2009-07-16 / Columns

Ask the DMV

Do you have questions about general drivingrelated requirements like registration and insurance? Are you unclear about laws and restrictions related to driving? The California Department of Motor Vehicles has answers. "Save Time by Going Online," at www.dmv.ca.gov.

Q: I've been hearing a ton of different things about a cellphone law prohibiting people from driving and talking on their cellphone at the same time. What are the exact rules and where can I find more info on them?

A: Effective July 1, 2008, drivers under 18 years of age are prohibited from using a wireless telephone—handsfree or otherwise—while driving. In addition, drivers 18 years of age or older are prohibited from driving a motor vehicle while using a cellphone unless a hands-free device is used.

While these laws allow latitude to use hands-free devices, talking on the phone while driving in any circumstance remains a form of distracted driving. For maximum safety, it is best not to talk on the phone at all. For more on the cellphone law, check out the DMV website at www.dmv.ca.gov/ cellularphonelaws/.

Q: Is it true California now has a ban on smoking in cars when children are present?

A: Yes. On Jan. 1, 2008 a law went into effect banning smoking in a motor vehicle any time there is a minor present in a vehicle. Those caught violating the law will face up to a $100 fine. This is a secondary offense, meaning authorities cannot pull someone over only for smoking with a minor present. Violators can be cited if they are pulled over for other infractions and are also smoking in the presence of a minor.

Q: How close is too close when following someone on the roadways?

A: In ideal driving conditions, the "three-second rule" can help you make sure you are being safe, following traffic laws and not being a tailgater. When the vehicle ahead of you passes a certain point such as a street or traffic sign, count "onethousandone, onethousandtwo, onethousandthree." If you pass the same point before you finish counting, you are following too closely. During inclement weather, you will need to allow more distance between you and the person in front of you.

You can read more about not tailgating and other safe driving practices in the California Driver Handbook online at www.dmv.ca .gov/pubs/hdbk/pgs33thru41.htm.

Q: What if my registration is due with a smog certification but the repairs needed for my car to pass smog will take me past the due date?

A: If a smog certification is required and you have not had a smog inspection, you may still pay your registration fees online at www.dmv.ca.gov/online/vrir/ vr_top2.htm to avoid any late fees. However, you will not receive your new registration or annual renewal sticker until the smog information has been received by DMV.

Late registration fees are subject to penalties. If you paid your renewal fees prior to acquiring the smog certification, and you have not received your registration card or sticker, you should call your local DMV or (800) 7770133 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. A department representative will check your vehicle record and inform you of the status of your renewal.

For more information on smog certification visit www.dmv.ca .gov/vr/smogfaq.htm.

Q: Is there a place in California where street racing is legal?

A: Speed contests or exhibitions of speed on public highways or streets, commonly known as street racing or drag racing, are illegal and threaten the well-being and safety of the public. More than 100 people die annually in the U.S. as the direct result of a speed contest or illegal street race.

Along with various other penalties, you can have your driver's license revoked and be fined up to $1,000 for speed racing.

There are alternative sites to race legally, however. The National Hot Rod Association has more than 140 tracks in North America. For more information on California regulations go to www.dmv.ca.gov/teenweb/ crazybtn3/speed.htm.

To find the NHRA track in your area, go to www.NHRA.com or contact National Hot Rod Association, 2035 Financial Way, Glendora, CA 91741. The phone number is (626) 914-4761.

Q. I've had disabled plates in my old vehicle for several years but recently bought a used car. Can I place my disabled plates on my new car? Do I have to transfer these plates to my new vehicle?

A. You can use your Disabled Persons License Plates on your new vehicle. Take both sets of license plates along with the current registration card on your new vehicle to your local DMV field office. The Disabled Persons License Plates will be assigned to your vehicle, and you will receive a new registration card and registration indicia for your vehicle.

Appointments are recommended. You may make an appointment at www.dmv.ca.gov or by telephone at (800) 921-1117.

The DMV is a department under the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency.

The DMV licenses drivers, maintains driving records, registers and tracks ownership of vehicles and vessels, investigates auto and identity fraud, and licenses car dealers, driving schools, and traffic violator schools.

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