California

Drive, walk, ride a bike or a scooter? New California traffic laws might affect your ride

This story has been updated to reflect that AB 544 sunsets on Sept. 30, 2025 unless renewed.

California drivers and bicyclists, get ready. There are a host of new rules of the road going into effect in California on Jan. 1.

Here’s a sampling of laws set to go into effect in the new year.

Gender identification: SB 169, sponsored by Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego. This law allows applicants for a California driver license or state ID “to self-certify their chosen gender category of male, female or nonbinary in the application.” A nonbinary gender designation will appear as an “X” in the gender category on the ID.

DUI ignition locks: SB 1046, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo. This law mandates that repeat DUI offenders, as well as first-time DUI offenders who caused an injury as a result of their crime, install an ignition interlock device for a period of one to two years. The law also allows people who have had their licenses suspended under an administrative order “to obtain an IID-restricted driving privilege.” Previously, this law was only in effect for Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Tulare counties. This law sunsets on Jan. 1, 2026, unless it is renewed.

License plates: AB 516, sponsored by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco. This law requires California new- and used-auto dealers to attach temporary license plates on a vehicle at the point of sale if it does not already have DMV-issued plates. No vehicle can be driven off the dealership lot without a plate affixed to it.

ZEVs get the fast lane: AB 544, sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica. This law creates a new program to grant low- and zero-emission vehicles access to carpool lanes regardless of how many people are in the vehicle. More information about this program is available on the California DMV’s Clean Air Vehicle Decals website. This law sunsets on Sept. 30, 2025, unless it is renewed.

Smog checks: AB 1274, sponsored by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach. This law expands the smog check exemption for vehicles up to eight years old. Previously, it only applied to vehicles up to six years old. However, owners of vehicles that are seven or eight years old will have to pay an annual $25 smog abatement fee. Owners of vehicles six years old or newer still pay the annual $20 fee.

When cyclists crash: AB 1755, sponsored by then-Assemblyman Marc Steinorth, R-Rancho Cucamonga. This law extends the felony hit-and-run provisions to include cyclists on bike paths, requiring a cyclist involved in a collision to stop at the scene of an accident.

Fines for loud mufflers: AB 1824, sponsored by the Assembly Committee on Budget. This law mandates a fine for vehicles and motorcycles with “modified or excessively loud exhaust or muffler systems.” Previously, violators could avoid the fine if they corrected the problem.

Driver tests: AB 1925, sponsored by Assemblyman Steven S. Choi, R-Irvine. This law requires the DMV to include at least one question about laws pertaining to driving with an unsafe, unsecured load, such as ladders, buckets and loose items.

Passing garbage trucks: AB 2115, sponsored by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles. This law requires drivers to pull into an adjacent lane when approaching or passing a waste collection vehicle with amber lights flashing. If that is not possible, the driver must slow to “a safe and reasonable speed.”

Truants can drive: AB 2685, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale. This law repeals the juvenile court’s authority to suspend, restrict or delay the issuance of a driver license for a habitual truant or ward of the state for up to one year.

Helmet-free scooters: AB 2989, sponsored by Assemblyman Heath Flora, R-Ripon. This law removes the requirement for riders of motorizes scooters to wear a bicycle helmet, provided they are 18 or older. It also prohibits riding a motorized scooter on highways with a speed limit greater than 25 mph, or roads with a speed limit greater than 35 mph, unless it is within a marked bikeway.

Put some helmets on those kids: AB 3077, sponsored by then-Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, D-Salinas. This law provides law enforcement the ability to issue a “fix-it ticket” to anyone under 18 who doesn’t wear a helmet while on a bicycle, skateboard or skates. It is correctable if the minor completes a bicycle safety course and gets a helmet that meets safety standards within 120 days of the ticket being issued.

Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for McClatchy. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
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