otherwise, a passenger in an automobile has no duty to observe traffic conditions on the highway, and his mere failure to do so, without more, will not support a finding of contributory negligence. In other words, an automobile passenger’s “duty to look” does not arise until some factor of danger comes to his attention, thus charging him as a person of ordinary prudence to take steps for his own safety ’ ” (Casey v. Russell (1982) 138 Cal.App.3d 379, 386-387 [188 Cal.Rptr. 18], internal citations omitted.)

  • “Even when negligence of a driver may not be imputed to him, the passenger is bound to exercise ordinary care for his own safety. He may not shut his eyes to an obvious danger; he may not blindly rely on the driver in approaching a place of danger. He is normally bound to protest against actual negligence or recklessness of the driver, the extent of his duty in this regard depending upon the particular circumstances of each case and ordinarily being a question of fact for the jury.” (Pobor v. Western Pacific Railroad Co. (1961) 55 Cal.2d 314, 324 [11 Cal.Rptr. 106, 359 P.2d 474], internal citations omitted.)


Affirmative Defense—Failure to Wear a Seat Belt

[Name of defendant] claims that [name of plaintiff] was negligent because [he/she/nonbinary pronoun] failed to wear a seat belt. To succeed, [name of defendant] must prove all of the following:

  1. That a working seat belt was available;
  2. That a reasonably careful person in [name of plaintiff]’s situation would have used the seat belt;
  3. That [name of plaintiff] failed to wear a seat belt; and
  4. That [name of plaintiff]’s injuries would have been avoided or less severe if [he/she/nonbinary pronoun] had used the seat belt.

[In deciding whether a reasonably careful person would have used a seat belt, you may consider Vehicle Code section 27315, which states: [insert pertinent provision].]


  • Failure to Wear Seat Belt as Negligence. Vehicle Code section 27315(i).

  • “Defendants . . . are required to prove two issues of fact: (1) the defendant must show whether in the exercise of ordinary care the plaintiff should have used the seat belt which was available to him (2) The defendant must show what the consequence to the plaintiff would have been had seat belts been used.” (Franklin v. Gibson (1982) 138 Cal.App.3d 340, 343 [188 Cal.Rptr. 23].)

  • “Upon a retrial the court or jury will determine whether in the exercise of ordinary care [plaintiff] should have used the seat belt; expert testimony will be required to prove whether [plaintiff] would have been injured, and, if so, the extent of the injuries he would have sustained if he had been using the seat belt ” (Truman v. Vargas (1969) 275 Cal.App.2d 976, 983 [80 Cal.Rptr. 373].)

  • In Housley v. Godinez (1992) 4 Cal.App.4th 737, 747 [6 Cal.Rptr.2d 111], the court approved of the following jury instruction, which was read in addition to section 27315: “The Defendants have raised the seat belt defense in this case. First, you must decide whether in the exercise of ordinary care, the Plaintiff should have used seat belts, if available to him. Second you must determine with expert testimony the nature of injuries and damages Plaintiff would have sustained if he had used seat belts.”

  • “[Section 27315] permits the civil trial courts to instruct on the existence of the seat belt statute in appropriate cases, while allowing the jury to decide what weight, if any, to give the statute in determining the standard of reasonable care.” (Housley, supra, 4 Cal.App.4th at p. 747.)

  • “[N]othing in the statute prohibits a jury from knowing and considering its very existence when determining the reasonableness of driving without a seat belt.” (Housley, supra, 4 Cal.App.4th at p. 744.)

  • “There was evidence presented that appellant’s failure to wear a seat belt worsened his injuries. The foreseeability test clearly eliminates this act as a supervening cause because it is the general likelihood of the type of injury that must be unforeseeable in order to absolve defendant; the extent of injury need not be foreseeable.” (Hardison v. Bushnell (1993) 18 Cal.App.4th 22, 28 [22 Cal.Rptr.2d 106].)

  • “Expert testimony is not always required to prove that failure to use a seat belt may cause at least some, if not all, of plaintiff’s claimed injuries. [H Depending on the facts of the case, expert testimony may be necessary for the jury to distinguish the injuries that [plaintiff] unavoidably sustained in the collision from the injuries he could have avoided if he had worn a seat belt.” (Lara v. Nevitt (2004) 123 Cal.App.4th 454, 458-459 [19 Cal.Rptr.3d 865], internal citation omitted.)

  • “The seat belt defense does not depend on a Vehicle Code violation nor is it eviscerated by a Vehicle Code exemption from the requirement to wear seat belts.” (Lara, supra, 123 Cal.App.4th at p. 461 fn. 3.)


Motor Vehicle Owner Liability—Permissive Use of Vehicle

[Name of plaintiff] claims that [he/she/nonbinary pronoun] was harmed and that [name of defendant] is responsible for the harm because [name of defendant] gave [name of driver] permission to operate the vehicle. To establish this claim, [name of plaintiff] must prove all of the following:

  1. That [name of driver] was negligent in operating the vehicle;
  2. That [name of defendant] was an owner of the vehicle at the time of the injury to [name of plaintiff]; and
  3. That [name of defendant], by words or conduct, gave permission to [name of driver] to use the vehicle.

In determining whether permission was given, you may consider the relationship between the owner and the operator. [For example, if the parties are related or the owner and the operator are employer and employee, such a relationship may support a finding that there was implied permission to use the vehicle.]

[If the vehicle owner has given a person permission to use the vehicle, and that person authorizes a third person to operate the vehicle, the third person may be considered to have used the vehicle with the permission of the owner.]

  • Permissive Use. Vehicle Code section 17150.

  • Permissive Use: Limitation on Liability. Vehicle Code section 17151(a).

  • The statutory limitation under section 17151(a) “does not apply . . . to a vehicle owner’s own common law negligence, as distinguished from the owner’s statutory vicarious liability for the operator’s negligence.” (Fremont Compensation Insurance Co. v. Hartnett (1993) 19 Cal.App.4th 669, 675-676 [23 Cal.Rptr.2d 567].)

  • “[U]nless the evidence points to one conclusion only, the question of the existence of the requisite permission under [section 17150] is one to be determined by the trier of fact, ‘upon the facts and circumstances in evidence and the inferences reasonably to be drawn therefrom.’ ” (Peterson v. Grieger, Inc. (1961) 57 Cal.2d 43, 51 [17 Cal.Rptr. 828, 367 P.2d 420], internal citations omitted.)
  • “[P]ermission cannot be left to speculation or conjecture nor be assumed, but must be affirmatively proved, and the fact of permission is just as important to sustain the imposition of liability as is the fact of ownership.” (Scheff v. Roberts (1950) 35 Cal.2d 10, 12 [215 P.2d 925], internal citations omitted.)

  • “Where the issue of implied permissive use is involved, the general relationship existing between the owner and the operator, is of paramount importance. Where, for example, the parties are related by blood, or marriage, or where the relationship between the owner and the operator is that of principal and agent, weaker direct evidence will support a finding of such use than where the parties are only acquaintances or strangers.” (Elkinton v. California State Automobile Assn., Interstate Insurance Bureau (1959) 173 Cal.App.2d 338, 344 [343 P.2d 396], internal citations omitted.)

  • “There is no doubt that the word ‘owner’ as used in [the predecessor to Vehicle Code section 17150] for the purpose of creating a liability thereunder, is not synonymous with that word as used in the ordinary sense of referring to a person or persons whose title is good as against all others. Under the Vehicle Code there may be several such ‘owners’ at any one time. One or more persons may be an ‘owner,’ and thus liable for the injuries of a third party, even though no such ‘owner’ possesses all of the normal incidents of ownership.” (Stoddart v. Peirce (1959) 53 Cal.2d 105, 115 [346 P.2d 774], internal citation omitted.)

  • “The question whether the [defendant] was an owner for purposes of imposition of liability for negligence [under Vehicle Code section 17150] was one of fact.” (Campbell v. Security Pacific Nat. Bank (1976) 62 Cal.App.3d 379, 385 [133 Cal.Rptr. 77].)

  • “Strict compliance with Vehicle Code section 5602 [regarding the sale or transfer of a vehicle] is required to enable a transferring owner to escape the liability imposed by section 17150 on account of an accident occurring before notice of the transfer is received by the Motor Vehicle Department.” (Laureano v. Christensen (1971) 18 Cal.App.3d 515, 520-521 [95 Cal.Rptr. 872].)

  • “[T]he true and actual owner of an automobile [is not] relieved from liability by the expedient of registration in the name of another………………………………………………….. It is clear that it was the legislative intent to make the actual owners of automobiles liable for the negligence of those to whom permission is given to drive them. According to the allegations of the complaint defendants . . . were in fact the true owners of the car and had control of it, the registration being in the name of defendant [driver] for the purpose of avoiding liability.” (McCalla v. Grosse (1941) 42 Cal.App.2d 546, 549-550 [109 P.2d 358].)

  • “[I]t is a question of fact in cases of co-ownership, as it is in cases of single ownership, whether the operation of an automobile is with or without the consent, express or implied, of an owner who is not personally participating in such operation. The mere fact of co-ownership does not necessarily or



Motor Vehicle Owner Liability—Affirmative Defense—Use Beyond Scope of Permission

[Name of defendant] claims that [he/she/nonbinary pronoun] is not responsible for [name of plaintiff]’s harm because [name of driver]’s use of the vehicle exceeded the scope of the permission given. To succeed, [name of defendant] must prove both of the following:

  1. That [name of defendant], by words or conduct, gave permission to [name of driver] to use the vehicle for a limited time, place, or purpose; and
  2. That [name of driver]’s use of the vehicle substantially violated the time, place, or purpose specified.
  • Permissive Use. Vehicle Code section 17150.

  • “[W]here the permission is granted for a limited time, any use after the expiration of the period is without consent, and the owner is not liable, unless the circumstances justify an inference of implied consent to further use. [U] . . . On principle, there is no fundamental ground of distinction between a limitation of time and one of purpose or place, insofar as permission is concerned; and it would seem clear that a substantial violation of either limitation terminates the original express consent and makes the subsequent use without permission [U . . . [T]he substantial violation of limitations as to locality or purpose of use operate in the same manner as violation of time limitations, absolving the owner from liability.” (Henrietta v. Evans (1938) 10 Cal.2d 526, 528-529 [75 P.2d 1051], internal citations omitted.)

  • “[W]here restrictions by the owner as to time, purpose, or area are involved, the owner’s permission is considered terminated only where there has been a substantial violation of such restrictions, and it is a question of fact whether under all the circumstances presented, such restrictions as to time, purpose, or area have been substantially violated prior to the occurrence of the accident so as to vitiate the owner’s permission and thus absolve him from the vicarious liability imposed under [the predecessor to section 17150].” (Peterson v. Grieger, Inc. (1961) 57 Cal.2d 43, 52 [17 Cal.Rptr. 828, 367 P.2d 420], internal citations omitted.)

  • “What is a substantial deviation from a permitted use is a question of fact under the circumstances of each case.” (Garmon v. Sebastian (1960) 181 Cal.App.2d 254, 260 [5 Cal.Rptr. 101].)





Adult’s Liability for Minor’s Permissive Use of Motor Vehicle

[Name of plaintiff] claims that [he/she/nonbinary pronoun] was harmed and that [name of defendant] is responsible for the harm because [name of defendant] gave [name of minor] permission to operate the vehicle. To establish this claim, [name of plaintiff] must prove all of the following:

  1. That [name of minor] was negligent in operating the vehicle;
  2. That [name of plaintiff] was harmed;
  3. That [name of minor]’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing the harm; and
  4. That [name of defendant], by words or conduct, gave [name of minor] permission to use the vehicle.

  • Parental Liability for Minor’s Vehicle Operation. Vehicle Code section 17708.

  • “[I]t was incumbent upon [plaintiffs], in order to fasten liability upon [the parents] for the minor’s negligence, to establish two necessary facts. These facts were, first, that at the time the collision occurred respondents had custody of the minor and, second, that they had given to the minor their permission, either express or implied, to his driving the automobile by the negligent operation of which the injuries were caused.” (Sommers v. Van Der Linden (1938) 24 Cal.App.2d 375, 380 [75 P.2d 83].)

  • “Whether or not a sufficient custody existed, within the meaning of the statute, might well depend upon evidence of specific facts showing the nature, kind and extent of the custody and right of control which the respondent [grandfather] actually had.” (Hughes v. Wardwell (1953) 117 Cal.App.2d 406, 409 [255 P.2d 881].)

  • “In the absence of statute, ordinarily a parent is not liable for the torts of his minor child. A parent, however, becomes liable for the torts of his minor child if that child in committing a tort is his agent and acting within the child’s authority.” (Van Den Eikhofv. Hocker (1978) 87 Cal.App.3d 900, 904-905 [151 567 Cal.Rptr. 456], internal citations omitted.)
  • “ ‘[P]erson having custody of the minor’ means person having permanent legal custody, and not a person such as a school teacher whose control over his pupils is limited in time and scope.” (Hathaway v. Siskiyou Union High School Dist. (1944) 66 Cal.App.2d 103, 114 [151 P.2d 861].)

Liability of Cosigner of Minor’s Application for Driver’s License

[Name of plaintiff] claims that [he/she/nonbinary pronoun] was harmed by [name of minor]’s negligence in operating the vehicle and that [name of defendant] is responsible for the harm because [name of defendant] signed [name of minor]’s application for a driver’s license. To establish this claim, [name of plaintiff] must prove all of the following:

  1. That [name of minor] was negligent in operating the vehicle;
  2. That [name of plaintiff] was harmed;
  3. That [name of minor]’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing the harm;
  4. That [name of defendant] signed [name of minor]’s application for a driver’s license; and
  5. That at the time of the collision [name of minor]’s driver’s license had not been canceled or revoked by the Department of Motor Vehicles.
  • Liability of Cosigner of Minor’s Driver’s License Application. Vehicle Code section 17707.

  • No Liability if Minor is Agent of Another. Vehicle Code section 17710.

  • Application for Relief From Liability. Vehicle Code section 17711.

  • “Cancellation accomplishes voluntarily what revocation [of minor’s driver’s license] accomplishes involuntarily. If termination is accomplished by the latter method, resort to the former becomes superfluous. Once revocation occurs, the driving privilege is at an end. Thereafter there is no reason and no necessity for a voluntary application to terminate that which has already been terminated involuntarily. Both means are equally effective to terminate the driving privilege and to terminate the signer’s liability.” (Hamilton v. Dick (1967) 254 Cal.App.2d 123, 125 [61 Cal.Rptr. 894].)

  • “[T]he negligence of the minor son of the [parents] is imputed to them . . . by virtue of their having signed his application for an operator’s license, which was not revoked or cancelled at the time of the accident in question, notwithstanding the fact that the license was then temporarily suspended” and even though the parents specifically forbade the minor from operating the vehicle. (Sleeper v. Woodmansee (1936) 11 Cal.App.2d 595, 598 [54 P.2d 519].)

  • “It seems quite evident that, in adopting [the predecessors to sections 17150 and 17707] of the Vehicle Code, the legislature intended to create a limited liability for imputed negligence against both the owner of an automobile and the signer of a driver’s license We must assume the legislature intended to fix a limited liability . . . for imputed negligence against the owner of an automobile and the signer of a driver’s license or either of them and that it did not intend to double that limited liability when the same individual was both the owner of the machine and the signer of the license.” (Rogers v. Foppiano (1937) 23 Cal.App.2d 87, 92-93 [72 P.2d 239].)


Negligent Entrustment of Motor Vehicle

[Name of plaintiff] claims that [he/she/nonbinary pronoun] was harmed because [name of defendant] negligently permitted [name of driver] to use [name of defendant]’s vehicle. To establish this claim, [name of plaintiff] must prove all of the following:

  1. That [name of driver] was negligent in operating the vehicle;
  2. That [name of defendant] [owned the vehicle operated by [name of driver]/had possession of the vehicle operated by [name of driver] with the owner’s permission];
  3. That [name of defendant] knew, or should have known, that [name of driver] was incompetent or unfit to drive the vehicle;
  4. That [name of defendant] permitted [name of driver] to drive the vehicle; and
  5. That [name of driver]’s incompetence or unfitness to drive was a substantial factor in causing harm to [name of plaintiff].
  • Permissive Use by Unlicensed Driver. Vehicle Code section 14606(a).

  • Permissive Use by Unlicensed Minor. Vehicle Code section 14607.

  • Rental to Unlicensed Driver. Vehicle Code section 14608(a).

  • “ ‘ “[I]t is generally recognized that one who places or entrusts his [or her] motor vehicle in the hands of one whom he [or she] knows, or from the circumstances is charged with knowing, is incompetent or unfit to drive, may be held liable for an injury inflicted by the use made thereof by that driver, provided the plaintiff can establish that the injury complained of was proximately caused by the driver’s disqualification, incompetency, inexperience or recklessness ………. ” ’ ” (Flores v. Enterprise Rent-A-Car Co. (2010) 188 Cal.App.4th 1055, 1063 [116 Cal.Rptr.3d 71].)

  • “A rental car company may be held liable for negligently entrusting one of its cars to a customer In determining whether defendant was negligent in entrusting its car to [the driver], defendant’s conduct is to be measured by what an ordinarily prudent person would do in similar circumstances.” (Osborn v. Hertz Corp. (1988) 205 Cal.App.3d 703, 709 [252 Cal.Rptr. 613], internal citations omitted.)
  • “Liability for negligent entrustment is determined by applying general principles of negligence, and ordinarily it is for the jury to determine whether the owner has exercised the required degree of care.” (Allen v. Toledo (1980) 109 Cal.App.3d 415, 421 [167 Cal.Rptr. 270], internal citations omitted.)

  • “A claim that an employer was negligent in hiring or retaining an employee­driver rarely differs in substance from a claim that an employer was negligent in entrusting a vehicle to the employee. Awareness, constructive or actual, that a person is unfit or incompetent to drive underlies a claim that an employer was negligent in hiring or retaining that person as a driver. (See Judicial Council of Cal. Civ. Jury Instns. (2011) CACI No. 426.) That same awareness underlies a claim for negligent entrustment. (See CACI No. 724.) In a typical case, like this, the two claims are functionally identical.” (Diaz v. Carcamo (2011) 51 Cal.4th 1148, 1157 [126 Cal.Rptr.3d 443, 253 P.3d 535].)

  • “[I]f an employer admits vicarious liability for its employee’s negligent driving in the scope of employment, ‘the damages attributable to both employer and employee will be coextensive.’ Thus, when a plaintiff alleges a negligent entrustment or hiring cause of action against the employer and the employer admits vicarious liability for its employee’s negligent driving, the universe of defendants who can be held responsible for plaintiff’s damages is reduced by one—the employer—for purposes of apportioning fault under Proposition 51. Consequently, the employer would not be mentioned on the special verdict form. The jury must divide fault for the accident among the listed tortfeasors, and the employer is liable only for whatever share of fault the jury assigns to the employee.” (Diaz, supra, 41 Cal.4th at p. 1159, internal citation omitted.)

  • “[O]rdinarily, in the absence of a special relationship between the parties, there is no duty to control the conduct of a third person so as to prevent him from causing harm to another and . . . this rule applies even where the third person’s conduct is made possible only because the defendant has relinquished control of his property to the third person, unless the defendant has reason to believe that the third person is incompetent to manage it.” (Grafton v. Mollica (1965) 231 Cal.App.2d 860, 863 [42 Cal.Rptr. 306].)

  • “[T]he tort requires demonstration of actual knowledge of facts showing or suggesting the driver’s incompetence—not merely his lack of a license……………………………………. For liability to exist, knowledge must be shown of the user’s incompetence or inability safely to use the [vehicle].” (Dodge Center v. Superior Court (1988) 199 Cal.App.3d 332, 341 [244 Cal.Rptr. 789], internal citations omitted.)

  • “Knowledge of possession of a temporary permit allowing a person to drive only if accompanied by a licensed driver is sufficient to put the entrustor ‘upon inquiry as to the competency of ’ the unlicensed driver It is then for the jury to determine under the circumstances whether the entrustor is negligent in permitting the unlicensed driver to operate the vehicle.” (Nault v. Smith (1961) 194 Cal.App.2d 257, 267-268 [14 Cal.Rptr. 889], internal citations omitted.)

  • “In cases involving negligent entrustment of a vehicle, liability ‘ “is imposed on [a] vehicle owner or permitter because of his own independent negligence and not the negligence of the driver.” ’ ” (Ghezavat v. Harris (2019) 40 Cal.App.5th 555, 559 [252 Cal.Rptr.3d 887].)

  • “[E]ntrustment of a vehicle to an intoxicated person is not negligence per se. A plaintiff must prove defendant had knowledge of plaintiff’s incompetence when entrusting the vehicle.” (Blake v. Moore (1984) 162 Cal.App.3d 700, 706 [208 Cal.Rptr. 703].)

  • “[T]he mere sale of an automobile to an unlicensed and inexperienced person does not constitute negligence per se.” (Perez v. G & W Chevrolet, Inc. (1969) 274 Cal.App.2d 766, 768 [79 Cal.Rptr. 287].)

  • “It is well-settled that where a company knows that an employee has no operator’s license that such knowledge is sufficient to put the employer on inquiry as to his competency; it is for the jury to determine under such circumstances whether the employer was negligent in permitting the employee to drive a vehicle.” (Syah v. Johnson (1966) 247 Cal.App.2d 534, 545 [55 Cal.Rptr. 741].)

  • “[I]t has generally been held that the owner of an automobile is under no duty to persons who may be injured by its use to keep it out of the hands of a third person in the absence of facts putting the owner on notice that the third person is incompetent to handle it.” (Richards v. Stanley (1954) 43 Cal.2d 60, 63 [271 P.2d 23], internal citations omitted.)

  • “[T]he mere fact of co-ownership does not prevent one co-owner from controlling use of the vehicle by the other co-owner. Thus, where . . . plaintiff alleges that one co-owner had power over the use of the vehicle by the other and that the negligent co-owner drove with the express or implied consent of such controlling co-owner, who knew of the driver’s incompetence, the basis for a cause of action for negligent entrustment has been stated.” (Mettelka v. Superior Court (1985) 173 Cal.App.3d 1245, 1250 [219 Cal.Rptr. 697].)


Emergency Vehicle Exemption (Veh. Code, § 21055)

[Name of defendant] claims that [name of public employee] was not required to comply with Vehicle Code section [insert section number] because [he/she/nonbinary pronoun] was operating an authorized emergency vehicle and was responding to an emergency at the time of the accident.

To establish that [name of public employee] was not required to comply with section [insert section number], [name of defendant] must prove all of the following:

  1. That [name of public employee] was operating an authorized emergency vehicle;
  2. That [name of public employee] was responding to an emergency situation at the time of the accident; and
  3. That [name of public employee] sounded a siren when reasonably necessary and displayed front red warning lights.

If you decide that [name of defendant] proved all of these things, then you cannot find it negligent for a violation of section [insert section number]. However, even if you decide that [name of defendant] proved all of these things, you may find it negligent if [name of public employee] failed to operate [his/her/nonbinary pronoun] vehicle with reasonable care, taking into account the emergency situation.



  • Authorized Emergency Vehicle Exemption. Vehicle Code section 21055.

  • “Authorized Emergency Vehicle” Defined. Vehicle Code section 165.

  • Authorized Emergency Vehicle: Public Employee Immunity. Vehicle Code section 17004.

  • “The purpose of the statute is to provide a ‘clear and speedy pathway’ for these municipal vehicles on their flights to emergencies in which the entire public are necessarily concerned.” (Peerless Laundry Services v. City of Los Angeles (1952) 109 Cal.App.2d 703, 707 [241 P.2d 269].)

  • Vehicle Code section 21056 provides: “Section 21055 does not relieve the driver of a vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons using the highway, nor protect him from the consequences of an arbitrary exercise of the privileges granted in that section.”

  • “The effect of Vehicle Code sections 21055 and 21056 is: where the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle is engaged in a specified emergency function he may violate certain rules of the road, such as speed and right of way laws, if he activates his red light and where necessary his siren in order to alert other users of the road to the situation. In such circumstances the driver may not be held to be negligent solely upon the violation of specified rules of the road, but may be held to be negligent if he fails to exercise due regard for the safety of others under the circumstances. Where the driver of an emergency vehicle fails to activate his red light, and where necessary his siren, he is not exempt from the rules of the road even though he may be engaged in a proper emergency function, and negligence may be based upon the violation of the rules of the road.” (City of Sacramento v. Superior Court (1982) 131 Cal.App.3d 395, 402-403 [182 Cal.Rptr. 443], internal citations omitted.)

  • “Notwithstanding [Vehicle Code section 17004], a public entity is liable for injuries proximately caused by negligent acts or omissions in the operation of any motor vehicle by an employee of the public entity, acting within the scope of his or her employment.” (City of San Jose v. Superior Court (1985) 166 Cal.App.3d 695, 698 [212 Cal.Rptr. 661], internal citations omitted.)

  • “If the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle is responding to an emergency call and gives the prescribed warnings by red light and siren, a charge of negligence against him may not be predicated on his violation of the designated Vehicle Code sections; but if he does not give the warnings, the contrary is true; and in the event the charged negligence is premised on conduct without the scope of the exemption a common-law standard of care is applicable.” (Grant v. Petronella (1975) 50 Cal.App.3d 281, 286 [123 Cal.Rptr. 399], internal citations omitted.)

  • “Where the driver of an emergency vehicle responding to an emergency call does not give the warnings prescribed by section 21055, the legislative warning policy expressed in that section dictates the conclusion [that] the common-law standard of care governing his conduct does not include a consideration of the emergency circumstances attendant upon his response to an emergency call.” (Grant, supra, 50 Cal.App.3d at p. 289, footnote omitted.)

  • The exemption created by section 21055 is an affirmative defense, and the defendant must prove compliance with the conditions. (Washington v. City and County of San Francisco (1954) 123 Cal.App.2d 235, 242 [266 P.2d 828].)

  • “In short the statute exempts the employer of such a driver from liability for negligence attributable to his failure to comply with specified statutory provisions, but it does not in any manner purport to exempt the employer from liability due to negligence attributable to the driver’s failure to maintain that standard of care imposed by the common law.” (Torres v. City of Los Angeles (1962) 58 Cal.2d 35, 47 [22 Cal.Rptr. 866, 372 P.2d 906].)


Definition of “Emergency” (Veh. Code, § 21055)

An “emergency” exists if the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle is [insert one of the following]

[responding to an emergency call.]

[involved in rescue operations.]

[in the immediate pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law.]

[responding to, but not returning from, a fire alarm.]

[operating a fire department vehicle while traveling from one place to another place because of an emergency call.]

  • Authorized Emergency Vehicle Exemption. Vehicle Code section 21055(a).

  • “Whether a vehicle is driven in response to an emergency call depends on the nature of the call received and the situation as presented to the mind of the driver and not upon whether there is an emergency in fact. The driver, of course, should have reasonable grounds to believe that there is an emergency.” (Gallup v. Sparks-Mundo Engineering Co. (1954) 43 Cal.2d 1, 5 [271 P.2d 34], internal citations omitted.)