What Does California's Anti-Gridlock Law Mean?

by Tom Streissguth

When you're stuck in the middle of an intersection, blocking cross traffic and your green light turns red -- that's gridlock. Blocking traffic causes a backup in at least one direction -- and in some states, that's breaking the law. In California, if the authorities catch up with you, the state legislature has prepared some inconvenient penalties for your transgression.

Letter of the Law

California Vehicle Code Section 22526(a), which is part of the Anti-Gridlock Act of 1987, governs the entry of a vehicle into an intersection. The law prohibits drivers from entering an intersection -- or even blocking the crosswalk -- unless there's enough space to get all the way through the entire intersection. This means that even if you have a green light, you may not proceed, if the traffic ahead is blocking your passage.

Controlled and Uncontrolled

The statute applies, regardless of whether there is a traffic light, a stop sign, or no control device at all. The law does not require posted signs or other warning devices, but if a sign is present, a driver causing gridlock is also breaking Vehicle Code Section 21461: failure to obey a traffic control signal or device. The Anti-Gridlock Act also covers turns; if you are making a turn and you have a yellow light, you are not supposed to enter the intersection, unless your destination lane has enough space for your vehicle.


When first passed, the Anti-Gridlock Act meant that California drivers who were in violation paid a small fine, which was roughly equivalent to that of a parking ticket. By 2013, the base fine for violating this law reached $285.00. Many cities have raised the stakes by posting anti-gridlock warning signs at particularly troublesome intersections. The violation of a posted regulation can bring about more severe penalties. It's not necessary for a traffic cop to be present; California cities have also installed cameras at busy intersections, catching violators and issuing tickets and incriminating photographs through the mail.

Gridlock Law Nationwide

Anti-gridlock laws are not unique to California. Large cities throughout the United States have gridlock issues during rush hours, and intersections that have heavy traffic are common in every major urban area. New York City uses "Do Not Block Intersection" signs and street markings, including the famous yellow grids that were inspired by similar markings in London. These serve to remind drivers that hastily barging into an intersection -- without paying attention to the traffic ahead -- can mean a write-up and fines.

About the Author

Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.

More Articles

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images