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Auto Club Outlines New Motorist Laws for 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA -- (Marketwire) -- 12/24/12 -- New laws taking effect in 2013 will allow testing of "autonomous vehicles" on California roads, clarify the rules for whether motorists can park at broken parking meters, and modify the law banning electronic device use while driving, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.

Unless otherwise noted, new laws take effect January 1, 2013.

Self-Driving Cars
SB 1298 establishes conditions for the testing and operation of "autonomous vehicles," which can operate without the active control and continuous monitoring of a human driver. The law calls on the DMV to develop regulations governing the operation of these vehicles on California roads prior to 2015. The bill was sponsored by Google, a developer of autonomous vehicle technology.

"The Auto Club supported the new law because of the technology's long-term potential to improve traffic safety and reduce congestion," said Steve Finnegan, the Auto Club's government affairs manager. "Most traffic crashes -- and their related deaths and injuries -- are caused by human error. If self-driving cars deliver on their promise, traffic collisions could be substantially reduced in the future."

Broken Parking Meters
The Auto Club sponsored SB 1388, which allows motorists to park at broken meters (up to the posted time limit) without fear of getting a ticket unless the local jurisdiction provides visible and adequate notice of any prohibitions at parking locations. The law, prompted by Auto Club member feedback, will clear up the confusing dilemma motorists face when parking at a broken meter: Is parking allowed or not? And it should help drivers avoid unexpected parking tickets.

The Auto Club did not take positions on the following new laws that may also be of interest to California motorists:

Electronic Devices
AB 1536 clarifies existing law by allowing drivers to dictate, send, or listen to text-based communications while driving as long as they do so using technology specifically designed and configured to allow fully voice-operated, hands-free operation. This clarification makes the texting-while-driving ban consistent with the law that prohibits use of cell phones while driving unless the phone is used hands-free. Drivers under age 18 are still prohibited from using any electronic device while driving. "The Auto Club recommends that all drivers pay attention to the task of driving and not engage in any distracting activities, legal or not," Finnegan said.

Driver's Licenses and Rental Cars
AB 2189 allows a car rental company to verify a renter's identity by comparing the driver's license photograph to the driver renting the vehicle. The measure also allows certain noncitizens whose presence in the United States is authorized by federal law to obtain a driver's license in California.

License Plates
AB 2489 prohibits a person from operating a vehicle with a product or device that obscures -- or is intended to obscure -- the reading or recognition of a license plate by sight or use of an electronic device (like a toll or red-light camera). The new law also prohibits a person from erasing, painting over, or altering a license plate to avoid visual or electronic capture of the license plate or its characters.

Express Lanes
AB 2405 exempts vehicles with special state-issued green and white stickers (all electric, natural gas, and "plug-in" hybrid cars) from toll charges that single-occupant vehicles pay to access express or HOT (high occupancy toll) lanes. This exemption does not apply to the new Metro Express Lanes on the I-110 (Harbor) and I-10 (San Bernardino) freeways south and east of downtown Los Angeles until after March 1, 2014. These vehicles are also not exempt from tolls charged on regular toll roads.

One law that the Auto Club opposed that was not approved:

Key Code Law and BMW
BMW vehicle owners scored a major victory when Governor Jerry Brown vetoed SB 750, a BMW-sponsored bill that would have made that manufacturer's temporary exemption from the state's "key code law" permanent.

Sponsored by the Auto Club in 2006, the key code law requires automakers to securely make available to registered locksmiths information that is needed to make replacement keys when they are lost or broken. This enables motorists to obtain new car keys 24 hours a day, 7 days a week -- when and where they need them -- so that they can get back on the road. Most carmakers complied with the law when it took effect in 2008. Since then, thousands of vehicle owners have taken advantage of the expanded options and flexibility provided by the law.

The Auto Club strongly opposed SB 750 to ensure that the key code law protects as many California vehicle owners as possible. In his veto message, Governor Brown pointed out that "the majority of manufacturers quickly complied" with the key code law and that "the 24/7 standard for car key replacement should apply uniformly to all manufacturers."

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