New California Law Would Allow You to Show Proof of Insurance, Registration Via Smartphone

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Tue, Feb 21, 2012 at 12:00 PM

click to enlarge Paris-approved.
  • Paris-approved.
California drivers should be able to store proof of insurance and vehicle registration on their smartphones, says Mike Gatto, a state assemblyman for Los Angeles, in his proposed Assembly Bill 1708.

Which really makes us think: How does this not exist already?

Gatto feels the same way. "It only makes sense for the state where the iPad was designed to remain on the technological forefront" ...

... he says in a prepared statement on AB 1708 today. (He even got a Jobs reference in there! Genius!)

Under the proposed amendment to the vehicle code, both the DMV and individual insurance providers would be required to provide electronic versions of their respective documents to anyone who asks. And California cops would obviously be required to accept smartphone PDFs of our crumpled glove-box necessities.

Here's the bill in its entirety.

click to enlarge Gatto wins the heart of cool kids all over California
  • Gatto wins the heart of cool kids all over California
"This legislation falls into the category of eliminating one of the small hassles in life," Assemblyman Gatto says in his presser. "And it brings a couple of out-dated state laws into the electronic age." (Something that dinosauric state and city agencies are notoriously terrible at.)

Hallelujah, right?

However, we've contacted Gatto for some clarification, because 1) this seems to fly in the face of a current National Transportation Safety Board crusade to ban all portable electronic devices in cars, even hands-free; and 2) the DMV is already hanging by a thread, cash- and manpower-wise.

Also, an L.A. Weekly colleague points out that once a phone is in a law enforcement officer's clutches, there can be some privacy concerns.

For instance, when one is arrested (as one very well can be, during a traffic stop), an officer can legally search the suspect's phone -- unless it has a pass code. For this reason, it's always a good idea to keep your phone locked. But if it's already unlocked so an officer can view your insurance/registration, the legal gray area might open up an opportunity for him or her to search your phone. Not cool, no matter how hassle-free.

Update: Gatto says he's got the privacy aspect covered.

Because the cops-can-search-your-phone outrage has "concerned" the assemblyman "greatly, for a long time," he says he'll ensure that AB 1708 includes a clause that prevents law enforcement from looking at anything other than your insurance/registration PDFs.

"Last year we passed a bill to try to undo that," Gatto laments. But he says it was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown at the final hour.

As for the concern of limited DMV resources: Gatto says that "At some point during evolution of law, 'document' changed to encompass electronic document as well." So if the DMV can hand you a paper document, they can scan you one, too.

Besides, that's a little irrelevant, because the people of California will be able to scan their own documents onto their phone as they please. AB 1708 mostly just forces officers to accept the scans as legit.

Lastly -- will the federal movement to ban smartphone usage in cars be an obstacle for this bill?

"I dont think that that issue will ever go anywhere," says Gatto. He finds it ridiculous that if someone in the passenger seat wanted to check an email, they might one day be prevented from doing so.

Which pretty much makes Gatto our favorite Sacramento suit of the day.

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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