California’s New Laws For 2008 Include Cell Phone Restrictions, Driver Safety Improvements For Lost Car Keys

(LOS ANGELES, Dec. 27, 2007) -- California will usher in a host of new laws in 2008 related to traffic safety, driver behavior and vehicle fuels, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California. 

 Among the laws taking effect on Jan.1 is one that actually was signed into law in 2006. Senate Bill 1542 provides drivers of cars sold or leased after Jan. 1 with a convenient and safe system to obtain a replacement car key if their key is lost, stolen or damaged. The Auto Club sponsored the legislation to help ensure that motorists can replace keys quickly through a licensed, bonded, registered locksmith instead of being forced to wait hours or even days for the manufacturer or a dealer to make a replacemennt.
Two other important traffic safety laws will not take effect until July 1. SB 33 prohibits teens from using cell phones or any other "mobile service device" while driving; and SB 1613 prohibits all other adult motorists from using a cell phone while driving unless they use a hands-free speaking and listening system.
Another new law that will take effect July 1 is AB 118, which increases the "smog abatement fee" for newer vehicles from $12 to $20, and the vehicle registration fee for all automobiles from $31 to $34. The new fee will be used to fund research for alternative fuels, alternative fuel infrastructure projects, and air quality improvement. The Auto Club opposed the law because the fee increases also will fund a variety of programs that have nothing to do with automobile use, ownership or operation.
"The Auto Club considers the goals of the law to be laudable, but we question whether car owners should be required to pay for projects that benefit industry and business," said Alice Bisno, the Auto Club's vice president for public affairs. "We also question whether it's fair for car owners to have to pay for the cleanup of diesel trucks, farm equipment, and lawn mowers."

Motorist-related laws taking effect on Jan. 1 include:
  • Key Codes. SB 1542 gives motorists a convenient and secure option for getting replacement keys when theirs have been lost, stolen, or damaged. Automakers must provide, at any time, the key codes necessary for a licensed and registered locksmith to make a replacement key for vehicles sold or leased in California on or after January 1, 2008. Exceptions include automakers that sell fewer than 2,500 vehicles annually, and manufacturers that make their own keys-i.e. BMW and Mercedes-Benz- who have until 2013 to comply with the law provided that, in the interim, they send a replacement key by overnight mail.
  • License Plates. Drivers will have a harder time evading "red light" cameras and similar devices. AB 801 makes it illegal to sell or use a product that obstructs or impairs the recognition of a license plate by an electronic device operated by police or toll authority. The fine for using a product to obscure a license plate is approximately $146, and the fine for selling such a product is approximately $900.
  • School Zones. In an effort to make school zones safer for children, AB 321 will now allow local jurisdictions to adopt an ordinance establishing a speed limit of 15 miles per hour in a school zone. The 15-mph speed limit must be posted and applies up to 500 feet from the school when children are present or arriving at or leaving the school, either during school hours or during the noon recess. The 15-mph limit will also apply when the school grounds are being used by children and are not separated from the street by a fence, gate, or other physical barrier. A 25-mph limit will apply at a distance of 500-1,000 feet from the school.
  • Street Racing. In a further crackdown on dangerous and illegal street races, SB 67 reauthorizes a law that lapsed in 2006. It allows police to impound a vehicle for 30 days when a person is arrested for street racing, exhibition of speed, or reckless driving. Registered owners of vehicles impounded under this law can claim their vehicles if the owners were neither the driver nor passenger at the time of the violation and were unaware that the vehicle was being used to violate one of the prohibitions.
  • Smoking in Vehicles. SB 7 is intended to prevent children riding in vehicles from being subjected to the dangers of second-hand smoke. The law makes it an infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $100, to smoke a cigarette, a cigar, or a pipe in a vehicle, whether in motion or not, in which there is a minor. This measure is a "secondary enforcement" law. A law enforcement officer can only cite a motorist for a violation of this measure in connection with a stop for a suspected violation of another driving offense.
  • Traffic School. AB 645 prohibits a court from allowing a driver who commits a two-point violation from attending traffic school. Two-point violations include drunk driving, hit-and-run, speed contests, evading an officer, and vehicular manslaughter. In 2004, there were 773 instances in which two-point violators had their driving records expunged by attending traffic school, allowing them to maintain their "good driver" insurance discount and elude DMV negligent-driver oversight.
  • Gasoline Dispensing. Concerns about the high cost of gasoline have prompted scrutiny into whether gasoline loses fuel efficiency when it is stored, delivered or dispensed at a higher temperature than 60 degrees Fahrenheit. AB 868 requires the state to conduct a study on the effects of temperature on fuel deliveries and to report the study findings. Fuel expands when it is delivered, stored, or dispensed at temperatures higher than the government standard of 60 degrees. This means that, depending on the temperature, motorists might not get the amount and quality of fuel they paid for. When the study is complete, recommendations will be made to address its findings.

Motorist laws that will not take effect until July 1 include:
  • Cell Phones and Driving. SB 1613 (adopted in 2006) prohibits the use of handheld cellular telephones while driving. Starting July 1, 2008, an adult 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 fine of at least $70 (base fine plus penalties) for a first offense and at least $175 (base fine plus penalties) for subsequent offenses. Drivers of certain commercial and farm vehicles who use push-to-talk systems (such as those made by Nextel) are exempt from the hands-free requirement until July 1, 2011.
  • Teen Drivers and Cell Phones. In an effort to improve the safety of some of the most crash-prone drivers - teenagers - a new law will not allow minors to phone or text message friends from the road. SB 33 prohibits drivers under age 18 from using any cell phone or other "mobile-service device" while driving, even if it is equipped with a hands-free device.
    The term "mobile-service device" includes, but isn't limited to, a broadband personal-communication device, specialized mobile radio device, handheld device or laptop computer with mobile-data access, pager, and two-way messaging device. Teen drivers ticketed for a violation will be subject to a fine of at least $70 (base fine plus penalties) for a first offense and at least $175 (base fine plus penalties) for subsequent offenses. Unlike the ban on handheld cell phones, a law enforcement officer may cite a teen for a suspected violation of this law only in connection with another suspected driving offense.
  • Alternative Fuels and Vehicle Technologies Funding Program. AB 118, which takes effect July 1, increases the smog abatement fee for newer vehicles and the vehicle registration fee paid by all motorists to fund a variety of motorist and non-motorist related purposes, including research into alternative fuels, alternative fuel-infrastructure projects, retrofitting large truck engines, and the removal of high-polluting vehicles from the road. This measure will require car owners to contribute well over $150 million per year until 2016, when the law expires.