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Height Restrictions on Drivers Would Be Shortsighted

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dear Street Smart:

How often have we seen a car in front of us, usually a large car, that appears to be driverless? Upon passing, we look and see a tiny head, apparently viewing the road through the steering wheel. This has got to be dangerous. Are there any restrictions on the driver’s height?

Deane Bottorf

Corona del Mar

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None whatsoever, according to Sandra Houston, a spokeswoman for the California Highway Patrol. To get a license, an individual must take a driving test and demonstrate to the satisfaction of a Department of Motor Vehicles examiner that he or she can operate a vehicle safely. That generally includes being able to reach the floor pedals and see clearly over the steering wheel.

If a driver is disabled or too short to do that, Houston said, certain modifications can be made to a car including extended gas and brake pedals or booster seats to raise the level of the eyes. Once those drivers get licenses, however, they are treated just like anyone else unless they break the law. “To do otherwise would be discrimination,” Houston said, adding that she has never pulled anyone over for being too short.

Dear Street Smart:

One of my main complaints is about drivers who insist on reading books, newspapers or magazines or doing crossword puzzles while they are driving. Isn’t there any law against that? Usually these people drive in the center freeway lanes at 45 or 50 mph and obstruct traffic. Last night, I was passed in the diamond lane on the southbound San Diego Freeway in Huntington Beach by a solo driver who was reading a book with his car’s interior lights on. An accident waiting to happen. Can’t we put a stop to such arrogance?

Hans J. Witten

Huntington Beach

Nowhere does the California Vehicle Code prohibit reading while driving. It does, however, contain something called the Basic Speed Law, which forbids drivers from traveling at a speed “greater than is reasonable or prudent” given existing conditions.

What is a safe speed for reading?

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“Obviously zero,” Houston said. She once ticketed someone on the Harbor Freeway for reading the Los Angeles Times.

Dear Street Smart:

If a police officer stops a driver without a license, what happens to the driver and his vehicle?

Frank Kuwata

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Anaheim

Nothing much if the driver simply left his license at home. “That’s human nature--an honest mistake,” Houston said. The driver would be given a warning and a citation requiring him to show proof in court of his license. Like a citation for a broken headlight, it does not go on the driver’s record if it is resolved.

If the driver is not licensed at all, Houston said, that is far more serious: The car is immediately impounded for 30 days and the driver charged with a misdemeanor and stiffly fined after being given a ride home (or to a safe place) by the citing officers.

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Reader Patrick Hayes, 64, of Dana Point had an enlightening response to a recent column about the widespread urban myth that driving barefoot in California is illegal. While conceding that there are no laws prohibiting the practice, he pointed out the historical roots of the myth.

It stems, he writes, from a time, 50 or more years ago, when cars didn’t have automatic transmissions, power brakes or power steering.

“Brute force could be required to control a car before the modern era, exerted by foot as well as by arm,” Hayes asserts. “Clutches were stiff, as was the unassisted drum-brake pedal. Both were hard on bare feet at the best of times, and no one facing the sudden need to bring two or three tons of unresponsive automobile to a quick stop wanted the additional handicap imposed by unshod feet.”

It’s easy to understand, he concludes, why any admonition against bare feet could sound like urban myth to “someone familiar only with the quick response and feather touch of cars today.” But there was a time, he says, “not all that long ago when there was good reason for having shoes on when driving, law or no law.”

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Street Smart appears Mondays in The Times Orange County Edition. Readers are invited to submit comments and questions about traffic, commuting and what makes it difficult to get around in Orange County. Include simple sketches if helpful. Letters may be published in upcoming columns. Please write to David Haldane, c/o Street Smart, The Times Orange County Edition, P.O. Box 2008, Costa Mesa, CA 92626, send faxes to (714) 966-7711 or e-mail him at David.Haldane@latimes.com. Include your full name, address , and day and evening phone numbers. Letters may be edited, and no anonymous letters will be accepted.


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