As a motorist in California, you may wonder about the authority of California Highway Patrol officers you see patrolling streets. Can they pull you over if you’re just walking or bicycling? If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: In most cases, CHP officers can only stop motorists who are driving on California roadways. They do not have general authority to stop pedestrians or cyclists unless connected to a driving-related offense.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll examine the primary duties and jurisdiction of the California Highway Patrol, discuss situations where they can stop pedestrians and cyclists, review relevant laws and court cases, and provide tips for safely interacting with CHP officers whether you’re driving or not.

Primary Duties and Authority of California Highway Patrol

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) is a law enforcement agency that has the responsibility of ensuring public safety on the state highways in California. They are known for their distinctive black and white patrol cars and are often seen as the face of law enforcement on the roads.

The CHP has several primary duties and authorities that they carry out to fulfill their mission of promoting safety and protecting lives on the highways.

Enforce Traffic Laws on State Highways

One of the main duties of the California Highway Patrol is to enforce traffic laws on state highways. This includes monitoring and regulating the speed of vehicles, ensuring that drivers are obeying traffic signals, and addressing any violations that may occur.

The CHP has the authority to issue citations and tickets to drivers who are found to be in violation of traffic laws. They also have the power to arrest individuals who are suspected of committing more serious offenses, such as driving under the influence.

Respond to Traffic Accidents

Another important responsibility of the California Highway Patrol is to respond to traffic accidents on state highways. They are often the first to arrive at the scene of an accident and play a crucial role in providing emergency assistance and ensuring the safety of those involved.

The CHP is trained to investigate accidents, gather evidence, and determine the cause of the collision. They also provide traffic control to ensure the smooth flow of vehicles and minimize the risk of further accidents.

Limited Authority Off Highways

While the primary jurisdiction of the California Highway Patrol is on state highways, they also have limited authority off the highways. This means that they can enforce traffic laws and respond to emergencies in certain situations, even if they are not on a state highway.

For example, the CHP may be called upon to assist local law enforcement agencies or respond to incidents that pose a threat to public safety, such as car chases or major accidents.

It is important to note that the authority of the California Highway Patrol extends beyond just traffic enforcement. They also play a vital role in public safety education and community outreach programs.

By conducting educational campaigns and participating in community events, the CHP aims to raise awareness about safe driving practices and reduce the number of accidents on the roads.

For more information about the California Highway Patrol and their duties and authority, you can visit their official website at

When CHP Officers Can Stop Pedestrians and Cyclists

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) has the authority to stop not only drivers but also pedestrians and cyclists in certain situations. While their primary focus is on enforcing traffic laws on the highways, CHP officers have the power to intervene when they witness traffic violations, suspect DUI, have a connection to a vehicle on the highway, or need to establish temporary traffic control.

Witness Traffic Violation

If a CHP officer witnesses a pedestrian or cyclist committing a traffic violation, such as jaywalking, running a red light, or riding a bicycle on a prohibited roadway, they have the authority to stop and issue a citation.

This is done to ensure the safety of all road users and to enforce traffic laws that apply to everyone, regardless of their mode of transportation.

Suspected DUI

CHP officers are trained to identify signs of impairment in pedestrians and cyclists, just like they would in drivers. If an officer suspects that a pedestrian or cyclist is under the influence of alcohol or drugs and poses a danger to themselves or others, they can initiate a stop and conduct field sobriety tests.

If the individual fails these tests, they may be arrested for DUI.

Connection to Vehicle on Highway

If a CHP officer has a reasonable suspicion that a pedestrian or cyclist is connected to a vehicle on the highway, they can stop them for further investigation. This could include situations where the officer observes the individual exiting a vehicle on the shoulder of the highway or suspects their involvement in a hit-and-run incident.

The purpose of such stops is to gather information and ensure the safety and security of the roadway.

Temporary Traffic Control

CHP officers are responsible for maintaining traffic flow and ensuring the safety of all road users, including pedestrians and cyclists, during temporary traffic control situations. This could include events, construction zones, or accidents that require the rerouting of traffic.

In such cases, CHP officers may stop pedestrians and cyclists to provide instructions, ensure compliance with detours, or maintain the safety of the affected area.

It is important to note that CHP officers exercise their discretion when deciding to stop pedestrians and cyclists. They prioritize public safety and the enforcement of traffic laws to prevent accidents and promote order on the road.

Understanding their authority allows all road users to better navigate and comply with traffic regulations, ensuring a safer environment for everyone.

Laws and Case Law Governing CHP Authority

Vehicle Code Provisions

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) is a law enforcement agency responsible for ensuring the safety of California’s highways and freeways. The authority of the CHP to stop individuals on the road is derived from various sections of the California Vehicle Code.

These provisions grant the CHP the power to enforce traffic laws and regulations, investigate accidents, and maintain public order on the highways.

One of the key provisions under the Vehicle Code that governs the authority of the CHP is Section 2400, which states that “the officers of the California Highway Patrol shall have the same authority as a peace officer, within the territorial limits in which they may be stationed, to enforce all provisions of this code and any local ordinance adopted pursuant to this code.”

This means that CHP officers have the same authority as other peace officers, such as police officers, to enforce traffic laws and regulations. They can stop vehicles, issue citations, and make arrests if necessary.

Additionally, Section 22658 of the Vehicle Code grants the CHP the authority to remove or impound vehicles that are parked or left unattended in certain circumstances. This provision allows CHP officers to take appropriate action to ensure public safety and maintain traffic flow on the highways.

Relevant Court Rulings

Over the years, various court rulings have further clarified and defined the authority of the CHP. These rulings help determine the scope and limits of their power to stop individuals when not actively driving.

One notable case is People v. Johnson (1986), where the California Supreme Court held that the CHP had the authority to conduct a lawful traffic stop even if the vehicle was not in motion at the time.

The court ruled that an officer could initiate a stop if they had reasonable suspicion that a traffic violation had occurred or was about to occur.

Another important case is People v. Cimarusti (2005), where the court upheld the authority of the CHP to stop a driver who was parked on the side of the road, based on reasonable suspicion of DUI. The court held that the CHP officer’s observation of the driver’s vehicle parked on the shoulder, coupled with other indicators of impairment, justified the stop.

These court rulings affirm the authority of the CHP to stop individuals when not actively driving, as long as there is reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation or other criminal activity. It is important to note that each case is evaluated on its specific facts and circumstances, and the authority of the CHP may vary depending on the situation.

What to Do If Stopped by CHP When Not Driving

Remain Calm

If you find yourself being stopped by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) when you are not driving, it’s important to remain calm. Remember that the officers are just doing their job and it is not personal. Take a deep breath and try to stay composed.

Assert Your Rights Politely

Although you are not driving, you still have rights when interacting with law enforcement. It is important to assert your rights politely and respectfully. You can ask the officer why you are being stopped and if you are free to leave.

Remember, you have the right to remain silent and not answer any questions that may incriminate you.

Follow Instructions

Even though you are not driving, it is important to follow instructions given by the CHP officer. If they ask for identification, provide it to them. If they ask you to step out of the vehicle or perform any other action, comply with their requests.

Refusing to follow their instructions may escalate the situation unnecessarily.

Refrain from Resisting

While it may be frustrating to be stopped by the CHP when you are not driving, it is important to refrain from resisting. Resisting arrest or engaging in any physical altercation with the officer can result in serious consequences.

It is always best to cooperate and address any concerns or issues you may have through the appropriate channels later.

Remember, it is important to consult with a legal professional if you have any questions about your specific situation. They can provide you with guidance and advice based on the laws and regulations in your area.

Filing a Complaint Against Improper CHP Conduct

While the California Highway Patrol (CHP) is responsible for enforcing traffic laws and ensuring public safety, there are instances when their conduct may be questionable or improper. If you believe you have been treated unfairly or unlawfully by a CHP officer while not driving, you have the right to file a complaint.

Filing a complaint is an important step in holding law enforcement accountable and ensuring that their actions align with the principles of justice and fairness.

Report to Supervisor

If you encounter improper conduct by a CHP officer, it is recommended to first report the incident to their supervisor. This can be done by contacting the local CHP office and requesting to speak with the officer’s immediate supervisor.

Be sure to provide detailed information about the incident, including date, time, location, and any witnesses present. It is important to remain calm and respectful during this process, as it will help in resolving the issue more effectively.

Citizen Complaint Process

If reporting the incident to the supervisor does not result in a satisfactory resolution, you can file a formal complaint through the CHP’s citizen complaint process. This process allows individuals to report misconduct by CHP officers and ensures that a thorough investigation is conducted.

To initiate the complaint process, you can visit the CHP’s website or contact their Internal Affairs Division.

When filing a complaint, it is crucial to provide as much detail as possible. Include specific information about the incident, such as the officer’s name or badge number, if available. Additionally, provide any supporting evidence, such as photographs, videos, or witness statements, that can strengthen your case.

The more information you provide, the better equipped the CHP will be to investigate the matter properly.

It is important to note that filing a complaint should be done within a reasonable timeframe after the incident occurred. Acting promptly will allow for a more accurate recollection of events and increase the chances of a successful resolution.

Remember, the purpose of filing a complaint is not to discredit or undermine the CHP, but rather to address any concerns and ensure that officers adhere to the highest standards of professionalism and integrity.

By taking action, you contribute to maintaining the trust and confidence of the public in law enforcement agencies.


In summary, CHP officers generally cannot stop pedestrians or cyclists who are not engaged in driving-related activities due to their limited jurisdiction. But there are exceptions if you are connected to a traffic violation or hazard on a highway. Understanding their authority and rights in any interaction with law enforcement is crucial. If you believe a stop was improper, following the citizen complaint process can help hold officers accountable.

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