Auto Club: New Motorist Laws For 2007 Address Traffic Safety Concerns

(LOS ANGELES, Dec. 26, 2006) — Several new laws affecting motorist and traffic safety will take effect beginning Jan. 1, 2007, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.

“Many of these laws focus on safety for vehicle passengers, mature drivers, pedestrians and young drivers,” said Alice Bisno, the Auto Club’s vice president for legislative and regulatory affairs.

Laws taking effect Jan. 1, 2007 include:

No “Trunking”

AB 1850 makes it unlawful for a person to knowingly drive a motor vehicle while another person is riding in the trunk; riding in the trunk is also illegal. The driver receives a fine and one point on his or her driving record; the person riding in the trunk receives a fine. The law is a response to some teen drivers’ attempts to evade the passenger restriction in California’s graduated driver licensing law by hiding teens in the trunk. Since 2000, there have been 153 collisions involving trunking, resulting in nine deaths and 140 injuries.

Mature-Driver Courses

Mature-driver courses, available for drivers at least 55 years of age, are designed to help older motorists drive safely longer by educating them on proper driving techniques and changes in technology and the law. AB 2407, an Auto Club– sponsored bill, permits renewal courses to be completed in four hours. (The initial course lasts for eight hours.) Drivers who successfully complete the course are eligible for a small discount on their auto insurance.

Emergency Vehicles

SB 1610 is intended to enhance safety for emergency vehicle and tow-truck personnel working on the side of the road. Drivers approaching a stationary authorized emergency vehicle or tow truck with its siren or emergency lights activated must proceed carefully and move into an available lane at least two lanes away from the emergency vehicle or tow truck. If such a move is not safe, practical, or legal, the driver should slow to a reasonable and prudent speed. The law expires on January 1, 2010.

Right-of-Way Violations

SB 1021 requires the DMV driver handbook and traffic-violator school curriculums to include information about respecting the right-of-way of others, particularly pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists. It also increases the fine for right-of-way violations that result in bodily injury or great bodily injury. Violators will pay a fine of at least $245 if bodily injury is involved and at least $345 if great bodily injury is involved. For purposes of this law, great bodily injury means “any significant or substantial physical injury.”

Reckless Driving and Street Racing

AB 2190 makes reckless driving and street racing that results in great bodily injury a felony offense for first-time violators. Previously, only those with a prior conviction for this offense could be charged with a felony. Great bodily injury includes loss of consciousness, concussions, bone fractures, wounds requiring extensive suturing, serious disfigurement, and paralysis.

Driving Under the Influence

AB 2752 increases the penalties for underage drinking and driving. The new law makes it a criminal offense instead of a civil penalty for a driver under 21 years of age to have a measurable blood-alcohol concentration of 0.01 percent. First-offense infractions will carry a minimum fine of $350.

Vehicle Impoundment

Under AB 2253, a court can impound a vehicle used in the illegal dumping of waste matter for up to six months if the person driving the vehicle has a prior conviction for the offense. Waste matter does not include beverage containers or food wrappers, but it does include oil and other petroleum products, paints, garbage, furniture, dirt, gravel, and body parts.

Other motorist-related laws that were approved by the California Legislature in 2006, but which do not take effect until 2008 or later, include:

Wireless Telephones

SB 1613 prohibits the use of handheld cellular telephones while driving. Starting July 1, 2008, a driver may use a cell phone only if it has a hands-free listening and speaking system. Drivers ticketed for a violation will be subject to a minimum total fine of $70 for a first offense and $175 for subsequent offenses. “Push-to-talk” systems (such as Nextel) are exempt from the hands-free requirement until July 1, 2011.

Car-Key Replacement

SB 1542, sponsored by the Auto Club, will make it easier for vehicle owners whose keys are lost, stolen, or broken to obtain replacement keys. This law takes effect January 1, 2008 and it requires an automaker to provide the codes necessary for a locksmith to make a replacement key for vehicles sold or leased in California. Some auto manufacturers, such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW, will have until 2013 to comply with the new law if they currently allow no one but themselves to duplicate a key.

Smog Check

Under AB 1870, beginning January 1, 2008, vehicles that emit visible smoke from the tailpipe or crankcase during a smog inspection will fail the test. A vehicle owner can appeal a failing result to a state-designated referee; low-income vehicle owners may be eligible for repair assistance.

Driver Assessment

AB 2542 requires the DMV to implement its evaluation system for identifying drivers with medical problems and functional limitations. A report to the legislature on the results is due by December 31, 2011; the law expires January 1, 2012.

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