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Laws that Young Drivers Should Know
Smoke-free cars and kids: It is now illegal to smoke inside a car if any of
the car’s occupants are under 18. A violation carries a $100 fine. In 2008, California became one of the first states to pass such a law. Studies indicate that secondhand smoke accumulates quickly inside cars (even with the win‐ dows cracked open) and poses a health threat to children in particular. (HSC §§ 118947 et seq.)
Reckless driving: California law prohibits driving a vehicle on a highway or in an off‐street parking facility in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others or property. It also provides for more severe punishment for reck‐ less drivers who cause others to be injured, including the revocation of the driver’s driving privilege after the third conviction in 12 months. (VC §§ 13351(a)(2), 23103-23105)
Speed contests: Speed contests are against the law. A judge can suspend or restrict a first-time offender’s driver’s license for up to six months, impound the vehicle for 30 days, as well as impose fines and community service. If some‐ one other than the driver is injured, the driver could face even stiffer penalties. (VC §§ 23109, 23109.1, 23109.2)
Passengers in the trunk: Riding in the trunk of a car is illegal. In recent years, dozens of teens have been hurt and, in some cases, killed while riding in car trunks. If a driver allows someone to ride in the trunk, he or she has broken the law as well. (VC § 21712)
Cell phones and driving: It is against the law to use a cell phone while driv‐ ing unless you are at least 18 and your cell phone is set up for hands‐free use, or you are making an emergency call (to law enforcement, for exam‐ ple). Drivers under age 18 are prohibited from talking on cell phones, “tex‐ ting” messages or using any mobile communications device while driving— except to place an emergency call. It is illegal for anyone to drive while using an “electronic wireless communications device” to text or write, send or read any other type of “text-based communications” unless the device is hands‐free and voice operated. (VC §§ 23123, 23124)
Littering and throwing objects at or from a vehicle: California law makes it
a misdemeanor to throw anything at or from a moving vehicle. The law also prohibits littering or throwing lighted cigarettes from a motor vehicle; the penalties range from a $100 fine to a $1,000 fine and probation. The offender would be ordered to pick up litter or clean up graffiti. (VC §§ 23110-12, 42001.7)
Unlicensed minors and the purchase of vehicles: A minor who does not possess a valid driver’s license may not purchase or lease a car. The law also prohibits a minor from using a false driver’s license to purchase or lease a vehicle. (VC §§ 15500-15501)
Hit and run: In California, you must stop after any accident in which someone is injured or someone else’s property is damaged. You also must exchange names, addresses, driver’s license numbers, vehicle license numbers and other relevant information. If someone dies in the collision, the accident must be reported to the California Highway Patrol (CHP) or a police officer immedi‐ ately. When only property damage is involved, failing to report such damage or otherwise notify the property owner is a misdemeanor. If someone is injured or killed and you fail to stop and/or report it, the potential penalties are much greater. (VC §§ 20001-04)
Driving without a license: In California, it is a misdemeanor to drive with‐ out a valid driver’s license or permit. Also, the law requires drivers
to have their licenses in their possession while driving. Driving with a suspended or revoked license is a misdemeanor that could lead to a fine of up to $1,000 for a first conviction of certain offenses. In addition, the unli‐ censed driver’s car (even if it is a borrowed vehicle) can be impounded for up to six months. (VC §§ 14601 et seq., 23592)
Seat belts/child passenger restraints: The driver and all passengers must be properly restrained by a safety belt—or it is illegal to drive the vehicle. (VC § 27315) Violators can be fined. In addition, children must be secured in federally approved safety seats until they turn 8 or are 4 feet, 9 inches tall. Children also must sit in a back seat unless there is no such seat or all rear seats are already occupied by children under 12. (VC §§ 27360-27360.5) For more safety information, go to nhtsa.gov or call the Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236.
Unattended passengers: Children ages 6 and under cannot be left alone in a car if the keys are still in the ignition or if any other conditions could put them at significant risk. Someone age 12 or older must stay behind to supervise them. (VC § 15620) Nor is it legal in California to leave an animal in a parked car if the conditions—heat, cold or lack of ventilation, for example—could cause the animal to suffer or die. (PC § 597.7)
Wearing headsets or ear plugs: Headsets or ear plugs in both ears cannot be worn while driving a motor vehicle or operating a bicycle. (VC § 27400)