It's a new year and, as always, the state legislature and governor have given us a number of new laws.
In fact, about 200 changes and updates were made to the California Vehicle Code for 2005.
Here's a quick recap of the major items, effective Jan. 1, unless otherwise noted:
Child seats: Children MUST be secured in an appropriate child passenger restraint (safety seat or booster seat) IN THE BACK SEAT OF A VEHICLE until they are at least 6 years old or weigh at least 60 pounds. Exceptions include vehicles that have no forward facing back seat, or if kids under 12 have taken up all the back seat spaces, in which case I would not want your grocery bill.
Motorized scooters: Up until now, you could operate a motorized scooter on the street if you were at least 16 years old, even without a license. As of Jan. 1, a minimum of a Class C driver's license will be required. Also, a properly maintained muffler is now required at all times on these vehicles. The other rules (bike lanes, no street over 35 mph) have not changed. By the way, it is also now illegal to sell a motorized scooter that will generate noise of 80 decibels at 50 feet.
Speeding: With the skyrocketing number of tickets issued on California roads for driving over 100 miles per hour, fines have been increased to as much as $1000, depending on prior offenses.
Wireless phones: School bus and transit vehicle operators will not be allowed to use a cellular phone while the vehicle is in motion, with certain exceptions such as emergencies. Is this a harbinger of such a law for regular motorists? We will keep an eye on this one.
DUI priors: The number of years that DUI prior convictions can count for enhanced penalties has been increased from seven to ten. This now means that if you are arrested for DUI and have three such priors in the last ten years, you will be charged with a felony. (Read: state prison.)
For commuters: If you are thinking about buying a hybrid Ford Escape or Toyota Prius, here is a good reason: Such vehicles are now allowed to receive the DMV Clean Air Vehicle decal. You then get to drive in the carpool lane, alone. (So you can get rid of the dummy. Yeah, we knew.)
Down the road: As of Sept. 20, 2005, California auto dealers will not be permitted to sell you a car unless there is a front license plate bracket affixed to the bumper (not loose in the trunk.) I know, your new Dodge Magnum wagon looks really cool without one, but a front plate is required, so don't blame the dealer.
As of July 1, 2005, the headlight law, 24400 VC, will be amended. In addition to the "hours of darkness" and "reduced visibility" clauses that we are all familiar with, there is a new wrinkle. The new law will require that any time weather conditions create the need to use your windshield wipers continuously, you must display your headlights. Maybe we will see an optional relay switch between the two in some of the 2006 cars?
Last, the law is requiring that all auto insurance companies link electronically to DMV as of Sept. 1, 2006. Even though that is a long lead-in period, many companies are already hooked up (my own company, Nationwide, is doing this now.) This will save you sending in written proof of insurance to DMV, and allow online registration, since smog results have been electronically transferred for some time. I just did the online license plate renewal for my pickup, and it is a snap! On the flip side, if you let your insurance lapse, it will allow DMV to put an almost immediate hold on your registration.
Have a safe year on the road!
Questions, comments, or observations for Behind the Badge can be submitted by e-mail to Lt. Bill Barry at firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com; by mail to the Lodi Police Department, 215 W. Elm St., Lodi, CA 95240; or by phone to his voice-mail, (209) 333-6800, Box 2409.