The rules of the road are changing again in California.
Starting this week, several new laws aimed at improving safety, protecting children and defending the interests of consumers are taking effect.
Unless otherwise noted, the bills go into effect on Jan. 1.
Assembly Bill (AB) 808, authored by Assemblywoman Nicole Parra, D-Hanford, requires applicants for a driver's license or license renewal to sign a declaration that states if they drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs and someone is killed as a result, they can be charged with murder. It gives a prosecutor the option to charge a first-time offender with second degree murder in a fatal DUI case.
Senate Bill (SB) 67, authored by State Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, broadens vehicle-impound laws to allow law enforcement to seize a vehicle when arresting a driver for reckless driving, reckless driving in an off-street parking area or exhibition of speed.
The bill is aimed at cracking down on illegal "sideshows," in which large groups of young people gather on city streets late at night on weekends to watch drivers engage in stunts such as speeding and spinning contests.
It re-enacts provisions of a 2002 bill that expired at the beginning of 2007 because Oakland officials failed to document the law's success before its five-year sunset provision took effect.
SB 33, authored by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from using a cell phone, hand-held or hands-free, or any other mobile service device, such as a BlackBerry, while driving. The bill doesn't go into effect until July 1.
Beginning at the same time, under SB 1613, which was also authored by Sen. Simitian, drivers 18 or older must use a hands-free device if they are using a cell phone while driving.
AB 645, authored by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, prohibits courts from allowing persons charged with driving under the influence or with a hit-and-run from attending traffic school. AAA of Northern California, which supported the legislation, said that attendance at traffic school for those offenses results in masking a ticket that would otherwise add two recordable points to the person's driving record.
AB 801, authored by Assemblywoman Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel, prohibits the use of a device that would impair the recognition of a license plate by an electronic-enforcement device such as a red-light camera or those at toll-bridge booths.
SB 7, authored by Sen. Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, makes it illegal to smoke cigarettes, a cigar or a pipe in a motor vehicle where a minor is present. Violators can receive a fine of up to $100 per person.
AB 118, authored by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, increases the annual vehicle-registration fee and the smog-impact fee in order to provide revenue for research and development of alternative fuels. Consumers can expect to pay from $3 to $11 more when registering their vehicles. This law is in effect from July 2008 through 2016.
Additional laws address the physical inspection of hazardous-material commercial vehicle terminals, creation of a San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority, research and development of alternative fuels, placement of traffic signals that detect motorcycles and bicycles at intersections, and a study of the effects of fuel temperature on consumers.