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California Rules the Road

California Rules the Road
by Roger C. Lanctot on 01-16-2017 at 7:00 am

 California’s influence on the global automotive industry remains intact at the start of 2017 in spite of the state’s strict licensing for autonomous vehicle testing on public roads. California managed to chase Uber away with that licensing requirement, but in the process the state has established a benchmark for data collection from autonomous vehicles that has provided a glimpse into the performance of these vehicles on California roads.

As of Dec. 8, 2016, 20 companies had registered for the program and Alphabet’s Waymo spinoff has proudly touted the steady improvement of the miles-driven-between-intervention statistics for its automated vehicles. California’s greatest impact on the automotive industry, though, has emanated from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and its emissions testing regime.

We have CARB to think for the global requirement for an OBDII port in internal combustion or diesel equipped passenger vehicles. OBDII ports and emissions testing played a prominent role in the industry in 2016. That impact is continuing into 2017.

But California legislators may extend their influence further with the onset of new vehicle-related laws and regulations that took effect Jan. 1, 2017. The California Highway Patrol was kind enough to reach out to California drivers to bring them up to speed on these new laws:


Most prominent of these laws was AB 1785, Use of Wireless Electronic Devices. Given the wide variation and enforcement of anti-texting and anti-phone-use-while-driving laws across the 50 U.S. states, one might hope the rest of the nation and indeed the world might take its cue from California in this case – even if the state is actually following Europe’s lead.

The new law is very specific in that it forbids motorists from holding a wireless telephone or electronic wireless communications device while driving a motor vehicle. According to the new law, mobile devices must be mounted in the 7-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield farthest removed from the driver or in a 5-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield nearest to the driver.

Another option is to affix the device to the dashboard in a place that does not obstruct the driver’s clear view of the road and does not interfere with the deployment of an air bag. The law does allow a driver to operate one of these devices with the motion of a single swipe or tap of the finger, but not while holding it.

I have long advocated a national don’t-touch-your-phone-while-driving law for the U.S. California is now enforcing the nation’s first. And given the fact that it is easier to enforce, I advise caution and compliance when driving in California.

Other California laws that took effect Jan. 1, 2017 include:

AB 53: Children less than two years of age must ride rear-facing in an appropriate child passenger safety seat. Children weighing 40 or more pounds, or standing 40 or more inches tall, are exempt. California law continues to require that all children under the age of eight be properly restrained in an appropriate child safety seat in the back seat of a vehicle.

SB 1046
: Requires a DUI offender to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle for a specified period of time in order to get a restricted driver’s license or to reinstate their license. The law also removes the required suspension time before a person can get a restricted license, provided that the offender installs an IID on their vehicle. The law extends the current four-county pilot program until Jan. 1, 2019, at which time all DUI offenders statewide will be required to install the device to have their license reinstated. Currently Sacramento, Los Angeles, Alameda and Tulare counties are piloting the program.

AB 51
: Lane splitting by a motorcyclist remains legal if done safely. This bill defines lane splitting as driving a motorcycle, which has two wheels in contact with the ground, between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane. The bill permits the California Highway Patrol to develop lane splitting educational safety guidelines in consultation with other state traffic safety agencies and at least one organization focused on motorcycle safety.

SB 1072
: Requires all school buses, school pupil activity buses, youth buses and child care motor vehicles used to transport school-age children to be equipped with a child safety alert system. Every school is required to have a transportation safety plan with procedures to ensure that a pupil is not left unattended in a vehicle.

SB 247
: All buses manufactured after July 1, 2020, will be required to have emergency lighting fixtures that will turn on in the event of an impact or collision. The law also requires a bus company to ensure the driver of the charter bus provides oral and written, or video instructions to all passengers on safety equipment and emergency exits on the bus before any trip.

AB 1677
: Requires the CHP to develop protocols for entering into a memorandum of understanding with local governments to increase the number of inspections for tour buses operated within their jurisdiction.

There are other areas where California may take the lead. California is currently piloting road use charging (RUC) hardware and software for mileage-based tolling similar to a system already in place in Portland, Ore. California is also ground zero for car sharing and ride hailing clashes and San Francisco, in particular, is a proving ground for innovative parking systems and solutions.

California is also home to private toll roads and road use restrictions – as in the case of Market Street in San Francisco. And both Los Angeles and San Francisco have long histories seeking to leverage Waze’s traffic app to their advantage while mitigating the negative impacts of its ad hoc traffic advice.

California may see its influence on the automotive industry erode, though, if it fails to ease its restrictions on autonomous vehicle testing. California’s mild weather makes for an ideal testbed for autonomous vehicles, but developers appear determined to seek more forgiving venues.

And, finally, the State of New Jersey’s legislature may steal a bit of California’s thunder should it pass legislation calling for the creation of an Emergency Contact Notification database. The legislature will see introduction of such a measure next Monday, Jan. 23rd. Should it pass it would set in motion the creation of a nationwide National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (NLETS) database tied to the vehicle identification number.

The impetus for the New Jersey legislation derived from the efforts of the family of Sara Dubinin, an unconscious crash victim who passed away before she could be identified and family members notified of her condition. Similar legislation is pending in California, but New Jersey may now take the lead. The impact of this legislation will transform emergency response at crash scenes and will serve as a model for emergency response globally.

Many auto industry observers have expressed concern at the fragmentation that can result from individual states pursuing different regulatory paths. But sometimes, that fragmentation actually pays dividends when individual states like New Jersey take the opportunity of their local authority to lead and advance the cause of safety.

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