A little-known part of California’s vehicle code gives doctors the legal right to break speeding laws – so long as they are responding to an emergency.
Vehicle Code 21058 allows a physician responding to an emergency call to be exempt from some of the laws governing speed limits.
According to the California Medical Association, the exemption only applies when traveling to emergencies, when driving on freeways – and does not allow the driver to ignore other traffic rules (such as stop signs or HOV lanes).
The doctor exemption also does not allow them to be unsafe on the roads – even when speeding. The second part of the law even clarifies that a doctor using this permission without due consideration for the end result will be held responsible.
“The provisions of this section do not relieve the driver of the vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons using the highway, nor protect the driver from the consequences of an arbitrary exercise of the privileges of this section.”Vehicle Code 21058
For those interested in trying out this exemption, the law requires that a pre-approved official badge or sign be used to show that the vehicle it is attached to is being driven by a licensed physician. Forms to apply for the driving emblem require various license and identification numbers in order to prove that the applicant is a licensed physician.
In 2004, the California Society of Anesthesiologists (CSA) published in its bulletin that the law to allow physicians to speed to emergencies was “revived.” At the time, the CSA described the move as a “major break” for physicians who live in rural areas. The article included a King County-based surgeon, Dr. Eustermann, who was quoted as saying, “when I am racing across the county at two in the morning to handle a gunshot wound, I’ll be happy to not have to worry about getting pulled over.”