Is it legal to have profanity covering the rear window of your vehicle?

Q: Kurt Meidinger emailed On the Road a photo he recently took of a large pickup truck parked in front of a house in his Beaumont neighborhood. On the truck’s rear window, in large white letters covering the entire back window, is a four-letter profanity starting with the letter “F” before the words “your Tesla.” He asked if it’s legal for people to drive vehicles with profanities or vulgar language on them, as seen on this truck. “I’m thinking he has a First Amendment right to, but aren’t there limits on free speech?” Meidinger asked. “This is only meant to offend. Whatever happened to decorum or family values?”

A: This is legal and free speech. There’s nothing in the California Vehicle Code that says this truck’s profanity is illegal.

The only way it would be illegal is if some municipality passed a specific obscenity law or code against this, said Officer Dan Olivas of the California Highway Patrol’s Inland Division. Even then, such a local law would probably be subject to a First Amendment challenge and likely struck down. As one of the United States Supreme Court justices said in a landmark 1971 case addressing a similar issue, Cohen Vs. California, “one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric.” The court said the government can’t censor speech because it’s distasteful.

We asked Olivas if the large letters blocking the truck’s rear window are illegal, regardless of the content, but Olivas said that as long as the vehicle has two functioning side mirrors, it doesn’t matter if the large letters block the driver’s rear view.

Q: Gene DeFouw of Beaumont asked when the 10 Freeway between Yucaipa and Beaumont would be expanded with additional lanes. He said traffic is nearly halted at rush hour now and that three large warehouses in the Beaumont area will open this year and next, adding more large trucks to the freeway there.

“It’s already bad and I don’t even want to guess what kind of congestion will result when the warehouses are up and running. Frankly, I do not believe adding another lane in both directions will help much,” DeFouw said.

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A: Residents will find out the impact of new warehouses in Beaumont on the 10. This is a discussion to be had with city and county elected officials in the Inland Empire who approve the warehouses. Some freeway help is coming to that area from the San Bernardino Transportation Authority and Caltrans. They plan to extend the truck-climbing lane for another three miles, between Calimesa and Live Oak Canyon Road in Yucaipa, in San Bernardino County (see the project details here:

“This will hopefully address some of the congestion that will arise from the influx of trucks when those warehouses open,” said Caltrans spokesman Eric Dionne. Truck-climbing lanes are for truck travel only and take the slower-moving trucks out of the main traffic lanes. This project is expected to begin this summer and wrap up in 2025.

“As for Caltrans, we are pushing for future plans of multimodal transportation throughout the state rather than just adding to the congestion problem. Additional lanes at this juncture, most of the time, does not solve the issues at hand,” Dionne said.

Do you commute to work in the Inland Empire? Spend a lot of time in your vehicle? Have questions about driving, freeways, toll roads or parking? If so, write or call On the Road and we’ll try to answer your questions. Please include your question or issue, name, city of residence, phone number and email address. Write or call 951-368-9670.

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