Via magazine
Via magazine - Your AAA Magazine

New Laws


  • It's back: the proof of "financial responsibility" laws
  • Your wallet: new double fine areas


  • Photo radar: it has its limits
  • License Plates the Olympics!; Veterans!

California and Utah state legislators have passed a number of new laws affecting motorists (Nevada's legislature, which meets every other year, was not in session in 1996). California laws go into effect January 1, 1997, except as noted. Utah laws already are in effect, except as noted. If you are interested in other new motoring laws, a digest is available for inspection at auto club district offices. Here are some of the highlights.


Proof of Financial Responsibility: Show it or walk. Motorists must show proof of financial responsibility to the DMV when renewing vehicle registration under Assembly Bill (AB) 650 (Speier, Burlingame). Motorists also will have to show proof of financial responsibility on the demand of a peace officer under certain conditions.

At press time, the Department of Motor Vehicles was still working out the details of how the part of the law dealing with registration is to be implemented. When procedures are implemented, DMV plans to include instructions with mailed renewal notices.

Financial responsibility, in practical terms, means an insurance policy. According to California Vehicle Code section 16430, "Proof of financial responsibility when required by this code means proof of financial responsibility resulting from the ownership or operation of a motor vehicle and arising by reason of personal injury to, or death of, any one person, of at least fifteen thousand dollars ($15,000), and, subject to the limit of fifteen thousand dollars ($15,000) for each person injured or killed, of at least thirty thousand dollars ($30,000) for the injury to, or the death of, two or more persons in any one accident, and for damages to property in excess of five hundred dollars ($500), of at least five thousand dollars ($5,000) resulting from any one accident." The Code also provides for a bond for the same amounts to be accepted as proof of financial responsibility, in section 16434.

Proof of insurance acceptable to a peace officer on demand means the written name of the insurance company and the policy number. You can write this on your vehicle's registration form in the space provided or write the information on a piece of paper and keep it with your driver's license. (Members insured by the AAA Inter-Insurance Bureau receive a printed notice they can use.)

The bill authorizes a court, for "good cause," to impound a vehicle driven by a person without proof of financial responsibility. Vehicles may not be stopped solely to determine if the driver is in compliance with this law.

Drunk drivers. AB 1985 (Speier, D-Burlingame), known as "Courtney's Law," deals with drunk drivers. The law is named for 15-year-old Courtney Cheney of Roseville who was killed by a hit-and-run driver. The driver later admitted to being drunk at the time of the accident and to at least four prior drunken driving convictions.

The new law provides that a person convicted of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and who has one or more prior convictions of vehicular manslaughter goes to state prison for 15 years to life.

Also under this bill anyone fleeing the scene of a crime after committing specified vehicle offenses which result in death, serious injury, or great bodily injury gets five years added to the prison sentence.

Double fine zones. The stretches of road where offenses cost double the fine they'd cost elsewhere are increased from three to five under SB 1367 (O'Connell, D-Carpenteria). The new zones are Route 46 between routes 41 and 101 near Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County and the Golden Gate Bridge between San Francisco and Marin.

Smog Check II. A "Gold Shield" program designed to address some consumer complaints over smog check regulations by allowing participating licensed private smog check stations to perform both smog testing and repairs, is created by AB 2515 (Bowler, R-Elk Grove). The bill also authorizes an increase in the number of sites available to motorists for Smog Check II tests and repeals a never-used provision of the Smog Check II program authorizing the impoundment of gross polluters.

Longer-term driver's license. Your driver's license will be good for five instead of four years when new or renewed under AB 2352 (Speier, D-Burlingame). The fee increases, too, from $12 to $15.

Speed limits. In 1995, Senator Quentin Kopp (I-San Francisco) authored legislation allowing California speed limits to increase after enactment of federal legislation permitting such increases.

In 1996, Senator Kopp authored SB 848, which kept speed limits on two-lane, undivided highways at 55 mph unless 60 or 65 mph is supported by an engineering and traffic survey. It also created a moratorium on the speed limit increase (from 55 to 65 mph) for multi-lane highways with more than two lanes (other than freeways) until January 1, 1997, to allow more time to conduct engineering and traffic surveys on those roads. The net result of this bill is that the speed limits on some multi-lane highways likely will increase.

Car rental ads. Existing law provides that a car rental company advertise, quote, and charge a rental rate that includes the entire amount, except taxes and a mileage charge, if any. The law does not define "taxes."

Under SB 1070 (Calderon, D-Whittier), "taxes" for these purposes is defined as sales and use taxes imposed directly on individual rental transactions, vehicle license fees, and local taxes on individual transactions. It also provides that where a rental company advertises or quotes a rental rate, it clearly discloses that taxes will be added and the average dollar amount or range of dollar amounts of vehicle license fees for each full or partial 24-hour rental day.

Free'r trade takes its toll. Caltrans is authorized to impose tolls on motorists using Route 7 in Imperial County under SB 1501 (Kopp, I-San Francisco and Kelley, R-Idyllwild). The revenue is intended to secure bonds and accelerate construction of road capacity enhancements on Route 7. The enhancements are needed to accommodate commercial truck traffic between Mexico and the U.S. generated as a result of NAFTA.

Wide loads. Manufactured homes up to 16 feet wide may be transported on California roads, provided certain conditions are met, under AB 420 (Weggeland, R-Riverside). The standard 12-foot lane is designed to accommodate vehicles that are 8 feet wide.

Graffiti. Fines and community service time for the crime of graffiti against the facilities or vehicles of a government entity are increased under AB 2433 (Harvey, R-Bakersfield). If violation occurs on or within a freeway or its appurtenances, the person committing it is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Tire disposal. Previously, a fee of 25 cents per tire was collected for disposal for tires left with a seller of new or used tires. Under AB 2108 (Mazzoni, D-Novato), that 25 cents is collected for every new tire purchased instead.

Driver's licenses for legal non-immigrants. Current law requires the DMV to have every applicant for an original driver's license or ID card submit proof that the applicant's presence in the U.S. is authorized under federal laws.

SB 1717 (Solis, D-El Monte) was sponsored by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California because it felt the DMV was using the wrong date in establishing a driver's license expiration date for those Japanese business people who had multiple entry visas which could be valid for up to five years as opposed to the date stamped on the Record of Entry form, which may be valid for a much shorter period of time.

Under the bill, the DMV must issue a 90-day temporary license for qualified applicants and extend it for an additional 120 days if unable to verify the applicant's authorized lawful presence. Once presence is verified, the bill requires the license to be extended for a period not over the authorized period of lawful presence in the U.S. It also requires establishing a procedure for receiving mail requests for extensions.


Drunk drivers: higher penalties. The third or subsequent conviction for a DUI offense committed within six years of two or more prior DUI convictions is a third degree felony rather than a misdemeanor under certain circumstances. The more serious penalties will be in effect if at least three prior convictions are for violations committed after April 23, 1990, or at least two prior convictions are for violations committed after July 1, 1996, under House Bill (HB) 3 (Bush, R-Clearfield).

Additionally, in a third degree felony conviction, if the court suspends a prison sentence, the fine is increased from not less than $1,000 to not less than $1,500, the mandatory jail sentence is increased from not less than 720 hours to not less than 1,000 hours, and the felon must be ordered to obtain treatment at an alcohol or drug dependency rehabilitation program.

Drunk Drivers: confiscation of plates. Under HB 58 (Bresnahan, R-West Jordan), if the registered owner of a vehicle is arrested for a DUI offense, license plates and registration materials of the owner's vehicle used in the DUI will be seized and sent to the Motor Vehicle Division. The Division then must revoke the registration, grant a temporary permit good for only 29 days, and give notice to the registered owner of the vehicle. Unless the person successfully appeals the driver's license suspension, the registration for the vehicle used in the DUI offense may not be issued for 120 days. In addition, under HB 58, the impound fee goes up from $25 to $100. Also, a court is allowed to impose combinations of jail and community service for DUI offenders.

Riding in trailers. Under HB 116 (Bowman, R-Cedar City), it is illegal to ride in a trailer or semi-trailer on a public highway or road. The law exempts livestock trailers and semi-trailers, and trailers or semi-trailers being used in an agricultural operation or a parade.

Freeway speeds: The double nickel is ancient history. HB 29 (Waddoups, R-Salt Lake City) prohibits a posted speed limit from exceeding 65 miles per hour except on limited access highways, which may not exceed 75 miles per hour. It allows the Utah Department of Transportation to determine safe speed limits on highways under their jurisdiction.

License plates: veterans and Olympics. Contributors of $25 or more to the Office of Veterans' Affairs can get a veterans license plate under HB 170 (Arrington, D-Ogden) (begins January 1, 1997). Under Senate Bill SB 58 (Howell, D-Sandy) the state can issue Olympic Games license plates from January 1, 1997 through June 30, 2002. To obtain an Olympic Games license plate, a donation of $22 is required, and proceeds (minus administrative costs) go to the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee's Olympic for Youth and Children account.

Photo radar. The use of photo radar is restricted to school zones and to areas with a posted speed limit of 30 mph or less under SB 8 (Rees, R-Salt Lake City). The bill also requires a photo radar citation to be accompanied by the photograph. Moving traffic violations obtained through the use of photo radar are not reportable violations, and points may not be assessed against a person's driving record.

Airbags. SB 141 (Mantes, D-Tooele) provides that motor vehicle repair persons who have actual knowledge that an airbag system has been damaged or deployed may not fail or cause another to fail to fully restore the airbag system to original operating condition. SB 141 also provides that a motor vehicle repair person may not remove or modify a passive restraint system with the intent of rendering the system inoperable. Violation of this law is considered to be a misdemeanor offense.

Driver's license suspension and child support. A court may suspend the driver's license of a parent who fails to comply with a child support order or a custodial parent who fails to comply with a child visitation order under HB 297 (Frandsen, R-South Jordan).

This article was first published in January 1997. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.