Alcohol tests and drivers’ rights

In today’s politically heated society, controversy over rights on roadways has become an increasingly relevant topic. Injustice and the tension between drivers and police officers takes most of the spotlight, but other issues involving drivers’ rights are a major topic of debate, as well. In California, few drivers know the details of their rights on the road. Even though legal details can become complex, state laws protect drivers from unneccessary searches and other unlawful procedures. 

ABC 10 News discusses the recent controversy surrounding a Utah nurse who refused to draw the blood of an unconcious patient, which ultimately brought to attention the disagreement over drivers’ rights in the country. The patient of the nurse had been in a car accident that left another driver dead, but the nurse claimed that, under hospital policy, she was not allowed to take the blood of patients who had been in accidents. To the nation’s shock, the nurse was arrested; debate on the rights of patients and the extent of police intervention has thus taken the media by storm in recent weeks. But what, ABC asks, are drivers’ actual rights when it comes to testing for blood alcohol concentration? The report offers the following points:

  • The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unlawful searches — warrants may only take place upon probable cause
  • Any person with a driver’s license must consent in writing to submit a chemical, blood, breath or urine test, but only if under lawful arrest for driving while under the influence (this law is also known as California’s ‘implied consent’ law)
  • A driver does have a choice between a blood and breath test, and police are required to notify the driver of this choice        

As for the implied consent law, recent Supreme Court rulings have found that drawing blood on a DUI suspect without a warrant is in violation of Fourth Amendment rights.

There may be a number of details to sift through when understanding drivers’ alcohol testing rights, but Findlaw reminds its readers that any refusal of a Breathalyzer test can result in serious consequences. Possible penalties include driver’s license suspension and jail time. Even in cases in which drivers are not under arrest, they may face additional obstacles in court due to police observation at the scene, witness testimony and other situational factors.     



Drive hands-free or pay the fee

As most drivers know, texting while driving is against the law in California. Yet the laws go further than texting, and it is worth making sure drivers in the Golden State understand exactly what is–and is not–allowed when they get behind the wheel.

As the Sacremento Bee reports, 2017 marked the beginning of a new state law that bans holding a cell phone while driving for any reason. Not only is texting while driving outlawed, this means it is unlawful to use any apps for music or social media with the device in hand while on the road, and taking photos or video is also outlawed. Phones are able to be used while driving in hands-free mode only, but they must be in a holster mounting on the driver’s console, dashboard or on the windshield, so drivers who may need GPS to get where they are going are not totally at a loss. Lawmakers hope that this will make it easier for law enforcement officers to pull over drivers who are breaking the law.

The law comes on the heels of reports that 80 percent of accidents are at least partially to blame on distracted driving. Yet a new report from NBC Los Angeles found that the number of citations for cell phone use while driving has been on the decline since 2011. However, there are some law enforcement agencies in the state that conduct undercover operations to issue citations to drivers for being on the phone behind the wheel. At times these include undercover officers riding the bus or dressing up as a person begging for money on the street to observe drivers breaking the law. If caught, a ticket for a first offense is $20, but with penalties, the driver typically pays over $200.

Driving primer: Speed limits in California

Drivers around the world, whether in California or on the Autobahn, have to follow the laws and rules of the road. These laws and rules are in place to keep people as safe as possible. When you don’t follow them, you can receive a ticket (or worse, of course, when accidents occur). This means that you will have to come out of pocket to pay a fine. You might have to appear in court. If you get enough tickets, it can impact your ability to legally drive.

One common traffic violation that people face in California is speeding. The speed limits on the roads here are set according to the maximum speed that people can drive without it becoming overly dangerous.

Basic speed law

California uses the concept of the basic speed law to govern speeding in the state. This means that you can get a speeding ticket even if you are going the posted limit if the conditions on the road make it unsafe to go that fast. For example, driving 45 mph on a road with that speed limit can get you a ticket if there is dense fog.

Another point of the basic speed law concept is that you can’t drive faster than the posted speed limit. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t legally drive five miles per hour over the speed limit. You can get a speeding ticket for driving one or two miles per hour over the posted speed limit.

General speed limits

On most roads in California, the speed limit is 65 miles per hour. There are some roads that have speed limits as high as 70, but there are also some roads with slower speed limits.

School zones have a reduced speed limit of 25 miles per hour when children are going to or leaving school.

Alleys have a speed limit of 15 miles per hour.

Two lane undivided highways have a speed limit of 55 miles per hour unless other limits are posted.

Construction zones also have a reduced speed limit that is stated by signs leading to and in the work zone.

Business and residential areas have a maximum speed limit of 25 unless there is another limit posted.

Actions for a speeding ticket

You can simply pay the fine stated on the ticket. However, this might not always be the best course of action. You need to find out how the points will impact your license and insurance. You might decide that you are going to fight the ticket, which is possible if you know that you weren’t speeding or contesting the circumstances of the ticket.

Understanding types of traffic tickets

Whether you have a driver’s license from California or another state, if you drive in the state of California, it is important for you to understand some of the basic traffic laws. That also means you should understand the different types of citations that you may receive and what to expect with each. 

As explained by the California Courts, parking tickets are not actually handled through any court system but just directly through the municipality or other entity that issues the tickets. When it comes to other things like speeding or driving on a suspended license, however, this is where a court may get involved. Some tickets that you might receive could be deemed misdemeanors but others could be deemed infractions. Misdemeanors are more serious than infractions.

In both cases, you may be required to appear in court or to pay a fine. The requirement to appear in court in no way means you are admititng that you are guilty. Instead, this provides you an opportunity to show you are not guilty. For some tickets, you may simply need to fix a problem like replace a tail light that had gone out. One of the more serious misdemeanors is a driving under the influence charge which could result in a host of penalties if you are ultimately convicted. 

If you would like to learn more about the different types of violations or tickets associated with driving and parking, please feel free to visit the moving vehicle citation and charges page of our California driver’s defense website.

Solano County creates program other counties may want

It would almost be impossible to think that there could be a person in California who has never received even so much as one traffic ticket. To some, getting that occasional speeding ticket may seem annoying but can be chalked up to a normal thing. However, for many people the fines that go along with even the most minor infraction can be simply unpayable because their budgets do not have this kind of extra income.

Too many Californians end up having their licenses suspended and having additional fees added onto what they owe the state if they don’t pay a first fine on time. This only makes the prospect of them being able to pay their fine even less likely. Earlier this summer the state legislature banned the practice of suspending drivers’ licenses simply because they haven’t paid tickets. However, Solana County recently made a decision that goes a whole lot further and offers a lot more relief to people. Its approach is something other counties in the state may be wanting to watch or implement.

In brief, people who owe money for a traffic ticket can apply for assistance and, if they meet the low-income qualification, may be able to perform community service instead of paying fines, have their fines reduced or set up payment plans. This program is also available for people with outstanding tickets or suspensions.

No longer does the receipt of a traffic ticket need to mean an automatic hardship for people who have limited incomes. Talking to an attorney in these situations may offer new insights into how to seek this type of help.

Source: Times Herald Online, “Landmark settlement offers some relief from crushing traffic ticket fines,” Tammerlin Drummond, August 17, 2017