Calif. Puts More Drive Into New Laws for Residents Hitting the Roads

December 30, 2005

New penalties for drunk drivers, street racers, and “pocket bike” riders – along with improvements to California’s teen driving requirements – are among the laws taking effect as of Sunday, Jan. 1, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.

“Many of these laws are designed to improve safety for motorists by increasing penalties for unsafe driving behavior,” said Alice Bisno, the Auto Club’s vice president for legislative affairs.

New laws affecting motorists that go into effect Jan. 1 include:

Street Racing

AB 1325 establishes a jail term of 30 days to six months for persons found guilty of engaging in motor-vehicle speed contests if the driver causes bodily injury to someone other than himself or herself.

Drunk Driving Penalties

SB 597 extends from seven years to 10 years the time period an individual is ineligible for a good-driver discount following a conviction for drunk driving. This change is consistent with the change made in 2005 by SB 1694, which required all DUI convictions to remain on a violator’s record for 10 years instead of seven.

Two other new laws improve law enforcement’s ability to impound drunk drivers’ vehicles. SB 207 authorizes an officer to impound the vehicle of a person with a prior DUI conviction arrested for a suspected DUI if the person has a blood alcohol level of at least 0.10 percent or if the person refuses a chemical test. AB 979 authorizes an officer to impound the vehicle of a motorist violating a requirement to drive only a vehicle equipped with a functioning, certified ignition interlock device.

Pocket Bikes

AB 1051 provides a definition of a pocket bike and requires the manufacturer to let prospective buyers know, in writing, where one may not be operated. Pocket bikes, which are miniature motorcycles, are illegal to ride on public streets. Additionally, the new law specifies that pocket bikes seized by law enforcement will be held for a minimum of 48 hours and will be released only after appropriate fees have been paid.

Car Insurance

SB 20 extends the state’s low-cost automobile insurance program for qualified drivers to the year 2011 and adds six more counties where it will be available. Previously, low-cost auto insurance was available only in Los Angeles and San Francisco counties; now, it can also be obtained in Alameda, Fresno, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties. The law also gives the insurance commissioner the discretion to add more counties in the future.

Graduated Driver Licensing Law Strengthened

AB 1474 strengthens the existing teen licensing law by requiring teen motorists to have their license for one year before being allowed to drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., or before being allowed to transport young passengers without an adult in the car. Even teens who have gotten their licenses before Jan. 1 will have to follow the new law if their licenses are less than one year old.

Under the previous teen driving law, motorists under age 18 were prohibited from driving between midnight and 5 a.m. for one year after being licensed, and could not transport young passengers without an adult in the car for the first six months after obtaining a license.

In 1997, the Auto Club sponsored California’s graduated driver licensing law. Its purpose was to reduce the number of teen deaths and injuries in car crashes, and it worked: In the two years following the law’s implementation, at-fault crashes involving 16-year-old drivers dropped 24 percent, and the number of teen-passenger deaths and injuries from crashes involving 16-year-old drivers declined 40 percent.

Still, nearly 40,000 teen drivers and passengers in California died or were injured in car crashes in 2004, and car crashes remain the leading cause of death in the state for teens ages 15-20.

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