Road rules – New year brings a new set of laws for California drivers |

Road rules – New year brings a new set of laws for California drivers

Drivers be forewarned: the rules of the road changed while you were downing that third glass of champagne, and law enforcers have their ticket books ready.

“We’re going to enforce all of them; that’s our job,” said California Highway Patrol spokesman Steve Kohler.

The changes range from a restriction on cell phone use for bus drivers to a hike on the cost of personalized license plates.

Many of the laws impose stiffer penalties on drivers who have already done something wrong. Penalties for driving under the influence will now remain on driving records for 10 years – not seven. Super speeders face higher fines. And street racers must now do community service in addition to possible jail time and a license suspension.

Some drivers might not be too surprised by the safety-oriented laws.

Area residents Stephany Lear and Holly Graham said had thought there already was a law requiring small children to be placed in the back seat.

“I always kept my daughter in back; I thought it was safer,” Graham said, smiling because her daughter is now in college.

Lear said she has taught her 5-year-old niece to recognize cars that have airbags and to sit in the back.

The new law that stiffens penalties for drivers who exceed 100 mph also found favor with local residents.

“I think anybody doing over 100 should be fined heavily, if they can catch them,” said Roger Bergthold of Grass Valley.

Russ Fischer said he had heard of the new law that requires headlights to be on when windshield wipers are needed, which ironically kicks in during the dry month of July.

One new law, which at first glance arouses privacy concerns, is actually to protect consumers, said Robert Oakes, a spokesman for Democratic state Sen. Tom Torlakson.

The law releases accident report and license plate numbers to businesses, who then compile the information and sell vehicle history reports.

Oakes said the law does not release personal information such as names and addresses and is needed to protect buyers of used cars, who may not know if their cars had been in accidents.

He said it had been very difficult to obtain information on used cars previously and the new law put California in line with the laws of 30 other states.

Releasing records to private companies would allow for competition to make the service affordable to consumers, rather than burdening the state with a new computer system, Oakes said.

Another new law permits the use of high-tech night vision equipment, which is available on some vehicles such as Cadillacs. The infrared device projects an image on the windshield, which can alert drivers to something in front of them, such as a deer, Kohler said.

A few new laws

• Windshield wipers – Effective this July, headlights must be used whenever windshield wipers are on because of weather.

• Children under 6 – Children under 6 years or 60 pounds must now be secured in the back seat of any vehicle that has a back seat. Children sitting in front can be injured in a collision or by airbags, California Highway Patrol spokesman Steve Kohler said.

• Bus driver cell phone ban – Drivers of school buses and other buses can only use cell phones in emergencies.

• Scooters – Drivers of motorized skateboard-like scooters now must have a license. They must also be over 16 and wear a helmet. If scooters are driven on major roads, they must also have mufflers.

• Speedy drivers – Drivers caught going over 100 mph can now receive a fine of $750 for a second conviction and $1,000 for subsequent convictions. Also, drivers in street races now must do 40 hours of community service in addition to a day or more of jail time and a driver’s license suspension.

• DUI penalty hikes – Offenders will be warned they can be charged for murder, which allows for stiffer penalties for subsequent violations. Also, DUI convictions remain on record for 10 years, instead of seven.

• Armed forces exemption – Members of the armed services who are serving overseas will not be charged penalties for missing vehicle registration fee deadlines.

• Old car smog exemption – Effective in April, cars made earlier than 1976 will no longer need smog tests.

• Information release to companies – License plate numbers and accident data reported by law enforcement will be available for commercial uses, thanks to the efforts of Carfax, which sells vehicle history reports.

Sources: California Highway Patrol, Department of Motor Vehicles

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