New laws restrict drivers in '09

GLENDALE — California residents will have to adhere to several new laws starting Jan. 1 that would change some motorists' habits on the road and place stricter punishments on repeat drunk driving offenders.

Motorists will be forbidden effective Jan. 1 to write, send or read text messages and e-mails on electronic wireless communication devices, such as cellphones and laptop computers, while driving on the road.

First-time violators will receive a fine of at least $20 for texting while driving and subsequent violations will be at least $50, said Fran Clader, a California Highway Patrol spokeswoman.

But a motorist's driving record will not be penalized, she said.

“People who aren't paying attention to the road are typically the ones that get into crashes,” she said.

Before the law was enacted, writing, sending or reading text messages was only illegal for motorists under 17, but the new law will affect all drivers, said Jan Mendoza, a Department of Motor Vehicles spokeswoman.

“I think everybody pretty much knows that they have to put their cellphones down and put their two hands on the wheel,” she said.

The law follows other legislation that became effective July 1 and banned the use of hand-held cellphones while driving.

Lawmakers did not include a ban on texting while driving when they wrote the cellphone law because text messaging wasn't as prevalent several years ago as it has become recently, Mendoza said.

Another law imposed next year will make it a crime to forge, counterfeit or sell Clean Air Stickers, which are generally found on low emission vehicles and allow the vehicles to use freeway carpool lanes without adhering to the minimum two-passenger rule.

The department has seen an increased number of vehicles with Clean Air Stickers and many of the stickers have been illegally reproduced, Mendoza said.

The department gave out 85,000 stickers only to motorists who drive hybrid or low-emission vehicles, she said.

“Today, it's very hard to get a sticker,” Mendoza said. “In fact, you can't even get one.”

The stickers were made to be difficult to remove, but she said some people have taken the stickers off other vehicles and used the stickers on their cars.

Other laws that will become effective this year were created to put limitations on drunk driving offenders.

Motorists who were convicted of driving under the influence and are on probation for the offense will be prohibited from driving a vehicle with a blood alcohol level of .01 percent or more.

The new law requires those motorists to take a Preliminary Alcohol Screening test.

If they refuse to take the test or take it and have an blood alcohol level of at least .01 percent, they will be cited, their California driver's license will be taken away and suspended and their vehicle will be impounded.

“They are going to be walking home or getting a ride home,” Clader said. “The purpose of this law is getting the drunken driver off the road.”

Judges also will be allowed to order motorists who were previously convicted of drunk driving to enroll in a licensed DUI program for a minimum of nine months.

Judges are required to revoke a motorist's driver's license if she or he does not enroll or complete the program.

Another law reduces the blood alcohol level from .20 to .15 percent or greater in order to allow judges to consider the installation of a Ignition Interlock Device — a mechanism installed in a vehicle's dashboard that requires a driver to blow into it before starting the vehicle ignition — for first-time convicted drunk driving offenders.

“These laws are just a reminder that drinking and driving is dangerous,” Clader said.

Locally, Glendale officials will begin an effort in January to educate business owners, residents, and apartment renters and owners about the city's smoking ordinance, which bans smoking in city and public property such as parks, restaurants, the Americana at Brand and common spaces in apartment complexes.

First-time violators will receive a $100 citation, with a $200 fine for a second violation in the same year and $500 for subsequent violations, according to the city's code.

Officials have selected individuals who will go to businesses, apartment complexes and all other publicly accessible property to inform them about the ordinance and how it affects them, city spokeswoman Vicki Gardner said.

They also will distribute informational fliers about the ordinance at public and city properties, she said.

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