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As of Jan. 1, Motorists Better Get This Message: No Texting While Driving

New state laws for 2009 target vehicle safety, drunken driving, 9-1-1 misuse, elder abuse and even restaurant menus.

California's new no-texting-while-driving law is bound to frustrate thousands of text-happy motorists. The rule prohibits drivers from reading, writing or sending text messages from behind the wheel.
California’s new no-texting-while-driving law is bound to frustrate thousands of text-happy motorists. The rule prohibits drivers from reading, writing or sending text messages from behind the wheel. (Sonia Fernandez / Noozhawk photo)

Californians will ring in the new year Thursday with a number of new laws, including a ban on text messaging while driving, additional punishment of drunken drivers and protection against elder abuse.

Many of the new rules will give motorists something to think about before they get behind the wheel in 2009. According to the California Highway Patrol, the list includes:

No Text Messaging While Driving Writing, sending or reading text-based communication — including e-mail, and text and instant messaging — on a cell phone or other electronic device while driving will be against the law. Previously this was only illegal for individuals under age 18, but now has been expanded to all drivers. Violation is punishable by a base fine of $20 for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense. Additional penalty assessments can more than triple the base fine amount.

Zero Tolerance for Driving Under the Influence Any person on probation for a DUI convection cannot drive with a blood-alcohol level of .01 percent. Violation can include a citation, seizure of driver license, suspension of driving privileges and vehicle impoundment.

Ignition Interlock Devices Convicted first-time DUI offenders with a blood-alcohol level of .15 percent or higher at the time of arrest will face the possibility of a court-imposed installation of an ignition interlock device. The previous level was .20 percent. In July, authority for the administration of mandatory ignition interlock programs will be transferred to the DMV from the courts. Motorists convicted of driving with a suspended license as a result of a prior DUI conviction must install such devices.

Alcohol-Related Reckless Driving A motorist convicted of alcohol-related reckless driving must participate in a licensed DUI program for at least nine months, if that person has a prior conviction for alcohol-related reckless driving or DUI within 10 years. The court also is required to revoke probation for the failure to enroll in, participate in, or complete a licensed DUI program.

Global Positioning Systems A new law allows a portable GPS device to be mounted in a 7-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield on the passenger side of a vehicle, or in a 5-inch square in the lower corner of a driver’s side windshield. These are the only two windshield locations where such a device can be mounted.

Definition of a Motorcycle This new law deletes the existing weight limitation of 1,500 pounds; removes a separate definition for electrically powered vehicles; and will allow fully enclosed, three-wheeled motor vehicles to use carpool lanes regardless of occupancy.

Counterfeit Clean Air Stickers It will be a crime to forge Clean Air Stickers, which are issued to low-emission vehicles and allow them to be driven in carpool lanes.

Temporary Operating Permits The DMV will restrict permits to allow more time to obtain a smog certificate.

Special-Interest License Plates Gold Star Family special-interest license plates will be available to family members who have had family killed in the line of duty while serving in the armed forces during wartime or military operations.

Studded Pneumatic Tires With some restrictions, pneumatic tires with retractable metal-type studs will be allowed year round, as long as the studs are retracted between May 1 and Oct. 31.

Cargo Load Spills Restrictions will be eased for cargo loads of hay or straw to allow individual pieces that do not pose a threat to life or property to shed from bales during transport, so long as the bales are loaded and secured according to federal regulations.

Assault on Highway Workers Penalties will be increased for assault and battery crimes committed against Caltrans workers engaged in the performance of their duties.

“The overall safety of the motoring public is our primary concern,” CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow said in announcing the new motor-vehicle laws. “Not only will these new laws enhance a motorist’s safety, many of them are a step toward ridding the roadways of drunken drivers and the tragedy they cause.”

The new laws are not confined to the roadways, however, and include:

9-1-1 Telephone System Abuse Penalties will be increased for any person who knowingly uses, or allows the use of, the 9-1-1 telephone system for any reason other than an emergency. Infractions are subject to a written warning or a fine.

Nutritional Information for Chain Restaurants Requires chain restaurants with more than 20 or more facilities within California to post nutritional information.

Elder Abuse Theft from elderly residents at convalescent homes must be reported to the District Attorney’s Office.

Family and Medical Leave Act Families with members who are active in the military are eligible up to 12 weeks of leave if they meet “qualifying exigencies: short-notice deployment, attendance at official military events or activities, arranging or providing child care, attending school or day-care meetings, handling financial and legal matters, and rest and recuperation visits when the soldier is on leave.”

Temporary Employees Employees of temporary services employers shall be paid weekly or daily if they work less than 90 days.

Minimum Pay for Exempt Computer Professionals The hourly rate for computer professionals is increased to $37.94 from $36.

Exemption for Physicians Paid on Hourly Basis A licensed physician or surgeon who is primarily engaged in performing duties for which licensing is required is exempt from overtime if he or she is paid at least the state’s minimum hourly rate of $69.13. This exemption does not apply to employees in medical internships or resident programs, physician employees covered by collective-bargaining agreements or veterinarians.

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