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2018 California Driving Laws Changes

Published on Mon, Jan 1, 2018

By: Reed Berry

As each year begins, there are new laws and changes that apply to California drivers.

Photo by CHP Southern Division
Photo by CHP Southern Division

In 2018, however, we are faced with a very controversial change that is a definite hot-button issue for many drivers because it will suck some serious cash right out of our pockets. Senate Bill 1, also referred to by many as the “Gas & Car Tax,” was signed into law on April 28, 2017, and is designed to raise $52 billion over 10 years for road repairs and transportation issues.

Not only has SB-1 raised gas prices by 12 cents per gallon and diesel fuel by 20 cents per gallon by increasing the excise tax on each (that took effect in November 2017) but it will also raise vehicle registration renewal fees significantly as of January 1, 2018 by including a “Transportation Improvement Fee” based on the value of your vehicle. Polls indicate that the majority of Californians are opposed to the massive increases and, fortunately, efforts are already underway to get the issue on the ballot in 2018 for possible repeal.

And for those of you that may plan on “going green” in the herbal sense – recreational marijuana use may be legal in California as of January 1st but driving under the influence of it, or using it in a vehicle, is not. Being impaired behind the wheel isn’t limited to alcohol. DUI stands for Driving Under the Influence, and that can mean under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or other drugs – even prescription medications if they impair your ability to operate a vehicle safely.

Here is our annual summary of new California driving laws and changes. All take effect on January 1st unless otherwise noted. Read, obey, enjoy!

Road Maintenance and Rehabilitation Program

Open up those wallets, folks. It’s time for another political cash grab. Beginning January 1, 2018, the DMV will begin collecting a Transportation Improvement Fee at the time of vehicle registration or renewal. The fee will range from $25 to $175 based on the vehicle’s current value. The ranges are as follows:

Between $0 and $4,999 $25
Between $5,000 and $24,999 $50
Between $25,000 and $34,999 $100
Between $35,000 and $59,999 $150
$60,000 and higher $175

Your registration renewal in 2018 will include this fee. Also, as of July 1, 2020, the DMV will begin collecting a “Road Improvement Fee” for zero-emission vehicles model year 2020 and later.

Cannabis Use in Vehicles

Sorry pot users, new law prohibits smoking or ingesting marijuana products while driving or riding as a passenger in a vehicle. The DMV will assign negligent operator point counts for this violation. This is similar in nature to the law prohibiting the consumption of alcohol in a vehicle. The Driver Handbook and Motorcycle Handbook will both be revised to include information on marijuana violations. As many freeway warning signs already state: “Drive High, Get a DUI.”

Pedestrian Crossing Signals

I have seen people doing it for years anyway, but now it’s legal! At any intersection equipped with a traffic signal and countdown timer, a pedestrian may begin crossing on a flashing DON’T WALK or HAND symbol if they can tell by the countdown timer that they will be able to finish crossing before the signal changes to a steady DON’T WALK or HAND symbol.

Seat Belts on Buses

Effective July 1, 2018, the driver and passengers on any tour bus must be properly restrained by seat belts if the bus is equipped with them. Passengers are allowed to move around the bus to use the facilities. The operator of the bus must make sure the seat belts are in good working order and must also inform passengers of the law requiring them to wear seat belts. This law also prohibits a parent, legal guardian, or chartering party to transport on a bus, or permit to be transported on a bus, a child who is at least 8 years of age but under 16 years of age, unless they are properly restrained by a safety belt or an appropriate child passenger restraint system that meets federal safety standards. City transit buses and school buses are excluded from this particular law, although newer school buses (2004/2005 and later) in California are equipped with seat belts for the safety of children.

DUI – Ride Share Drivers

This should give you a greater comfort level when you request a ride through Uber or Lyft. Effective July 1, 2018, it is unlawful for a person to operate a motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.04 or above when a “passenger for hire” is in the vehicle at the time of the offense. The DMV will suspend the driver’s license if a conviction results, and commercial driver license holders will receive a disqualification. Fortunately for those of us who avail ourselves of such services, ride share drivers will now be held to a higher standard.

Private Carriers of Passengers

This makes perfect sense and, frankly, I’m surprised it wasn’t done sooner. Beginning July 1, 2018, this law transfers regulatory authority over private carriers of passengers (such as church and youth buses) from the California Public Utilities Commission to the DMV. Seems like a better fit than having passenger buses regulated by the same agency that handles your natural gas and electric service.

Motorcycle Training Courses

This law authorizes the DMV to accept a certificate of satisfactory completion of any motorcyclist-training program approved by the California Highway Patrol in lieu of the required motorcycle skills test. Applicants for an original motorcycle license or motorcycle endorsement under 21 years of age continue to be required to complete a novice motorcyclist-training program.

Firefighter License Plate Program for Surviving Family Member

Family members will now be able to honor the memory of a loved one that served as a firefighter. New law allows a surviving spouse, domestic partner, or child of a deceased firefighter or deceased retired firefighter to independently apply for and receive a California Firefighter Special License Plate for their vehicle.

Disabled Person Parking Placards and Plates

The law will now require applicants for a Disabled Person Parking Placard and Disabled Person License Plate to provide proof of true full name and birth date. The law also will limit the number of replacement disabled person parking placards an applicant can request without obtaining a medical certification to four in two years. It also requires the DMV to establish a renewal process that requires applicants to return a renewal notice by mail every six years. Currently, all permanent disabled placards expire in June 2019 and they are automatically renewed every two years. The placards expiring in June 2023 will be the first batch of placards subject to renewal. Applicants will not be required to obtain a medical certification as part of the renewal process.

HOV Decal Program

Beginning January 1, 2019, new law creates a new decal program to allow certain low emission vehicles to access high-occupancy vehicle (carpool) lanes, regardless of how many people are in the vehicle, for a four-year period. Access to high-occupancy vehicle lanes for vehicles with green and white decals will expire January 1, 2019. Vehicles issued a green or white decal in 2017 or 2018 will be eligible to reapply for a decal in 2019 granting them access to high–occupancy toll lanes until January 1, 2022.

Parking Violations for Registration or Driver License Renewal

I’m not a big fan of this as it seems to reward irresponsible drivers that receive and fail to pay parking tickets, but new law makes changes to a requirement under which vehicle registration renewal and driver license issuance or renewal is not granted for having unpaid parking penalties and fees. The law creates a process for low-income Californians with outstanding parking violations to repay their fines and penalties prior to the parking violation being reported to the DMV. The law also allows the registered owner of a vehicle to file for Planned Non-Operation status when unpaid parking penalties are on the vehicle’s record. It also allows for someone with outstanding parking penalties and fees, to obtain or renew a driver license.

REAL ID Driver Licenses

Although federal enforcement doesn’t begin until October 1, 2020, the California DMV will start offering the option to apply for a federal compliant REAL ID driver license or ID card beginning January 22, 2018 so, hey, why not be the first on your block to have one? The federal REAL ID Act of 2005 was passed by Congress in response to the events of 9/11. Under the REAL ID Act, all states must meet requirements set by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for its driver licenses and identification cards to be accepted for federal purposes, such as boarding a domestic flight or visiting a military base or certain federal facilities, by October 1, 2020.

The federal compliant REAL ID driver license or ID card is optional. A valid US Passport or US Passport Card, military ID, or other federally approved identification can be used to board a domestic flight or enter certain federal facilities. If a customer has another federally approved identification, does not fly, or does not plan to visit a military base or certain federal facilities, they do not need a REAL ID and will have the option to apply for a federal non-compliant driver license or ID card.
Valid California driver licenses and ID cards will continue to be accepted by TSA to board a domestic flight and by federal agents to enter certain federal facilities until October 1, 2020. After that date, a REAL ID or other federally accepted ID will be required. A REAL ID is NOT needed to drive, vote, apply for or receive federal benefits, enter a federal facility that doesn’t require ID (such as a post office) or visit a hospital.

For additional info on California law:

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