What Are the Most Common Reasons to Get Pulled Over in California?

May 25, 2021

As a driver, it’s always nerve-wracking to see the flashing blue lights in your rearview mirror indicating that you are about to get pulled over in California. Your palms might start sweating as you wonder the reasons for which the officer initiated pulling you over on a California road

Understanding the most common reasons that California drivers get pulled over by the police can give you better clarity on how to protect yourself in this situation by preventing it from happening in the first place or knowing your rights well enough when the officer pulls you over so that you can minimize common mistakes. 

The best way to limit the possibility of fines and tickets for the most common traffic infractions is to avoid getting pulled over in California at all.  


The most common reasons that police officers pull over drivers on the side of the road have to do with speeding. In fact, nationwide surveys of police officers have indicated that stopping excessive speeding is one of the top priorities for departments all over. 

Speed limits aren’t there for arbitrary purposes, and going over the speed limit opens you up to getting pulled over. They are designed with safety in mind and officers have a strong incentive to issue speeding tickets because for every 100 speeding tickets given out there are at least one dozen fewer car crashes and five fewer car crash injuries that happen on a monthly basis. Speeding can also lead to fatal accidents and significant property damage and it’s easy for officers to spot speeding drivers. 

Getting pulled over for speeding in California can also open up the opportunity for probable cause for other allegations, like concerns about drunk driving or drugs in the car. It’s always smart to look for posted speed limit signs around the area that you are driving and maintain a safe speed both for your own safety and for decreasing the risk of facing this situation in the first place.  You can’t be too careful when it comes to getting pulled over in California, so remain calm and professional if it does happen. 

Improper Lane Changes

Switching lanes without looking or cutting another vehicle off have the potential to put other drivers in harm’s way. These dangerous practices can lead to devastating vehicle accidents because they leave little to no reaction time for the other driver. It’s also important to use only appropriate passing areas for moving past another car. 

For example, if there are solid yellow lines on both sides of the road and especially if there are no passing signs posted, you are not safely permitted to pass other cars. The left lane should always be used for passing when it is available so slower drivers should stay on the right to begin with. Failing to use turn signals also can trigger a traffic stop but usually are not a serious enough violation to warrant a full stop on their own. 

Violations of Equipment

A headlight being out, a broken windshield, a missing license plate, or tint on a window being too dark are easy equipment violations that allow police officers to stop you. These can also be spotted quickly and easily from a distance, meaning that violators can be targeted for these ticketing fines. If your registration isn’t up to date, if you are under the influence of alcohol, or if you haven’t renewed your license, the penalties for these additional issues can be serious. 

Hazardous Driving Like Driving Too Slowly and Tailgating

Tailgating is a common practice in California but is illegal per California vehicle code 21703, also known as following too closely. This code section is extremely broad, meaning that officers can use it easily to pull you over. Officers might also claim that you engaged in other dangerous driving activities, such as breaking a pattern, unusual speeding or swerving or failing to stop at a stop sign. 

Littering or Drunk Driving

When officers suspect that you may have thrown trash out of your vehicle or you are indicating signs of a drunk driver, officers can use this to pull you over on the road. This can be one of the most significant impacts associated with a traffic stop because there are serious consequences associated with drinking and driving. 

An experienced traffic ticket attorney can be instrumental in helping you when you have been pulled over, especially if you believe that a police officer took too much liberty with the existing rules when you got pulled over in California. Officers can use any of the above listed reasons to claim this was the primary reason they pulled you over. If you believe that they violated your constitutional rights or that other errors were made, you need to schedule a consultation with a traffic ticket attorney immediately.       

If you already got pulled over in California, time is of the essence. Get a California traffic ticket lawyer to help you fight your ticket.