North Bay drivers who hold or operate their cellphones to snap photos, check email, navigate routes or for almost any other purpose risk being cited under a new law that goes into effect Sunday.
Under current rules, California drivers can cradle their cellphones to snap selfies, surf music playlists or for any other activity other than for texting or making phone calls and still be within the law.
That changes under the new restrictions, which prohibit drivers from “holding and operating” cellphones for any reason, except for functions that require only “the motion of a single swipe or tap of the driver’s finger,” and only if the devices are mounted on the windshield or dashboard of the vehicle.
“If you can get through the drive without using your phone that’s ideal,” CHP Officer Jon Sloat said.
The expanded cellphone restrictions are the most far-reaching of several new changes in traffic laws taking effect Sunday. Other changes deal with car seats and lane splitting.
Under the new cellphone rules, California drivers are still permitted to hold their phones to make emergency calls. Drivers who mount their phones must do so in a spot where it does not interfere with their view of the road, Sloat said.
He said drivers using headphones must refrain from putting ear buds in both ears in order to be able to hear traffic sounds, including emergency vehicles.
It’s been a decade since California enacted a law restricting drivers from making calls without the aid of a hands-free device. In 2008, a ban on texting or reading messages while driving was added.
The restrictions are aimed at lowering traffic injuries and fatalities resulting from distracted driving. In California last year, 16 drivers were killed in collisions involving inattention and a hand-held cellphone. More than 500 drivers were injured in crashes involving similar factors.
In 2015, the CHP issued 78,000 citations for using a cellphone while driving and more than 13,000 citations for writing, sending or reading text messages.
Financial penalties vary depending on where the infraction occurs. In Santa Rosa, the current fine for using a cellphone while driving is $162, once fees are factored in.
Another traffic law change taking effect Sunday requires children to ride in rear-facing seats until they turn 2 years of age, or weigh 40 pounds or stand 40 inches tall. Under current law, children are required to ride in rear-facing seats only for the first year, or until they weigh 20 pounds.
Sloat said many parents already default to keeping their children in rear-facing seats past a year.
“It’s been a recommendation for years,” he said.
Lane splitting, in which a motorcyclist passes other vehicles by riding between them along the lane line, remains legal in California after Sunday. But under the new law, the state becomes the first in the nation to formalize the practice by establishing guidelines for motorcyclists on how to do it safely.
You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @deadlinederek.
New laws taking effect on Jan. 1, 2017
Use of Electronic Wireless Devices (AB 1785, Quirk): Driving a motor vehicle while holding and operating a handheld wireless telephone or a wireless electronic communications device will be prohibited, unless the device is mounted on a vehicle’s windshield or is mounted/affixed to a vehicle’s dashboard or center console in a manner that does not hinder the driver’s view of the road. The driver’s hand may only be used to activate or deactivate a feature or function on the device with the motion of a single swipe or tap of the driver’s finger, but not while holding it. The law does not apply to manufacturer-installed systems that are embedded in a vehicle.
Child Safety Seats (AB 53, Garcia): This law requires a parent, legal guardian, or the driver of a motor vehicle to properly secure a child who is younger than 2 years of age in an appropriate rear-facing child passenger restraint system, unless the child weighs 40 or more pounds or is 40 or more inches in height (3 feet, 3 inches).
Motorcycle Lane Splitting (AB 51, Quirk): This law defines “lane splitting” as driving a two-wheeled motorcycle between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane. The law authorizes the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to develop educational guidelines relating to lane splitting in a manner that would ensure the safety of motorcyclists, drivers, and passengers. In developing these guidelines, the law requires the CHP to consult with specified agencies and organizations that have an interest in road safety and motorcyclist behavior.
Information from State of California Department of Motor Vehicles. To see all transportation-related laws taking effect Jan. 1, 2017, click here.