We all know the basics: stop at red lights, obey the speed limit. What about laws about passing cars on the right, or restraining pets in your vehicle? We put together a list of the lesser-known traffic laws that potentially could land you in trouble if you break them. Not knowing about them – unfortunately – isn’t a defense if you get stopped.

Use your turn signal.

Most states require that you signal when you turn right or left and when you change lanes. In fact, you are supposed to signal 100 feet before you turn or move to a new lane. You could get flagged for a non-criminal moving violation if you fail to do this.

Don’t change lanes in the middle of an intersection.

In some states, it is illegal to change lanes in the middle of the intersection. You’re expected to stay in your lane as you cross through it. Even when it is legal, it might be unsafe, and you can be pulled over for that, too.

Come to a complete stop at a stop sign.

You may be tempted to pause rather than stop at a stop sign. The law clearly states that you must come to a complete stop. That means no forward momentum with the speedometer at 0. If you don’t come to a complete stop, you can be cited for running a stop sign. We suggest stopping for three seconds, which will be long enough for an observing police officer to see you have stopped. It’s also long enough for you to check for oncoming traffic, pedestrians, or road hazards.

Follow the rules at a four-way stop.

With a four-way intersection, every driver has a stop sign. That means each vehicle should come to a complete stop. The first vehicle to arrive has the right of way. If two cars arrive at the same time, the car to the right goes first. Bicycles must follow the same rules as cars at a four-way stop and yield to the vehicle who arrived first, or the one on the right. Pedestrians, however, have the right of way, and can cross before any vehicles proceed.

Know about improper passing.

In New Jersey, you cannot pass a car on the right except in special circumstances. The car must be turning left or there must be at least two lanes of traffic traveling in the same direction. In Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Illinois, it’s illegal not to move to the right if a car is trying to pass you. In some states, the far left lane is only for passing.

Restrain your pets.

We want to keep our pets safe, and there are several states that have laws on the books to make sure we do. New Jersey has a law requiring you to secure your pet in a carrier or with a seatbelt. In Hawaii, you can be fined for having your pet on your lap or rolling down the windows without restraining your pet. Maine, Connecticut, and Arizona classify pets under distracted driving.

Know when to yield.

It may be obvious that you need to yield at a yield sign. But did you also know that in many states, you must yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk? You also must yield to those who are blind and using a white cane or seeing eye dog. In a “T” intersection, where a road dead ends into another road, the car at the dead end must yield to the continuing road. Finally, if you’re making a turn onto a road, you must yield to traffic on that road.

Move over and slow down for emergency vehicles.

When you see flashing lights, it’s time to slow down and move to the side of the road. This allows for the safe passage of emergency vehicles. Every state has a Move Over law except for Washington, DC. If you don’t move over or slow down, you could be subject to a fine, license suspension, or even jail time.

Put headlights on when it’s raining.

Visibility is down when it’s raining. That’s why several states require headlights to be on anytime your wipers are in use, even in daylight. Some states only require headlights in dense fog, low visibility, and at night. In these situations, your headlights can help other drivers see you better.

Don’t tailgate.

Tailgating is considered a traffic violation. While states aren’t consistent with how they define tailgating, often such tickets are issued after a rear-end collision. If you’re alert and focused on the road, it takes you about 2 seconds to react to a roadway hazard. That means a safe following distance is at least 3 seconds or more.  Use the 3-second rule as a starting point. You can measure the distance in seconds this way: Find a landmark such as a mile marker or telephone pole. Start counting once the car in front of you passes that landmark. Count slowly until your car reaches the same landmark.  That is the number of seconds that you are traveling behind the vehicle in front of you.

Wear your seat belt.

Most of the country has laws for seat belts. Some states require you to wear both front and back seat belts. Others just focus on front seat belts. If you’re caught without your seatbelt, you could be subject to fines.

Know your state’s cell phone laws.

Most states require cell phone use to be hands-free, and consider texting while driving as distracted driving. However, some states go further and penalize drivers for accessing, viewing, or reading non-navigation content on phones.

Keep the minimum insurance.

Most states require drivers to carry auto insurance. The state sets the minimum amount and type. Generally, this includes bodily injury liability and property damage liability. If you have a leased car, your lender will require you to have more extensive coverage.


This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or www.calcas.com.

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