California Motor Vehicle Code 21058
Physician Responding to an Emergency
California Vehicle Code 21058 is intended to protect patients who live in rural areas that may go to hospitals that do not have doctors on staff at all hours of the day and night. There are numerous situations when a doctor may be needed at legitimate emergencies, and getting there fast is essential. If there's a shooting victim, a car accident patient or a woman with labor complications, at a rural hospital it's important to get a doctor to the operating room fast. In rural areas the on-call surgeon may live 15 or 20 miles away from the hospital and it's important for that surgeon to be able to get there in a hurry without worrying about legal repercussions. There are still many rural hospitals in California that still rely on the on-call physician for emergencies.
This law was not designed to give doctors a "get out of jail free" excuse. There are still stipulations as to when the law applies. First, the doctor must be going to a legitimate emergency. Having dinner reservations, or being late to the airport will not constitute an emergency. Second, the doctor must maintain a reasonably safe speed. There is no excuse for driving recklessly, and doctors who cause harm to another person while speeding to an emergency will still be held accountable for their actions. Lastly, the doctors cannot allow someone else to borrow their car for the purposes of using the CMA sticker. This law only applies to a vehicle that is registered to a licensed doctor; if that vehicle is being used by the doctor; while the doctor is on his or her way to a real emergency.
This law does not prevent an officer from pulling over a doctor. The doctor must show that he or she is on their way to an emergency. While most officers will probably not question a licensed physician, an officer that questions the authenticity of the emergency can still issue a citation. The physician would not be held accountable, and would not have to pay the ticket upon showing the court proof of the emergency. However, the doctor will have lost valuable time getting to the emergency while the officer is writing the ticket.
There has been some debate between the California Medical Association (CMA) and the California Highway Patrol (CHP) over the necessity of this law. The CHP argues that the law, which was passed in 1954, is outdated and no longer necessary. The CMA argues that in rural areas the law is still needed and could save lives. For now, the law is still on the books and the CMA regularly gives stickers to licensed physicians to use in case of emergencies.