Throughout the new year, several new laws affecting California drivers will take effect -- some as soon as on New Year's Day.
One law on Jan. 1 will expand the scope of prohibited electronic wireless devices for teen drivers in order to reduce driver distractions. The law -- which will amend Section 23124 of the California Vehicle Code -- prohibits drivers under 18 years of age from using wireless phones or any “electronic wireless communications device,” while driving, even if it is hands-free.
Traffic Officer Dave Chapman of the Eureka Police Department said he supports the new law, as he deals with multiple accidents and collisions caused by distracted teen drivers every month.
”I was once a teenager, and I remember getting sidetracked easily,” Chapman said. “They haven't been driving too long, so there's that learning curve there.”
Under the new law, electronic wireless communications devices include broadband personal communication devices, specialized mobile radio devices, handheld devices or laptop computers with mobile data access, pagers and two-way messaging devices, according to the California Legislative Information website.
Though adult drivers are still allowed to use hands-free mobile devices under a separate, but similar vehicle code, Chapman said even they do not always follow the law.
”I just went to get some gas and then back to headquarters (on Thursday), and I saw two cell phone violations during that short amount of time,” Chapman said. “I see quite a few people not using their hands-free devices.”
The presence of distracted and unaware drivers may have also influenced the creation of the Three Feet for Safety Act, which aims to protect bicyclists on the road.
Under this act, drivers who are passing a bicyclist traveling the same direction on the road must keep at least a 3-foot distance between the bicyclist and any part of the vehicle. If a 3-foot distance is not possible, then the driver must slow down and can only pass when there is no danger to the bicyclist. The law is set to take effect on Sept. 16, according to a press release from the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Rick Knapp, a Eureka resident and President of the Humboldt Bay Bicycle Commuters Association, said he has been waiting for a law like the Three Feet for Safety Act to pass for several years.
”Hopefully the law will help, because it generally takes an awfully long time for people to recognize it,” Knapp said. “There is a lot needed in terms of educating people.”
Though he said he enjoys biking through Eureka, Knapp said the city is not the safest place for bicycling commuters. In a 2010 statewide traffic collisions report by the California Office of Traffic Safety, Eureka was ranked ninth out of 93 similarly-sized California cities for total bicycle collisions
”That's a very sad situation, and it happens to be in the city I live in,” Knapp said. “It would be nice if people showed a little patience.”
Chapman said that the majority of drivers he sees in Eureka are “courteous” of bicyclists on the road, but said he cannot ignore the statistics.
”Ninth isn't the greatest position at all,” he said. “I wish we could be dead last.”
As a regular bicycling commuter, Knapp said he takes all the necessary precautions to make sure he is seen by drivers and is aware of what is around him. However, he said all the blame cannot be placed on drivers.
”It's important to recognize the role of both the motorist and the bicyclist in providing safety on the road,” Knapp said. “Cyclists need to make themselves visible, ride defensively and know what's coming up on them. Motorists should give enough space.”
Chapman said that the majority of bicyclist collisions is due to bicyclists not being seen by drivers.
”I encourage bicyclists to wear something that makes them visible,” he said.
For those who plan on giving a vehicle to a friend or relative next year, another new law taking effect on Jan. 1 will prohibit the transfer of ownership if the current owner has any outstanding parking or toll-violation fines. To gain ownership of the vehicle, the person receiving the vehicle must pay off those fines, according to the DMV press release.
For more information on other laws that will take effect next year, Chapman said to visit www.dmv.ca.gov.
Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Will_S_Houston