New Traffic Laws Address Controversial Topics

Many states are making progress on well-established traffic safety issues this year, but some laws address new and controversial issues which have inspired nationwide debate.

Here’s a rundown of the changes you can expect in the coming year!

Driving Privilege Cards

Several states are in the process of establishing systems to issue drivers licenses to applicants without proof of legal residence in the United States. New programs in Maryland, Nevada, and Illinois are already accepting applications.

Newly passed laws in Connecticut and California will allow programs to begin operating next year.

Other states, including New Mexico and Utah, already had such cards available.

In most states, applicants must meet all other requirements to obtain a drivers license, including passing vision, written, and behind-the-wheel knowledge tests. The driver privilege cards also allow holders to obtain liability insurance, which in some states was not previously possible. In many states, the cards are only valid for driving, not as identification for state or federal purposes including boarding aircraft or obtaining benefits and services.

While there is still much debate surrounding this issue, these programs will help ensure that more drivers on the road have had their driving skills tested and are financially responsible.

Electronic License Plates

California is the latest state to start exploring alternatives to traditional license plates and registration documents. California’s recently authorized voluntary pilot program for trying out new electronic license plate designs will conclude by January 1, 2017, and results will be reported the following year.

The primary goal of the program is to create savings for the state on printing and postage costs. Electronic plates could also be used to help law enforcement identify stolen vehicles or vehicles connected with current amber alerts.

However, statewide implementation would require additional spending to overhaul license plate production infrastructure and provide technical support for the new plates. While the Department of Motor Vehicles is not allowed collect information about the location, movement, or use of vehicles through the plates, concerns over privacy are still present - especially since the system would likely be managed through a third party company.

Florida passed a similar bill in 2012, establishing a pilot program limited to state-owned vehicles, but has not yet set a start date for the program. Since the technology is still developing so rapidly, state representatives are wary that any new system implemented right now would soon be outdated.

Distracted Driving

California passed a bill banning drivers under 18 from using either handheld or hands free devices to write, send, or read text based communications.

In Illinois, it is now illegal to use hand-held devices while driving. Illinois has also banned video devices that are visible to the driver while operating a motor vehicle, not including GPS or navigation systems, or devices that are physically or electronically integrated into car.

Illinois drivers under the age of 19 who get into an accident with injuries while using a wireless device can now be charged with “aggravated use of a wireless device,” which has been upgraded to a Class 4 Felony from a Class A Misdemeanor.

Stricter DUI Laws in Colorado

Starting with the new year, Colorado will treat drivers who commit the following alcohol-related offenses as “persistent drunk drivers”:

  • Refusal to take a blood or breathalyzer sobriety test
  • BAC of .15 or higher
  • Multiple drunk driving convictions

Under this categorization, drivers face a one-year license suspension, with the option to drive with an ignition interlock breathalyzer device after the first one or two months of suspension.

While retail marijuana has recently been legalized in Colorado, it is still illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana and it can result in a DUI, just like alcohol. While the best way to measure marijuana influence is still being debated, the current law states that anyone with 5 nanograms or more of THC per milliliter of blood while driving can be arrested for DUI and can face fines, jail time, and a revoked license.

What’s your stance on this year’s new traffic laws? Do you think they’ll impact your experience as a road user?

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