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New Year, New Laws For Road Users

Motorcycle police
Photo copyright Walt Stoneburner waltstoneburner/ licenses/by/4.0/

Dangerous distractions and recently popularized modes of transportation are the focus of laws that will take effect this Friday, Jan. 1, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California. Two other major traffic safety laws were also approved by the California State Legislature in 2015, but will not take effect until January 2017.


The following laws will take effect this Friday:


Senate Bill (SB) 491 clarifies existing law by explicitly prohibiting the wearing of earbuds or headsets covering, resting on, or inserted into both ears when operating a motor vehicle or bicycle. The purpose is to ensure drivers and bicyclists can hear sirens, horns, and other safety alerts while driving. The previous law did not explicitly include earbuds.


Electric Skateboards

Assembly Bill (AB) 604 creates a new definition for an electrically motorized board, which generally is a four-wheeled device designed to be stood upon that is not longer than 5 feet and wider than 18 inches. Electric boards are permitted to be equipped with an electric propulsion system with less than 1,000 watts (1.34 horsepower) and capable of a maximum speed of 20 mph on a level surface.

Electric boards may only be operated by persons age 16 or older, and the user must wear a bike helmet. Boards may be operated up to a speed of 15 mph on sidewalks, paths, trails, and highways with a speed limit of no more than 35 mph.  If the board is operated entirely within a Class 2 (striped bike lane) or Class 4 (physically separated lane) bikeway, it may be operated on roadways that have a speed limit of more than 35 mph.

Local governments and other agencies can enact further regulations restricting use.


Electric Bicycles

AB 1096 establishes new categories of electric bicycles and places restrictions on their operation.

Electric bicycles with motors that cease assistance after the e-bike reaches 20 mph are allowed to use bike paths or trails, and helmets are required for all operators under age 18. But e-bikes using motors that assist speed up to 28 mph have further restrictions – they may not use bike paths or trails unless specifically permitted by local government, their operators must be at least age 16, and helmets are required for all operators.

E-bikes do not require a driver’s license, registration, or license plates; however, e-bikes must follow the same regulations governing standard bicycles, including traffic laws, biking-under-the-influence laws, and equipment laws.


The laws detailed below will take effect Jan. 1, 2017. However, parents should make particular note of the child safety seat law change this year because it may require them to change the type of seat they purchase.


Child Safety Seats

AB 53 will require children under age 2 to be secured in a rear-facing child safety seat, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatricians. Previously, only children under age 1 were required to ride rear-facing.

Children over 40 pounds or over 40 inches tall will be exempt from the new law because some rear-facing car seats cannot accommodate children exceeding these criteria. Current law generally requires children under age 8 to be secured in an approved child safety seat. The new rear-facing requirement takes effect January 1, 2017.


Reporting Traffic Crashes

Current law requires any motorist involved in a traffic crash in which an injury occurs or in which there is property damage in excess of $750 to report the incident to the DMV by filing the appropriate SR-1 form. SB 491 raises the threshold amount for reporting accidents to $1,000, effective Jan. 1, 2017.

CST 1016202-80 Copyright © Automobile Club of Southern California. All Rights Reserved.
The Automobile Club of Southern California is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in the following California counties: Inyo, Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura.