According to California sample written driving test (problem 6):

  1. You see a signal person at a road construction site ahead. You should obey his or her instructions:

A. Only if you see orange cones on the road ahead.

B. Unless they conflict with existing signs, signals, or laws.

C. At all times.

C is the correct answer and B is marked as incorrect. So could a signal person tell me to kill someone? If they did and I did so, would I still get in trouble? I am following their instructions, and the test explicitly states that I should follow their instructions even if they conflict with existing laws.

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    The test is not the 'Law'. It helps to determine whether or not you'll be granted the licensed privilege to drive on public roads. Interpretation of environmental conditions for safety for yourself and others is a valuable ability of a driver, and that's what you should do with that question (and with instructions from a signal person). Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 7:44
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    Above all other laws is law #0: "Don't be stupid".
    – gnasher729
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 8:15
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    @gnasher729: appeal to law #0 is not always an effective defense in criminal cases ;-) Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 9:20
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    A rightful signal that goes against the law would be to redirect traffic through the left lane, in the opposite direction. That is probably the kind of situation the testers were thinking about.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 10:28
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    The test question is clearly a bad question. Some answers/comments below make a valid point that people who take language very literally would have a hard time with this question. However it should come as no surprise that the "correct" answer to a question from a government authority asking "should you always blindly follow government authority" is quite likely to be "Yes", regardless of any common sense answer. Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 17:38

5 Answers 5


You are not reading a law book here and you should not interpret a driving test so literally. It's quite clear that the question implies you should follow all of their instructions regarding how to proceed through traffic. Sometimes those instructions do involve "breaking laws" such as driving on the wrong side of the road or proceeding through a traffic signal that was not turned off. The B option clearly does not mean they have the power to disobey all laws in existence, only those concerning traffic as evidenced by the examples given.

You are not Sheldon Cooper and you should know how to interpret a vague question correctly. You are also not a gopher, and you can correctly deduce that crashing into another car or driving off the cliff into the water is not in your best interests, and that calling the police to report someone abusing their position is probably a good idea.

If you're concerned by the wording, try contacting the California DMV to have them clarify the wording.

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    @SBoss You're underestimating their planning. These companies aren't allowed to just go out on the road and do whatever they want. They generally have to work with local government and provide a detailed plan of what lanes they're going to have closed and how they're going to deal with traffic. They'd be told well in advance that they can't reroute traffic through private property without permission. Ever wonder how Google Maps knows about construction on the road? It's because they're required to submit a public notice and Google queries the databases for such information.
    – animuson
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 7:15
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    "You are not Sheldon Cooper" -- well, some non-fictional people have genuine difficulty with this kind of implied context, and the questioner might be one of them. The actual answer is in the excluded middle between B and C: the instructions have authority to override some laws but not others. The issue of whether the driving test should be worded precisely enough so that Sheldon Cooper can pass it, is something to take up with the DMV as you say. The DMV might even argue that since road signs may sometimes be equally imprecise, if you can't cope with this you shouldn't drive ;-) Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 9:23
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    @SteveJessop Re Sheldon Cooper in real life, many people with some degree of autistic or Asperger's traits do tend to interpret language very literally, have trouble with implied context and so on. Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 9:39
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    The driving test is not law, but it might be helpful for the answer to find the text of the actual California law in question, and show how it handles the "signal person instructs me to kill someone" issue. E.g. does it explicitly limit the range where such instruction is appropriate (only on "how to proceed through traffic"), or does it rely on some other common law principle - and if so, which?
    – R.M.
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 14:22
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    "Sometimes those instructions do involve "breaking laws" " - do they? I find it hard to believe that there's not actually a law that says what people are and are not allowed to do under instructions from a signal person. (A more interesting question would be, what if a signal person directs you to turn into a street or parking lot with no outlet which you did not show any intent to enter, and then refuses to let you leave, have they then illegally seized your vehicle?)
    – Random832
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 16:10

Relevant law

California Vehicle Code 21100.3

It is unlawful for any person to disobey the traffic directions of a person appointed or authorized by a local authority to regulate traffic pursuant to subdivision (e) of Section 211001 when such appointee is wearing an official insignia issued by the local authority and is acting in the course of his appointed duties.

Section 21954:

(a) Every pedestrian upon a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway so near as to constitute an immediate hazard. (b) The provisions of this section shall not relieve the driver of a vehicle from the duty to exercise due care for the safety of any pedestrian upon a roadway.

Section 23103(a):

A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.

1. 21100 allows for the appointing of people to regulate "traffic at the site of road or street construction or maintenance by persons authorized for that duty by the local authority." I.e. Signal people


So, you have to follow the direction of signal holders within the course of their appointed duties, but you cannot drive with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of other people. E.g. If they tell you to turn right, you follow the rules for turning right (checking for bikes, signalling, giving right of way to pedestrians, etc.).

You do not have to kill someone if a signal person tells you to. Telling you to kill someone is outside the authority of the signal person (not within the course of "appointed duties").

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    So if the signal person's supervisor makes it one of their appointed duties...? :P Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 14:44
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    I think you're joking, but in seriousness, the code says these people are "appointed or authorized by a local authority to regulate traffic". Directing a killing would be outside any reasonable interpretation of that language.
    – user3851
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 14:47
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    And as a general principle, "appointed duties" doesn't mean "whatever your boss tells you to do", it means something in the vicinity of, "what your boss tells you to do and has genuine or at least arguable legal authority to order done". Unless the "signal person" and their supervisor are in the military or the like (which they are not), killing some particular person isn't going to be within the supervisor's power to make part of their duties... Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 15:28
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    More relevantly you only have to follow the "traffic directions" of the appointed person. An order to kill someone isn't a traffic direction. A person appointed to direct traffic has no more power than a sign, traffic light or any other device that by law provides traffic directions. They can only tell you were you can or can't go.
    – Ross Ridge
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 16:31
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    @msh210 To boil it down, it says you will be held accountable both for disregarding the signal person and for taking a life. I'll leave it up to you to decide which one you want to face charges for. Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 16:13

This question is meant to be within the scope of "using the road" - Option (B) is wrong where, for example, there is a traffic light stuck on red for all sides, and someone directing traffic.

If you were to kill someone because a person - even if a "signal person" (which is really just a person in some slightly special clothing) told you to, you would be criminally liable (probably for murder rather then manslaughter). They may also be criminally liable as well.

  • Purely for discussion, let's say there's a person lying on the road, and signal person instructs to drive over that person. It fits the scope, doesn't it?
    – domen
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 15:35
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    @domen "since mr. Evil instructed me to drive over mr. Laid, I was assuming mr. Laid was dead already and no harm was being done to him" Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 17:00
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    @JanDvorak Desecration of a corpse.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 19:46
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    @MrLister: Mr. Laid wasn't dead in the sense of "formerly alive", but rather in the sense of "having never been alive", by virtue of its being a (possibly animatronic) movie prop.
    – supercat
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 20:16

(Note: this is not a treatise on traffic law, but a general guideline, covered by the general spirit of traffic regulations like hinted at in Section 23103(a) quoted below. It should help the OP to sort his thoughts, not be used as base for a court case. It is meant to help the OP answer the question of whether a traffic rule can *make him kill a human*, not for minor cases like flinging pebbles...)


Road traffic laws are a bit like air traffic laws in this respect: they hold true until lives or property are in severe danger. Then they turn from law into mere suggestion.

No single rule or combination of traffic rules can force you to do anything at all that damages other persons or property. If breaking a traffic rule is the only way to avoid damaging something or someone here and now, then you must break that rule. Taking lives or damaging property is against laws as well, and the other laws are more important since they have intrinsic value - there is no additional value to traffic laws except they help to regulate traffic (which means that they avoid danger and damage).

Section 23103(a) (as posted by @Dawn in her answer, thank you):

A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.


The guy in the yellow suit is just an extension of the traffic rules. He can tell you whatever he likes (just like an aircraft controller can tell the pilot whatever he likes), but you, the driver, have full responsibility over whatever happens. You must disobey the command of the yellow suit if it would lead to damage.

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    Citing sources for your claims would improve your post's value. More specifically, showing that 23103(a) prevails over the obey-a-signalman law when they conflict would be great.
    – msh210
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 15:56
  • Could you please cite authority specifically for the proposition that traffic rules can't force you to damage persons or property? Is it just s 23103(a) that leads to that result? Commented Aug 27, 2017 at 6:19

I have been in a situation where it was necessary to oppose a traffic directory (and he was a military traffic director at that). He was not only wrong but stupid wrong, and thankfully there were quite a few people willing to oppose him.

There is an implied duty of the traffic director to give reasonable directions. The duty was clearly violated so his authority went out the window.

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