In California, a $25 fix-it ticket can snowball into $1,000 worth of fees and fines and a loss of driving privileges if the alleged violator doesn't show up in court. State Sen. Bob Hertzberg of Van Nuys has been fighting this injustice, which disproportionately affects the poor, with legislation that allows people to see a judge “before paying fines, restores driver’s licenses to those with a payment plan and reduces exorbitant fee debts by taking a person’s income into account,” according to Hertzberg's office.
Yay! But as the year comes to a close and we start thinking about how to do things better in California, let's get to the heart of the problem here: Stupid laws, many created or backed by law-and-order lobbyists, allow cops to pull you over pretty much on a whim. These laws seem custom-built for traffic officers who do nothing but sit at ticket traps all day and raise money for the local and state governments. And they allow law enforcers to stop and arrest people they don't like the looks of — who, according to stats, are predominantly minorities.
Here are five of our least favorite vehicle code laws:
Window tinting: Your driver's side and passenger's side windows cannot have tint that lets in less than 70 percent of light. Say what? Yeah, it's a gray area, no pun intended, one that essentially allows cops to pull you over for anything other than factory tint on those windows. (The windshield must contain no tint; a thin top strip can be tinted). While other sunbelt states, including Arizona and Florida, allow side-window tinting, California police have continued to oppose it based on “officer safety.” They want to be able to see you. And that's more important than your right to stay cool, even in Death Valley, the hottest place on Earth.
Front plates. The California requirement that front plates must be attached to passenger vehicles drives car enthusiasts nuts. The plates and factory indentations to accommodate them can ruin the lines and aesthetics of a car, particularly classic imports that weren't designed to conform to Golden State law. Many motorists just risk it and go plate-free. But they'll probably get stopped sooner or later. We have plates on the back of our vehicles, so why are front plates necessary? One reason: Those dreaded red-light cameras, which are just useless shakedown machines in L.A., need them to issue you a ticket.
Window stickers, permits and phones in your window. We see Uber drivers with phones mounted below their rear-view mirrors all the time. They want to see where Waze is taking them. That placement, however, is illegal. So are work, disabled and neighborhood parking permits hung from rear-view mirrors (hello, Beverly Hills!). And stickers (parking, temporary registration) that aren't in the lower left or right hand corners (5-inch square for the driver's lower-left corner; 7-inch square for the passenger's) aren't allowed, either. One exception: The California Department of Motor Vehicles says a 5-inch square of space “located in the center uppermost portion of your windshield” is OK to use “for an electronic toll payment device.” Cops who want to enforce this should carry measuring tape.
Sunglasses. Paging Elton John: Did you know that wearing sunglasses or any other eyeglasses “with temples wide enough to keep you from seeing clearly to the sides” is illegal for drivers in this here land of sunglasses, according to the DMV? It's true. We'd bet some cops didn't even know this one.
Hands off. The latest dumb law comes courtesy of state Assemblyman Bill Quirk. His AB 1785 goes into effect Jan. 1. It says you can no longer even hold your cellphone while driving, even if you're using it for navigation. But here's the kicker. You can touch the phone if it's mounted legally, but only if “the driver’s hand is used to activate or deactivate a feature or function of the handheld wireless telephone or wireless communications device with the motion of a single swipe or tap of the driver’s finger,” according to the language of the law. This, of course, is to prevent texting while driving. But how in the world is a cop going to know what you're doing with your finger on your legally mounted phone? How will he know what content is involved? And how will he prove it in court? Traffic law attorneys will have a field day with this one.