traffic.transit.jpgTexting while driving, red-light cameras and party buses are among the targets of new driving-related laws that took effect in California this week.

Among the bills passed by the state Legislature and signed into law this year by Gov. Jerry Brown is a new law permitting drivers to text while driving provided they are not using their fingers, California Highway Patrol spokeswoman Fran Clader said.

The law, Assembly Bill 1536, authored by Assemblyman Jeff Miller, R-Corona, amends the existing law that prohibits drivers from holding a cellphone in a car. It allows motorists to use voice-activated, hands-free devices to dictate, send or listen to text messages, Clader said.

State law already allowed hands-free verbal calling, but the new one makes it legal to use software applications to dictate texts or listen to incoming written texts that the device “reads” aloud, Clader said.

“This allows you to use any voice-activated device so you don’t have to type to text,” Clader said.

Drivers under 18 are still not permitted to use any type of cellphone in a vehicle, she said. Under the law, drivers will be allowed to touch their phones to activate or deactivate the hands-free functions.

Another new law, Senate Bill 1303, by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, deals with cameras installed by local law enforcement agencies that take pictures of the license plates of cars running red lights, Clader said. The drivers later receive citations by mail.

Under the new rules, agencies using the red-light cameras have to put up signs within 200 feet of the intersections where they are located announcing the cameras’ presence, make a public statement about each camera, and issue only warnings to violators for the first 30 days after installation, Clader said.

“This is so the motorist is aware that there is a red light camera operating there,” Clader said.

Simitian, in a letter he sent this year and posted on his website urging Brown to sign the bill, complained that sometimes “cameras have clearly been installed to raise revenue, rather than protect public safety.”

AB 2020, by Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, will remove the right of people arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs to opt for a urine test, making only a blood test available to them, Clader said.

Another law, AB 45 by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, takes aim at charter-party vehicles such as limos and buses. It will require that the carrier have a chaperone age 25 or older in the vehicle if any passengers will be drinking to ensure that no minors are given alcohol. Both the chaperone and the carrier will be held responsible for any violations.

Hill has said that he drafted the bill back in 2010 in memory of Brett Studebaker, 19, of Burlingame, who died when he crashed his car earlier that year after being allowed to drink on a party bus even though he was underage.

The issue of chartered party buses received additional attention last July when 25-year-old Santa Cruz resident Natasha Noland was killed on Highway 17 after apparently falling out a party bus during a fight with another partygoer after consuming alcohol.

Jeff Burbank, Bay City News

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