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New California Traffic Safety Laws Taking Effect in 2021

New California Traffic Safety Laws Taking Effect in 2021

As we close one of the toughest years in modern history for our country, a new one emerges with its set of changes — including laws. Per a press release issued in late December, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) highlighted some new roadway safety laws that take effect in the state in 2021.

The new laws range from license points for repeat distracted driving infractions and liability exemptions for rescuing unattended children from motor vehicles.

License Points for Distracted Driving (AB 47, Daly; 2019)

Distracted driving means driving when you don’t have your complete focus on the road and can encompass seemingly harmless behaviors that become dangerous if done while driving. Take for example using a cell phone in a handheld manner, which is currently punishable by a fine.

However, starting July 1, 2021, breaching the hands-free law twice within 36 months of a previous conviction for a similar offense will get you a point added to your driving record. This also applies to those who talk or text on their phone while driving, except for hands-free use, and towards drivers who are younger than 18 years old that are using devices while driving.

Other examples of distracted driving include:

  • Smoking-related activities
  • Eating or drinking
  • Looking at something outside of the car
  • Looking at other passengers in the car
  • Daydreaming

You are not capable of driving safely unless you are putting your full attention on the road. Any activity you engage in that makes you lose focus of the road will increase your chances of getting into an accident. On average, it takes about five seconds to send or read a text. That’s five seconds during which your eyes are not focused on the road. If you’re driving on the freeway at the very reasonable speed of 55 mph, that’s comparable to closing your eyes while driving across the entire length of a football field.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2,841 lives in 2018 alone were claimed because of distracted driving. Among those killed were 1,730 drivers, 605 passengers, 400 pedestrians, and 77 bicyclists. Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that, on average, 9 people are killed every day in the United States because of a distracted driver. More than 1,000 people are injured yearly in car accidents involving a distracted driver.

Current cell phone laws already impact violators in a dramatic way. In California, even a single ticket may affect insurance rates. Following a citation for illegal phone use will result in premiums increasing an average of 45 percent.

Unattended Children in Motor Vehicles (AB 2717, Chau)

Unlike the previous law, this one takes effect on January 1, 2021. An individual will not be found guilty of civil or criminal liability for trespassing or damaging a vehicle if they are trying to rescue a child who is 6 years old or younger from danger.

Those who are found in this circumstance must:

  • Call 911.
  • Make sure the vehicle is locked.
  • Check to see if there are other ways to open the car without having to damage it.
  • Have a “good faith belief” that saving the child is required to protect them from danger.

“Move Over, Slow Down” Amendments (AB 2285, Transportation Committee)

Also going into effect on the first day of 2021 are the extensions to the provisions of “Move Over, Slow Down.” Back then, this law only applied to freeways, but is now extended to local streets and roads. Drivers must move to a different lane, when possible, or slow down when they notice a stationary emergency vehicle displaying emergency lights.

Emergency Vehicles (SB 909, Dodd)

This law, which became effective on September 29, 2020, permits authorized emergency vehicles to use a “Hi-Lo” warning sound. Its distinctive sound is used to advise the public to evacuate immediately. As of now, the CHP is creating rules and regulations to standardize the Hi-Lo warning sound statewide. However, until these regulations are accepted, law enforcement agencies must acquire a permit from the CHP to use this sound.

To help first responders prepare for natural disasters and other large-scale emergencies, the legislation took effect the same day it was approved by Governor Gavin Newsom.


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