Now that the New Year has begun, several new laws or changes to existing motor safety laws have come into effect; the biggest concerning recreational cannabis use while driving.

Cannabis use in vehicles (Senate Bill 65): This law prohibits smoking or ingesting marijuana or marijuana products while driving or riding as a passenger in a vehicle. The law is consistent with the law prohibiting the consumption of alcohol in a motor vehicle.

Officer John Tyler with the Hanford area CHP said many people assume that DUIs are only issued for people driving under the influence of alcohol, but in fact, they pertain to any substance that alters mood or feelings.

The DMV released a statement that said it will assign negligent operator point counts on driving records for this violation.

Administration of cannabis laws in California (SB 94): Among the many provisions that this bill establishes is an appropriation of $3 million for the CHP to train state and local law enforcement officers in drug recognition and impairment.

An Impaired Driving Task Force, led by the CHP Commissioner, was created to develop recommendations regarding the best practices, protocols, legislation and policies to address driving under the influence of cannabis and controlled substances.

Tyler said all officers are trained to detect impairment of any kind in drivers, including from alcohol, cannabis, controlled substances and prescription pills.

Unlike alcohol, for which there is a measurable level above which a person is considered to be under the influence, there is no defined legal measurement for cannabis. Because there is no measurable limit, Tyler said it will be up to the officers’ discretion to determine if a person is driving under the influence of cannabis.

“You don’t want to put yourself in that position,” Tyler said.

Law enforcement anticipates an increase in DUIs resulting from the legalization of recreational cannabis, and although Tyler said he hopes people will make the right choices, he knows some people won’t.

Tyler said he encourages anyone who is partaking in recreational cannabis to be responsible by having a plan for a sober driver, or using taxis or ridesharing services like Uber or Lyft.

SB 94 also prohibits the possession of an open container of cannabis or cannabis product when operating a motor vehicle.

Just like with alcohol, Tyler said cannabis is to be in a sealed container or in the trunk of a car if it is being transported from one place to another.

Other new motorist laws not pertaining to cannabis include:

Pedestrian crossing signals (Assembly Bill 390): This bill permits a pedestrian to begin crossing an intersection while facing a traffic signal displaying a flashing “DON’T WALK” or “Upraised Hand” symbol if the traffic signal includes a countdown timer and the pedestrian can complete the crossing before the traffic signal phases to a steady “DON’T WALK” or “Upraised Hand.”

The intent of this law is to provide clear standards for pedestrian behavior at intersections controlled by traffic control signals and countdown timers. Tyler said some pedestrians would get confused and think that they can’t cross when the sign is flashing.

Tyler said to think of the flashing sign as sort of a yellow light, meaning you have time to cross, but be very cautious. He also advised that pedestrians stay off their phones when crossing in order to always be aware of their surroundings.

Parking violations for registration or driver license renewal (AB 503): This law makes changes to a previous requirement where vehicle registration renewal and driver license issuance or renewal was not granted for having unpaid parking tickets.

The law creates a process for low-income residents with outstanding parking violations to repay their fines prior to the parking violation being reported to the DMV and also allows someone with outstanding parking penalties and fees to obtain or renew a driver license.

In addition, the law allows the registered owner of a vehicle to file for “planned non-operation” status when unpaid parking penalties are on the vehicle’s record

Motorcycle training courses (AB 1027): This law authorizes the DMV to accept a certificate of satisfactory completion of any motorcyclist-training program approved by the CHP in lieu of the previously required motorcycle skills test.

However, applicants for an original motorcycle license or motorcycle endorsement who are under the age of 21 will still be required to complete a novice motorcyclist-training program.

Road maintenance and rehabilitation program (SB 1): The DMV is now required to begin collecting a Transportation Improvement Fee (TIF) ranging from $25 - $175 at the time of vehicle registration or renewal. The TIF is based on the vehicle’s current market value.

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The reporter can be reached at 583-2423 or jzavala@hanfordsentinel.com

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