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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, beginning July 1, 2021, violating the hands-free law for a second time within 36 months of a prior conviction for the same offense will result in a point being added to the driver’s record. This will also apply to the violations of talking or texting while driving (except for hands-free use) and to any use of these devices while driving by a person under 18 years of age.

Other examples of distracted driving include:

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

You cannot drive safely unless the task of driving has your full attention. Any non-driving activity you engage in is a potential distraction and may increase your risk of getting into a crash. 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: 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. It exempts a person from civil or criminal liability for trespassing or damaging a vehicle when rescuing a child who is 6 years old or younger and who is in immediate danger from heat, cold, lack of ventilation, or other dangerous circumstances.

The steps that should be taken include:

  • Calling 911,
  • Ensuring the vehicle is locked and there is no other way to enter the car without forced entry, and
  • Having a “good faith belief” that rescuing the child is necessary due to imminent potential harm.

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

Also going into effect on the first day of the new year are the extensions to the provisions of “Move Over, Slow Down.” This law is currently in place on freeways, but will now be extended to also apply to local streets and roads so drivers approaching a stationary emergency vehicle displaying emergency lights, including tow trucks and Caltrans vehicles, must now move to another lane when possible, or slow to a reasonable speed on all highways, not just freeways.

Emergency Vehicles (SB 909, Dodd)

This new law allows authorized emergency vehicles to use a “Hi-Lo” warning sound. It already went into effect this year on September 29, 2020, but we’re mentioning it in case you missed it. This distinctive sound that’s different from a siren would be used to notify the public of an immediate need to evacuate an area in an emergency. The CHP is currently developing regulations to standardize the Hi-Lo warning sound statewide. But until the regulations are adopted, law enforcement agencies can use the Hi-Lo warning sound by obtaining a permit from the CHP.

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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