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Auto Club outlines new laws taking effect

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New penalties for drunk drivers, street racers, and "pocket bike" riders -- along with improvements to California's teen driving requirements -- are among the laws taking effect as of Sunday, Jan. 1, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.

San Diego County will also be added to a list of places where low-cost auto insurance is available to qualified drivers.

"Many of these laws are designed to improve safety for motorists by increasing penalties for unsafe driving behavior," said Alice Bisno, the Auto Club's vice president for legislative affairs. Drunk driving changes arrive under law SB 597, which extends from seven years to 10 years the time period an individual is ineligible for a good-driver discount following a conviction for drunk driving. This change is consistent with the change made in 2005 by SB 1694, which required all DUI convictions to remain on a violator's record for 10 years instead of seven.

Two other new laws give law enforcement more ability to impound drunk drivers' vehicles. Law SB 207 authorizes an officer to impound the vehicle of a person with a prior DUI conviction arrested for a suspected DUI if the person has a blood alcohol level of at least 0.10 percent or if the person refuses a chemical test. Law AB 979 authorizes an officer to impound the vehicle of a motorist violating a requirement to drive only a vehicle equipped with a functioning, certified ignition interlock device.

Also taking effect Jan. 1 is law AB 1325, which establishes a jail term of 30 days to six months for persons found guilty of engaging in motor-vehicle speed contests if the driver causes bodily injury to someone other than himself or herself.

Law AB 1051 provides a definition of a pocket bike - miniature motorcycles which are illegal to ride on public streets - and requires the manufacturer to let prospective buyers know, in writing, where one may not be operated. Additionally, the new law specifies that pocket bikes seized by law enforcement will be held for a minimum of 48 hours and will be released only after appropriate fees have been paid.

There are a few changes to car insurance in 2006. Under law SB 20, the state's low-cost automobile insurance program for qualified drivers is extended to the year 2011 and adds six more counties where it will be available. Previously, low-cost auto insurance was available only in Los Angeles and San Francisco counties; now, it can also be obtained in San Diego, Alameda, Fresno, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The law also gives the insurance commissioner the discretion to add more counties in the future.

Law AB 1474 strengthens the existing teen licensing law by requiring teen motorists to have their license for one year before being allowed to drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., or before being allowed to transport young passengers without an adult in the car. Even teens who have gotten their licenses before Jan. 1 will have to follow the new law if their licenses are less than one year old.

Under the previous teen driving law, motorists under age 18 were prohibited from driving between midnight and 5 a.m. for one year after being licensed, and could not transport young passengers without an adult in the car for the first six months after obtaining a license.

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