Young Drivers – What you should know

Laws that affect both Young Drivers and their Passengers:

  1. Speed contests: Speed contests are against the law. A judge can suspend or restrict a first-time offender’s driver’s license for up to six months, impound the vehicle for 30 days and send the driver to jail for 90 days, as well as impose fines and community service. And if someone other than the driver is injured, the driver could face even stiffer penalties. (VC §§ 23109, 23109.1, 23109.2)
  2. Reckless driving: California law prohibits driving a vehicle on a highway or in an off-street parking facility in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others or property. It also provides for more severe punishment for reckless drivers who cause others to be injured, including the revocation of the driver’s driving privilege after the third conviction in 12 months. (VC §§ 13351(a)(2),23103-23105)
  3. Cell phones and driving: It is against the law to use a cell phone while driving unless you are at least 18 and your cell phone is set up for hands-free use, or you are making an emergency call (to law enforcement, for example). Drivers under age 18 are prohibited from talking on cell phones, “texting” messages or using any mobile service device while driving-except to place an emergency call. And in July of 2011, it will become illegal for anyone to drive while using an “electronic wireless communications device” to text or write, send or read any other type of “text-based communication.”(Simply entering a phone number or name to make or receive a call would be an exception.) (VC §§ 23123, 23123.5, 23124)
  4. Unlicensed minors and the purchase of vehicles: A minor who does not possess a valid driver’s license may not purchase or lease a car. The law also prohibits a minor from using a false driver’s license to purchase or lease a vehicle. (VC §§ 15500-15501)
  5. Driving without a license: In California, it is a misdemeanor to drive without a valid driver’s license or permit. Also, the law requires drivers to have their licenses in their possession while driving. Driving with a suspended or revoked license is a misdemeanor that could lead to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000 for a first conviction of certain offenses. In addition, the unlicensed driver’s car (even if it is a borrowed vehicle) can be impounded for up to six months. (VC §§ 12500-27, 14601 et seq., 23592)
  6. Hit and run: In California, you must stop after any accident in which someone is injured or someone else’s property is damaged. You also must exchange names, addresses, driver’s license numbers, vehicle license numbers and other relevant information. And if someone dies in the collision, the accident must be reported to the California Highway Patrol (CHP) or a police officer immediately. When only property damage is involved, the maximum penalty for failing to report such damage or otherwise notify the property owner is six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. If someone is injured or killed and you fail to stop and/or report it, the potential penalties are much greater. (VC §§ 20001-04)
  7. Littering and throwing objects at or from a vehicle: California law makes it a misdemeanor to throw anything at or from a moving vehicle, and a felony to do so with the intent to cause great bodily harm. The law also prohibits littering or throwing lighted cigarettes from a motor vehicle; the penalties range from a $100 fine to a $1,000 fine and probation. And the offender would be ordered to pick up litter or clean up graffiti. (VC §§ 23110-12, 42001.7)
  8. Passengers in the trunk: Riding in the trunk of a car is illegal. In recent years, dozens of teens have been hurt and, in some cases, killed while riding in car trunks. If a driver allows someone to ride in the trunk, he or she has broken the law as well. (VC § 21712)
  9. Unattended passengers: Children ages 6 and under cannot be left alone in a car if the keys are still in the ignition or if any other conditions could put them at significant risk. Someone age 12 or older must stay behind to supervise them. (VC § 15620) Nor is it legal in California to leave an animal in a parked car if the conditions-heat, cold or lack of ventilation, for example-could cause the animal to suffer or die. (PC § 597.7)
  10. Seat belts/child passenger restraints: The driver and all passengers must be properly restrained by a safety belt-or it is illegal to drive the vehicle. (VC §27315) Violators can be fined. In addition, children must be secured in federally approved safety seats until they turn 6 or weigh at least 60 pounds. Children also must sit in a back seat unless there is no such seat or all rear seats are already occupied by children under 12. Youngsters are not permitted to ride in the front seat of a vehicle with an active air bag if they are under a year old, weigh less than 20 pounds or are restrained in a rear-facing car seat. (VC §§ 27360-27360.5) For more safety information, go to or call the Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236.
  11. Smoke-free cars and kids: It is now illegal to smoke inside a car if any of the car’s occupants are under 18. (A violation carries a $100 fine.) In 2008, California became one of the first states to pass such a law. Studies indicate that secondhand smoke accumulates quickly inside cars (even with the windows cracked open) and poses a health threat to children in particular. (H&SC §§118947 et seq.; VC § 12814.6)
  12. Blaring music and loud horns: Think twice before cranking up your car’s sound system or misusing your horn while on the road. Such noise could lead to a ticket or even, in some instances, misdemeanor charges. Generally, the car horn can only be used as a warning “when reasonably necessary to insure safe operation” of the car or as a theft alarm system. And your music (or other sound amplification system) is too loud if it can be heard from 50 feet away. This would not apply to certain sound systems, such as those used for emergencies, advertising or political events. (VC §§ 27001, 27007; PC § 415)

If you have been arrested for any of the above violations, please call The Law Office of Michael A. Fiumara at our local numbers 707-387-0940 in Santa Rosa and 415-234-0142 in San Rafael. Contact the Law Offices of Michael A. Fiumara today!