California New Resident Guide

Welcome to the Golden State – California! As a fresh driver on these shores, it's crucial to get acquainted with our unique road regulations and particularities. Here's a swift overview of what to watch out for as you traverse California's diverse terrains, from sun-kissed beaches to majestic redwood forests.


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Licensing and Residency Requirements


  • Application for license must be made not more than 10 days after establishing residence.
  • Fees must be paid within 20 days of entry or residency to avoid penalties. Any vehicle owned by a California resident must be registered within 20 days of entry into California unless a special permit was obtained. Non-residents whose vehicles are properly registered to them in their home state or jurisdiction may operate their vehicles in California until they:
    • Accept gainful employment in California.
    • Claim a homeowner's exemption in California.
    • Rent or lease a residence in California.
    • Intend to live or be located here on a permanent basis (for example, acquire a California driver license, acquire other licenses not ordinarily extended to a nonresident, registered to vote).
    • Enroll in an institution of higher learning as a California resident or enroll their dependents in school (K-12).
  • Law states that you must notify DMV within 10 days of changing your address.

Graduated Licensing Program


Provisional Permit


  • Must be at least 15 1/2 but under 18 years of age;
  • Have a social security number and card;
  • Show proof of completion of a drivers education course;
  • Complete and obtain parent signature on application form DL 44;
  • Complete the application form (DL 44). A parent or guardian signature is required on the form;
  • Pay the application fee, which entitles you to 3 tests within a 12 month period;
  • Pass a vision test;
  • Pass the written exam.

Privileges and Restrictions

  • A parent, guardian, spouse or adult 25 years of age or older, who has a valid California driver license, must be with you when you drive. He or she must sit in a position close enough to take control of the vehicle, if necessary. It is illegal for you to drive alone at any time.


Drivers License


  • Must be at least 16 years of age;
  • Must have held permit for at least 6 months;
  • Must have completed driver education and 6 hours of professional driver training;
  • Must have completed 50 hours of practice with an adult 25 years or older. The adult must have a valid California driver license and certify to the 50 hours of practice. At least 10 of the 50 hours must have been done at night;
  • Provide proof of financial responsibility;
  • Pass road test.

Privileges and Restrictions

  • You must be accompanied and supervised by a licensed parent, guardian or other licensed driver 25 years of age or older or a licensed or certified driving instructor when you:
    • Transport passengers under 20 years of age at any time, for the first twelve months.
    • Drive between 11 pm and 5 am for the first twelve months.
  • When you turn 18 years of age, the provisional part of your license ends. You may continue to drive as an adult using your photo license, which will expire on your 5th birthday after the date you applied.

Violation Point Counts


The number of points that go against your driver's license for specific types of violations.


2 Point Violations

  • Evading peace officer/reckless driving;
  • Driving while suspended/revoked;
  • Driving, suspended/revoked for refusing test;
  • Hit and run/injury/property damage;
  • Driving wrong side/divided highway;
  • Speed over 100 MPH;
  • Reckless driving;
  • Reckless driving/causing bodily injury;
  • Speed contest /exhibition of speed;
  • Minor driving with BAC of 0.05% or more;
  • DUI/alcoholic beverage or drugs;
  • DUI/causing bodily injury or death;
  • Explosives transportation;
  • Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.


1 Point Violations

  • All other violations.


Time Violations Remain on Record

Each occurrence stays on your record for 36 months or longer, depending on the type of conviction.

The department may suspend and place on probation, or revoke, the driving privilege of a negligent operator. Per Vehicle Code section 12810.5a, a Class C negligent operator has:

  • 4 or more points in 12 months,
  • 6 in 24 months, or
  • 8 in 36 months.

A minor, under 18 years of age, may receive a 30-day restriction for 2 points in 12 months, or be suspended for 3 points in 12 months (12814.6 VC).

Insurance Requirements


Financial responsibility (commonly known as insurance) is required on all vehicles operated or parked on California roadways. You must carry evidence of financial responsibility in your vehicle at all times and it must be provided as specified below when:

  • Requested by law enforcement.
  • Renewing vehicle registration.
  • The vehicle is involved in a traffic collision.

Types of Financial Responsibility:

  • Motor vehicle liability insurance policy.
  • Cash deposit of $35,000 with DMV.
  • DMV-issued self-insurance certificate.
  • Surety bond for $35,000 from a company licensed to do business in California.

Headlight Laws


You must dim your headlights from high to low beam when you are within 500 feet of an oncoming vehicle or within 300 feet of a vehicle traveling ahead of you.

You must use your headlights:

  • If snow, rain, fog, dust, or low visibility (1,000 feet or less) requires the use of windshield wipers.
  • 30 minutes after sunset and leave them on until 30 minutes before sunrise.

You are permitted to momentarily flash your headlights or honk your horn to indicate that you are preparing to overtake and pass the vehicle ahead of you.

Implied Consent Laws



  • Added upon conviction for underlying DWI;
    • First refusal - 48 hours additional custody;
    • Second refusal (within 10 years) - 96 hours additional custody;
    • Third refusal (within 10 years) - 10 days additional custody;
    • Fourth refusal (within 10 years) - 18 days additional custody.



  • First refusal - Suspension - 1 year;
  • Second refusal (within 10 years) - Revocation - 2 years;
  • Third refusal (within 10 years) Revocation - 3 years;
  • These sanctions also apply to persons under 21 who are arrested for driving with a BAC greater than or equal to .05 and who refuse to submit to a test under the implied consent law.

DUI Penalties


Non-Injury DWI Offense

With no previous DWI offenses

  • 96 hours (48 must be continuous) - 6 months imprisonment;
  • $390 - $1,000 fine;
  • 6 month license suspension.

With one previous DWI offense

  • 90 days - 1 year imprisonment;
  • $390 - $1,000 fine;
  • 2 year license suspension.

With two previous DWI offenses

  • 120 days - 1 year imprisonment;
  • $390 - $1,000 fine;
  • 3 year license revocation.

With three previous DWI offenses

  • 180 days - 1 year imprisonment;
  • $390 - $1,000 fine;
  • 4 year license revocation.


Injury-Related DWI Offense

With no previous DWI offenses:

  • 90 days - 1 year in county jail;
  • $390 - $1,000 fine;
  • 1 year license suspension;

With one previous DWI offense:

  • 120 days - 1 year in county jail;
    • If more than one individual has been injured, an enhanced prison term of one year is added for each victim, up to three enhancements;
  • $390 - $5,000 fine;
  • 3 year license revocation.

With two or more previous DWI offenses OR where there has been a great bodily injury and there were 2 or more previous DWI offenses within 10 years:

  • A term (in State prison) for 2, 3 or 4 years and;
  • $1,015 - $5,000 fine;
  • 5 year license revocation.



Child Endangerment

  • If any person is convicted of DWI and a minor under age 14 was in the vehicle at the time of the offense, the court shall impose the following penalties in addition to any other penalty.
  • First offense - an additional 48 continuous hours in jail (mand);
  • Second offense - an additional 10 days in jail (mand);
  • Third offense - an additional 30 days in jail (mand);
  • Fourth offense - an additional 90 days in jail (mand).

DWI Offense with Great Bodily Injury, where there have been 4 or more previous DWI offenses within 10 years carries an additional consecutive sentence of 3 years in the State prison.

Open Container Law


The Open Container Law prohibits possession of an open alcoholic beverage container in the passenger area of any motor vehicle, by any occupant of the vehicle, on any public highway or right of way, whether or not the vehicle is in motion.

Red Light Violation Fines


  • Traditional enforcement: $100 base fine/1 point.
  • Auto enforcement: same as for traditional citation.

Construction Zone Penalties


Numerous specified violations when workers are present are subject to two times the original fine.

Turn Signal Information


Signal your intention to turn or change lanes at least 100 feet in advance.

Hazard Light Information


Hazard light use is permitted in the following circumstances:

  • When disabled or parked off the roadway but within 10 feet of the roadway;
  • When approaching, stopped at, or departing from, a railroad grade crossing;
  • To warn other motorists of accidents or hazards on a roadway while the vehicle is approaching, overtaking, or passing the accident or hazard;
  • All vehicles actually engaged in a funeral procession to warn other motorists of the funeral procession.

Hazard light use is required in the following circumstances:

  • Whenever a vehicle is disabled upon the roadway and the vehicle is equipped with hazard lights which were not rendered inoperative by the event which caused the vehicle to be disabled.

Funeral Procession Right-of-Way Laws


Disregarding any traffic signal or direction given by a peace officer authorized to escort a procession and in uniform is prohibited.

School Bus Laws



  • Vehicles are required to stop unless the bus is on the opposite roadway of a divided highway.



  • Failure to stop and remain stopped when required will result in a fine of up to $1,000. Your driving privilege may be suspended for up to one year.

Bicyclist Passing Distance


A 3-foot minimum passing distance is required.

Motorcycle Laws



  • Motorcycles may be operated by holders of instruction permits who are at least 15 years and 6 months old and have completed both an approved driver education course and a driver training course, or by holders of instruction permits who are at least 17 years and 6 months old.
  • Motorcycles may not be operated by either instruction permit holder after dark or on freeways and may not carry passengers.
  • Class M1 or M2 licenses shall not be issued to persons under 21 unless they provide evidence of completion of an approved motorcycle safety training program.


Protective Gear

  • All riders and passengers of motorcycles and mopeds must wear a safety helmet.
  • Eye protection is not required.



  • After 1978, motorcycles must be equipped with at least 1 and not more than 2 head-lamps that turn on automatically when the engine is started and remain lighted while the engine is running.


Sharing the Road

  • Lane splitting is authorized per the California Highway Patrol.
  • Motorcycles traveling side-by-side in a single lane is not addressed in state law.

Using the Shoulder to Pass


You may not drive off the roadway to pass on the right.

Passing Laws


Do Not Pass:

  • When approaching or upon a hill or curve;
  • When approaching within 100 feet of or traversing any intersection or railroad grade crossing;
  • When approaching within 100 feet of any bridge, viaduct, or tunnel.

When Being Passed:

  • Safely move to the right-hand side of the highway in favor of the overtaking vehicle;
  • The overtaking vehicle may signal by honking its horn or momentarily flashing its headlights;
  • Do not increase the speed of your vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle;
  • You are not required to drive on the shoulder of the highway in order to allow the overtaking vehicle to pass.

Speed Limits


  • 65 mph.
    • Based upon engineering and traffic surveys, the California Department of Transportation may increase the maximum speed limit to 70 MPH.
  • 55 mph on two lane undivided highway.
  • 25 mph (prima facie limit) in a business or residence district, when approaching or passing a school building or school grounds, or when passing a senior citizen facility contiguous to a street other than a State highway.
  • 25 mph near a children's playground.
  • 15 mph (prima facie limit) on any alley or when traversing either an uncontrolled railway crossing or uncontrolled highway intersection where the driver does not have a clear and unobstructed view.

Safety Belt and Child Safety Seat Laws


Safety Belts

  • Occupants age 16 or older must wear safety belts.
  • Police may stop vehicles solely for belt law violations.
  • The fine for a first offense is $20.


Child Seats

  • Children 7 years and younger who are less than 57 inches tall must be in a child seat and must be in the rear seat of the vehicle.
  • The rear seat requirement does not apply if there is no rear seat; the rear seats are side-facing jump seats; the rear seats are rear-facing seats; the child passenger restraint system cannot be installed properly in the rear seat; all rear seats are already occupied by children under 12; or medical reasons necessitate that the child not ride in the rear seat.
  • A child may not ride in the front seat of a motor vehicle with an active passenger airbag if the child is riding in a rear-facing child restraint system.
  • Children ages 8 - 15 or who are at least 57 inches tall must be restrained and may use an adult safety belt.
  • Children weighing 40 pounds or more may be belted without a booster seat if they are seated in the rear seat with only lap belts.
  • Police may stop vehicles solely for child seat law violations.
  • The fine for a first offense is $100.
  • Points will be assessed for a violation of this law.

Emergency Vehicle Laws


Move Over

When you see any of these vehicles displaying flashing lights while stopped on or adjacent to the roadway:

  • Emergency vehicle;
  • Tow truck;
  • Department of Transportation vehicle.

You must do the following:

  • Make a lane change into an available lane not immediately adjacent to the vehicle, with due regard for safety and traffic conditions, if practicable and not prohibited by law;
  • If changing lanes would be unsafe or impracticable, slow to a reasonable and prudent speed that is safe for existing weather, road, and vehicular or pedestrian traffic conditions.



  • Do not follow any emergency vehicle displaying visual or audible signals closer than 300 feet.
  • Do not drive within 300 feet of where an emergency situation responded to by any fire department vehicle exists.


Collision Procedures


  • Stop at the scene or as close as possible without obstructing traffic more than necessary, and remain at the scene until all requirements are fulfilled.

Provide Information

Provide the following information to any other person involved in the accident, or to any police officer at the scene of the crash:

  • Driver's name and address;
  • Vehicle registration number;
  • Show driver's license and vehicle registration upon request;

Render Assistance

  • Provide assistance to any injured person, including transporting them or making arrangements for transportation to a hospital or doctor, if necessary or requested.

Unattended Vehicle or Property

  • If you have collided with an unattended vehicle or other property that is unattended, locate and notify the operator or owner of the driver's name and address and the owner's name and address. Show your driver's license and vehicle registration upon request.
  • If you are unable to do so, leave a written notice providing this information and a statement of the circumstances. Without unnecessary delay, notify the local police or the California Highway Patrol.

Report Crash

  • If the crash resulted in injury or death, drivers involved must notify the local police department, county sheriff, or state highway patrol in writing within 24 hours.
  • If the driver is physically incapable of making an immediate or written report of the crash, any other occupant of the vehicle who is capable of making a report must do so.