California motorists face a number of new laws that went into effect Jan. 1. One law, AB 1536, permits drivers to dictate, send or listen to a text message or email as long as they're using voice-activated, hands-free enabled devices. 

This new amendment to the state’s texting ban was signed into law by California Gov. Jerry Brown in July 2012. The National Safety Council has already called for the repeal of AB 1536. 

“Safe driving requires a driver’s full attention — hands on the wheel, eyes on the road and mind on the task of driving,” said Janet Froetscher, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “There is no research or evidence that indicates voice-activated technologies eliminate or even reduce the distraction to the drivers’ mind. Unless such research becomes available, texting laws, such as California’s, should not be weakened by legalizing the use of voice-to-text technologies.”

Another new law, AB 2020, restricts the options available to motorists accused of driving under the influence of drugs. Drivers accused of drugged driving can no longer choose a chemical test of their urine to determine drug content.

By requiring a blood test, with a few exceptions, AB 2020 is expected to help law enforcement and prosecutors better identify and convict motorists driving under the influence of drugs. If a blood test is unavailable, then the accused person will take a urine test.   

A third new law, AB 1888, allows commercial drivers to attend traffic school for violations that take place when operating noncommercial vehicles. The conviction doesn’t count as a point for determining whether a driver is presumed to be a negligent operator, unless the violation is considered serious. The record of the conviction isn’t held confidential and is disclosed to employers, as well as insurers, for insurance underwriting and rating purposes.   

A fourth new law, SB 1298, allows for the testing of autonomous vehicles, or self-driving cars, by designees of an autonomous technology manufacturer — provided certain requirements are met. Prior to the public operation of autonomous vehicles, the manufacturer must submit an application to the California DMV and certify that specified insurance, vehicle safety and testing standards have been met. 

SB 1298 also authorizes regulations to specify any additional requirements deemed necessary by the DMV, such as limitations on the number of autonomous vehicles deployed on state highways, special vehicle registration and driver licensing requirements, and rules for the suspension, revocation or denial of any DMV-issued license or approval related to autonomous vehicles.

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