Every year, state governors sign new laws into existence or confirm the revision of existing regulations. While some laws take effect either in predefined stages or after the passing of several years, most laws are immediately implemented on the first day of the upcoming year. In 2021, California’s Governor Gavin Newsom signed 770 new laws. Among these new regulations are a series of traffic safety laws intended to crack down on unsafe “sideshows,” protect people riding equestrian animals on a highway, reduce distracted driving, and more.

Assembly Bill 3 – Sideshow Definition & Penalties

This new bill defines the term “sideshow” under the California Vehicle Code (CVC) and details penalties for sideshow-related offenses. Illegal sideshows have grown in popularity over the past few years, with crowds gathering to watch drivers perform burnouts, engine revving, stunts, and street races. Under Assembly Bill 3 (AB3), a sideshow is termed an “event in which two or more persons block or impede traffic on a highway for the purpose of performing motor vehicle stunts, motor vehicle speed contests, motor vehicle exhibitions of speed, or reckless driving for spectators.”

Although this new law will not take effect until July 1st, 2025, it increases the penalties for drivers convicted of exhibition of speed if they were simultaneously engaging in any of the listed sideshow behaviors. Once the bill takes effect, a court will have the authority to suspend a driver’s license for three to six months for a violation of AB3. This law is meant to reduce the risk of traffic accidents and injuries to pedestrians. Before a decision is made, the court is obligated to consider the personal, medical, or family hardships that require someone to have a driver’s license before it may be suspended.

Assembly Bill 974 – Equestrian Safety Gear

The new Equestrian Safety Gear law is designed to protect riders and their animals while they’re on a highway. Riders under the age of eighteen are required to wear a fastened and properly fitted helmet when riding an equestrian animal, such as a donkey, horse, or mule on a paved highway. All riders, regardless of age, must wear a lamp or reflective gear when riding past sundown. The only exception to these new requirements is for a person riding in a festival or parade.

Assembly Bill 798 – Tribal Emergency Vehicles

In 2019, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians acquired a new ambulance for their community. However, due to legal restrictions, they were unable to operate it for a year because of the licensing and lengthy inspection process required for each of the tribe’s firefighters that might need to use it. This new law recognizes that federally-recognized Indian tribes are self-governing and sovereign. Therefore, there is no justification for such a prolonged federal approval process. All tribes may now purchase and deploy emergency vehicles, including firetrucks and ambulances, without CHP inspections or drivers acquiring special Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) licenses.

Senate Bill 287 – Class C Drivers Allowed to Tow Trailer

Although it will not take effect until January 1st, 2027, Senate Bill 287 allows drivers with a valid class C license to operate a vehicle towing a trailer weighing 10,001 to 15,000 pounds. The trailer must be used exclusively for recreational purposes for the transportation of living space, property, or both. To be approved to tow a trailer that fits such criteria, the driver must pass a specialized written test. The exam covers knowledge of safety aspects relating to towing a recreational vehicle and the CVC. Additionally, the driver must have an endorsement on their class C license.

Assembly Bill 47 – License Points for Distracted Driving

Technically, Assembly Bill 47 took effect on July 1st, 2021. However, I feel that this law is important enough to emphasize again as we head deeper into 2022. Prior to this law being passed, using a handheld cell phone while operating a motor vehicle was punishable by a fine. Now, if you use a cell phone while driving for a second time within 36 months of a prior conviction for the same offense, a point will be added to your driver’s record in addition to any fines. Both texting or talking on the phone without a hands-free system are considered violations of this law.

Avoid Penalties by Refreshing Your Knowledge of Local Traffic Laws

Although many of California’s new traffic safety laws don’t necessarily pertain to the average motorist, it’s smart to stay aware of new or revised laws on the roadway. Particularly if you’re driving in an unfamiliar city or state, it’s a good idea to review the local traffic laws to reduce your risk of an accident and ensure you fully comply with them.