Category Archives: Driving Laws

California’s New “Open Container” Law Applies to Driving With Marijuana in the Car

California has had medical marijuana since 1996. And in November 2016, California voters approved Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana use in the state. (Read the specifics of California’s marijuana laws.) The result was a patchwork of laws that—while achieving the primary purposes—left the public with safety concerns and law enforcement with questions about enforcement.

In an effort to address the public safety and enforcement issues, the Legislature passed S.B. 94 (the “Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act”). Governor Jerry Brown signed S.B. 94 into law on June 27, 2017.

One issue tackled by S.B. 94 is how to deal with motorists who are in possession of marijuana while driving. Essentially, the legislation amends the existing alcohol “closed container” law—California Vehicle Code section 23222 (2017)—to include marijuana. The new law prohibits driving while in possession of any “receptacle” containing cannabis that has been “opened or has a seal broken, or loose cannabis flower not in a container.” The law, however, doesn’t restrict open containers of marijuana stored in the trunk of the car. And medical marijuana patients can drive while in possession of marijuana if carrying a valid medical marijuana card or physician’s recommendation and the container is either “sealed, resealed, or closed.”

A violation of the marijuana closed container law is an infraction and carries a maximum $100 fine.

(Find out about how marijuana legalization has affected California’s DUI laws.)

California Stops Suspending Driver’s Licenses for Unpaid Traffic Tickets

In recent years, California has made efforts to alleviate the burden unpaid traffic citations place on low-income motorists.

The first major step was the start of the traffic-ticket amnesty program in October 2015. The amnesty program allowed certain people with unpaid traffic or non-traffic infraction tickets to apply for fine reductions and license reinstatement. Over 200,000 Californians were able to take advantage of traffic amnesty. However, the program ended on April 3, 2017.

But not to worry—Governor Jerry Brown recently signed legislation that brings drivers more permanent relief. The new law (which went into effect on June 27, 2017) prohibits courts and the Department of Motor Vehicles from suspending a driver’s license for simply failing to pay a traffic ticket fine. In approving the legislation, the governor commented that the threat of license suspension didn’t help the state collect unpaid fines but often led to undesirable consequences such as loss of employment and parents being unable to transport kids to and from school.

(Get more details about the new law and what the California Legislature is doing on this front.)

Tiger Woods Arrested on DUI Charges

On May 29, 2017, professional golfer Tiger Woods was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI). Police arrested Woods in Jupiter, Florida, just miles from his Jupiter Island home.

According to the arrest report, at about 2:00 a.m., police found Woods parked in his Mercedes on the side of the road, engine running. Woods was allegedly stopped in the right traffic lane, with the passenger side of his car partially blocking the bike lane. On the driver’s side of the car, police observed two flat tires and damaged rims. Police also noticed damage to the front and back bumpers. Woods’ brake lights were reportedly illuminated and his right turn signal flashing.

The officer who approached the vehicle said he found Woods asleep at the wheel. When the officer shined his flashlight into the car, Woods reportedly opened his eyes. The officer noted that Woods had slurred and speech and was slow to answer questions and provide his driver’s license, registration, and insurance. At some point, Woods allegedly told police he was coming from L.A. on his way to Orange County.

Woods completed several field sobriety tests (FSTs), including the three “standardized” FSTs. The standardized FSTs are roadside tests—the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), walk and turn, and one-leg stand—that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has deemed reliable indicators of impairment. According to police, Woods had problems following officer instructions and performing the FSTs.

Woods denied drinking or illegal drug use but admitted he had taken prescription medications. The results of two breath tests confirmed that Woods had no alcohol in his system. Woods also provided a urine sample, which will presumably reveal what intoxicating substances may have been in his body. Media reports indicate the medications Woods was on may have included the painkiller Vicodin. In a statement issued after his arrest, Woods reiterated the incident didn’t involve alcohol but rather was the result of “an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications.” Woods explained: “I didn’t realize the mix of medications had affected me so strongly.”

So where does Woods stand legally?

Tiger was released from jail on his “own recognizance” several hours after his arrest and is due in court for his arraignment on July 5, 2017.

Woods will likely face DUI charges. Florida’s DUI laws cover drunk and drugged driving. A motorist can be convicted of a drug-related DUI for driving or being in “actual physical control” of a vehicle while under the influence of certain intoxicating chemicals or any controlled substance. A driver is considered “under the influence” if affected by the substances ingested “to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired.” And being in “actual physical control” generally means the driver is in the vehicle and has the capability of operating it. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 316.193 (2017).)

Let’s look at how the law might apply to the facts of Tiger’s case. Police didn’t see Woods driving. But he was arguably in actual physical control of his car because he was sitting in the driver’s seat with the car running. And there’s evidence of impairment: Woods apparently crashed his car, had slurred speech, and performed poorly on FSTs. However, as of yet, it’s unclear what substances Woods had in his system. To be convicted of DUI, the prosecution must show Wood’s impairment was the result of ingesting one of the substances specified in the DUI law. Unfortunately, perhaps, for Woods, the list of qualifying drugs and controlled substances is extensive and includes Vicodin—a medication Woods was allegedly taking.

If convicted of DUI, Woods faces up to six months in jail, $500 to $1,000 in fines, and a six-month to one-year license suspension. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 316.193 (2017).)

(Read more about the consequences of a first-offense DUI in Florida.)

Keep Your Eyes on the Road: 2017 Brings New Cellphone Restrictions for California Drivers

Existing California law restricts motorists from talking on a cellphone or texting while driving, except when using a device in voice-operated, hands-free mode. The current text messaging restriction applies to writing, sending, and reading texts on a cellphone or other wireless device while driving. The law doesn’t, however, address other uses of cellphones and wireless devices. So common smartphone and tablet features like internet browsers and GPS—which don’t involve text messaging—aren’t covered. (Cal. Veh. Code §§ 23123, 23123.5, 23124 (2016).)

Realizing the deficienciesroad-people-street-smartphone in the current law, the California Legislature passed legislation (Assembly Bill 1785, “A.B. 1785”) this past year to fill the gap. The new law will prohibit California motorists from “holding and operating” any cellphone or wireless device while driving. By using this broad wording, the Legislature presumably intended to restrict motorists from doing anything on their devices that could be a distraction. Several exceptions apply to the new rule, one of which permits drivers to turn on or off a mounted GPS, so long as it requires only one tap or swipe to do so. Manufacturer-installed systems that are embedded in the vehicle are also exempt. (Cal. Veh. Code § 23123.5 (version effective Jan. 1, 2017).)

(Read more about California’s distracted driving laws and the penalties for a violation.)

New York Enacts New Boating-While-Intoxicated Legislation

By John McCurley

motorboat

On August 16, 2016, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Tiffany Heitkamp’s Law. The new legislation—which takes effect November 1, 2016—increases the boating-while-intoxicated (BWI) penalties for most offenders with prior drunk-driving convictions.

In New York, anyone with a prior offense who’s convicted of either BWI or DWI is subject to greater penalties. But whether the prior offense was a BWI or a DWI can make a big difference.

Under current New York law, a BWI conviction is punished as a repeat offense only if the prior conviction was also for BWI. So, even if a boater has three prior DWIs—but no prior BWIs—a BWI conviction will be considered first offense.

Once Tiffany Heitkamp’s Law goes into effect, a DWI will count as a prior offense when someone is being sentenced for BWI. For instance, if a BWI offender has been convicted twice of DWI in the past three years, the current BWI will be punished as a third offense.

Interestingly, the new law doesn’t go the other way: It doesn’t make BWI offenses count as priors for purposes of sentencing DWI offenders. In other words, a first-time DWI offender with multiple BWI priors will still be sentenced as a first offender.