Judd Matsunaga for webBy JUDD MATSUNAGA, Esq.

Do you have a young driver in your family? If so, the tragic death of action star Paul Walker might provide you an opportunity to speak with your grandchild. Walker, star of the “Fast and Furious” movie and sequels, recently died in a fiery car accident on a road known for illegal street racing.

According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, speeding as a contributing factor in fatal auto wrecks has increased by a whopping 30 percent between 2000 and 2011.

“Hollywood does not present the challenges of driving in a realistic manner,” said entertainment attorney Julian Chan. “It often shows people easily getting out of crashes and rarely shows bystanders being injured.

“Treating reckless driving as something glamorous without consequences encourages people to emulate such behavior. Perhaps now is the time to present the risks of high-speed driving in the same light.”

In his last California visit, President Obama spoke to executives at DreamWorks in Glendale, urging them to take “responsibility” for the content of their films.

“But Judd, my grandchild drives a Honda — he (or she) doesn’t street race.” Of course, but what about distracted driving? Did you know that for drivers 15-19 years old involved in fatal car crashes, 21% of them were distracted by the use of cell phones? (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)

At any given moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010. (National Occupant Protection Use Survey) “But Judd,” you might say, “California banned texting while driving back in 2009.”

Well, guess what — a new study published in the International Journal of Sustainable Strategic Management found that the average college student sends 82 text messages a day. Furthermore, four out of five texted while driving. The study concluded that “simply outlawing the behavior is insufficient to persuade people not to do it.”

As such, texting while driving across the country has exploded. According to a survey by AAA of California, texting while driving is up 126% since the 2009 ban. The folks at AAA noted that there has been a “tremendous growth in texting overall during the last five years.”

One reason for the increase of texting while driving is the introduction of the smart phone, such as the iPhones and Samsung Galaxy. Perhaps a bigger reason is that young drivers (males in particular) downplay the dangers of distracted driving because they believe they are better drivers, even while texting, than other drivers.

Insane? You bet! A naturalistic driving study conducted by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute shows that engaging in visual-manual subtasks associated with the use of hand-held phones (e.g., texting) and other portable devices increase the risk of getting into a crash by three times!!!

Because text messaging requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming distraction. The VTTI study found that sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s the equivalent of driving the length of an entire football field BLIND!!!

The following California driving laws are taken from a survival guide for teenagers entitled “When You Turn 18,” put out by the California Bar Association:

Cell phones and driving: It is against the law to use a cell phone while driving unless you are at least 18 and your cell phone is set up for hands-free use, or you are making an emergency call (to law enforcement, for example). Drivers under age 18 will be prohibited from talking on cell phones, “texting” messages or using any mobile service device while driving — except to place an emergency call. And in July of 2011, it will become illegal for anyone to drive while using an “electronic wireless communications device” to text or write, send or read any other type of “text-based communication.” (Simply entering a phone number or name to make or receive a call would be an exception.) (VC §§ 23123, 23123.5, 23124)

Speed contests: Speed contests are against the law. A judge can suspend or restrict a first-time offender’s driver’s license for up to six months, impound the vehicle for 30 days and send the driver to jail for 90 days, as well as impose fines and community service. And if someone other than the driver is injured, the driver could face even stiffer penalties. (VC §§ 23109, 23109.1, 23109.2)

Reckless driving: California law prohibits driving a vehicle on a highway or in an off-street parking facility in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others or property. It also provides for more severe punishment for reckless drivers who cause others to be injured, including the revocation of the driver’s driving privilege after the third conviction in 12 months. (VC §§ 13351(a)(2), 23103- 23105)

Obscuring your license plate: It is illegal to use or sell any product (such as a special coating) intended to obscure the reading of a car license plate by certain electronic devices. Such electronic devices include, for example, those operated by law enforcement and those used in connection with toll roads, high-occupancy toll lanes and toll bridges. Selling or using any such product could lead to a fine. (VC §§ 5201(g), 5201.1)

Road rage: A driver may cut you off and nearly cause an accident, but avoid taking matters into your own hands. Road rage can result in a six-month suspension of your driver’s license (first offense) and an order to complete a “road rage” course, and could even land you in jail. Or you could be charged with assault with a deadly weapon, and face up to four years in prison and a $10,000 fine. (VC § 13210; PC § 245(a))

Blaring music and loud horns: Think twice before cranking up your car’s sound system or misusing your horn while on the road. Such noise could lead to a ticket or even, in some instances, misdemeanor charges. Generally, the car horn can only be used as a warning “when reasonably necessary to insure safe operation” of the car or as a theft alarm system. And your music (or other sound amplification system) is too loud if it can be heard from 50 feet away. This would not apply to certain sound systems, such as those used for emergencies, advertising or political events. (VC §§ 27001, 27007; PC § 415)

Littering and throwing objects at or from a vehicle: California law makes it a misdemeanor to throw anything at or from a moving vehicle, and a felony to do so with the intent to cause great bodily harm. The law also prohibits littering or throwing lighted cigarettes from a motor vehicle; the penalties range from a $100 fine to a $1,000 fine and probation. And the offender would be ordered to pick up litter or clean graffiti. (VC §§ 23110-12, 42001.7)

Hit and run: In California, you must stop after any accident in which someone is injured or someone else’s property is damaged. You also must exchange names, addresses, driver’s license numbers, vehicle license numbers and other relevant information. And if someone dies in the collision, the accident must be reported to the California Highway Patrol (CHP) or a police officer immediately. When only property damage is involved, the maximum penalty for failing to report such damage or otherwise notify the property owner is six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. If someone is injured or killed and you fail to stop and/or report it, the potential penalties are much greater. (VC §§ 20001-04)

Driving without a license: In California, it is a misdemeanor to drive without a valid driver’s license or permit. Also, the law requires drivers to have their licenses in their possession while driving. Driving with a suspended or revoked license is a misdemeanor that could lead to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine for a first conviction of certain offences. In addition, the unlicensed driver’s car (even if it is a borrowed vehicle) can be impounded for up to six months. (VC §§ 12500-27, 14601 et seq., 23592)

Judd Matsunaga, Esq., is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Matsunaga & Associates, specializing in estate/Medi-Cal Planning, probate, personal injury and real estate law. With offices in Torrance, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and Fountain Valley, he can be reached at (800) 411-0546. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.


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