California traffic laws limit when and where drivers can make U-turns, and the issuing of a traffic citation after an illegal U-turn can lead a car insurance company to find the offending driver at fault if the U-turn led to a car accident. Here's what you need to know:
Let's take an in-depth look at California's key U-turn laws, from the California Vehicle Code, which defines a U-turn as "the turning of a vehicle upon a highway so as to proceed in the opposite direction whether accomplished by one continuous movement or not." (Cal. Veh. Code section 665.5.)
No person in a business district shall make a U-turn, except at an intersection, or on a divided highway where an opening has been provided....This turning movement shall be made as close as practicable to the extreme left-hand edge of the lanes moving in the driver's direction of travel immediately prior to the initiation of the turning movement, when more than one lane in the direction of travel is present. (Cal. Veh. Code section 22102.)
This law says that it's okay to make a U-turn in a business district, but it must be at an intersection or clearly marked opening in the highway. Obviously, if there is a visible sign prohibiting a U-turn, it's illegal to execute one.
If you get a ticket for violating this law, one angle for fighting it might be disputing whether the location really is in a business district. According to Cal. Veh. Code section 235, a certain percentage of one or both sides of the highway must be occupied by buildings that are in use for business in order for the area to be considered a "business district." What if a number of storefronts were vacant at the time of your alleged traffic violation, so that they wouldn't be considered "in use for business"? Would that lower the percentage so that the area might no longer meet the definition?
No person in a residence district shall make a U-turn when any other vehicle is approaching from either direction within 200 feet, except at an intersection when the approaching vehicle is controlled by an official traffic control device. (Cal. Veh. Code section 22103.)
This law allows you to make a U-turn anywhere in a residential area, as long as there are no other cars approaching yours within 200 feet. However, this 200-foot rule does not apply at an intersection controlled by a stop light or stop sign. According to Cal. Veh. Code section 515, a residential district is one in which there are a certain minimum number of homes or businesses within a strictly-defined distance.
Similar to the business district discussion above, if you got a ticket for violating section 22103 and you can show that the area was not actually a residential district as defined by California law—or if you can show that any other element of the violation is missing—you might be able to get your ticket dismissed.
Besides the "business district" and "residential district"-related laws discussed above, a few more California Vehicle Code sections pertain to U-turns:
Finally, here's an interesting fact: Taking a left into a driveway, backing out, and then driving in the opposite direction is not considered a U-turn in California, according to the state's highest court in People v. McGuire (1978).
If you got a ticket for an illegal U-turn in California, you might be able to fight the citation yourself, if you're comfortable and confident doing so. However, if the U-turn ticket was part of a more complicated scenario—if it resulted in an accident, for example a skilled legal professional might be your best ally for fighting the ticket and disputing any fault finding made by a car insurance company.
Especially if you might be on the financial hook for the other driver's "damages" (including their medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering) resulting from the accident, having the right lawyer on your side can be crucial. Learn more about what it means to dispute a fault finding after a car accident.
For in depth information about how to fight your ticket, read Fight Your Ticket & Win in California, by David W. Brown (Nolo) and check out the Fighting Your Ticket section of our companion website, DrivingLaws.org.
If your citation for an illegal U-turn was issued in connection with a traffic accident, it may be time to discuss your situation with a California car accident lawyer, especially if you were injured and the insurance company is denying your claim. Learn more about when it makes sense to hire a car accident lawyer and get more background on California car accident laws.