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New road laws

Ryan Lynn, 3, wears his new helmet while riding his Christmas scooter Wednesday at the skate park on South College Drive in Santa Maria. A new state law will waive monetary fines on juveniles cited for riding scooters, bikes or skateboards without a helmet, if they attend a safety course and prove they have a helmet within 120 days of being ticketed by a local law enforcement agency.

New road rules went into effect Tuesday for drivers across the Central Coast and state of California with an emphasis on helmet use for motorized scooters as well as reporting hit-and-run collisions on bike trails.

"We hope [the laws] will continue to help keep the Santa Maria community safe," said California Highway Patrol public information officer Efrem Moore, who highlighted a few new rules that will impact both officers and local drivers.

"Anything that the [state Legislature] can do to help maintain public safety, whether people are traveling in their scooters, bikes and other vehicles, we’ll always be on board with that,” he added.

Assembly Bill 2989

Helmets no longer required for scooter riders over 18

Assembly Bill 2989 results in two changes to the rules for operating motorized scooters. Adults over 18 can now choose to wear a helmet -- or not. In addition, motorized scooters may operate on a Class IV bikeway (paths used exclusively by bicycles) as well as a Class II bikeway (a striped lane for one-way bike travel on a street or highway), and on highways with speed limits up to 25 mph.

The bill was designed to provide clarity for riders, law enforcement and municipalities in defining electric scooters and where they should be allowed to operate. Previously, a valid driver's license or permit and a helmet were required when riding a motorized scooter on public streets. 

The bill also makes two small changes to accommodate new electric stand-up scooters. First, it gives local municipalities the power to pass ordinances to allow motorized scooter on streets with speed limits of up to 35 mph. Second, it removes the helmet requirement for riders over the age of 18, but still recommends the use of helmets for anyone traveling on scooters. 

Within city limits, officials would set their own laws if they determine a need, according to Santa Maria Police Lt. Russ Mengel. 

"As far as setting speed limits, we would work with the city's engineering department for a miles-per-hour system," Mengel said. "Nothing, however, will change for the Police Department's Traffic Bureau, until the laws change [in our jurisdiction.]" 

It is still illegal to operate a motorized scooter on a sidewalk, according to the law.

“I haven’t seen too many motorized scooters around town yet, and this law is more geared towards the electric scooters that have been showing up in major cities right now,” said Moore, who added that the law would have a more visible impact if there is an influx of motorized scooters in unincorporated areas of the county like Orcutt. 

Assembly Bill 3077

Riders under 18 must wear helmets or be cited

While those operating motorized scooters over the age of 18 can now choose not to wear a helmet, those under 18 must wear a helmet at all times, according to Assembly Bill 3077. 

Minors found in violation -- or their guardians -- will be issued a “fix-it ticket” if they are not wearing a properly fitted helmet while riding an electric scooter, bike or skateboard.

Existing law required riders under 18 to wear a properly fitted and fastened helmet while riding on, or as a passenger on a bicycle, nonmotorized scooter or a skateboard, or while wearing in-line or roller skates. Fines could also be imposed for violators, to not exceed $25. 

According to the state Senate bill analysis of Assemby Bill 3077, "some believe the rising level of [infraction costs] may have led to decreased enforcement among law enforcement agencies as they may be reluctant to issue a citation to a minor that may [be costly.]" 

The new law aims at strengthening collaborative efforts to increase helmet use among minors. 

The citation is considered nonpunitive because once a minor completes a bike safety course and obtains a helmet that meets safety standards within 120 days of being ticketed, the fine will be waived and no record will be filed in court. 

The helmet law first went into effect in 1993 due to the increasing number of reports regarding child head trauma and other injuries related to bicycle collisions.

“If you’re a child not wearing a helmet and riding a bike or motorized scooter for example, I could write you a ticket, or write your parents one for not keeping an eye out,” Moore said.

Assembly Bill 1755

Bicycle-pedestrian collisions must be reported

Another roadway law now in effect comes in response to the case of a Sacramento runner who was hospitalized with serious injuries in June 2017 after being hit by a bicyclist on a local bike trail. According to analysis of the bill compiled by the state Senate's transportation and housing committee, the bicyclist reportedly fled the scene, leaving the runner on the trail without reporting the crash or getting help. 

Assembly Bill 1755 requires cyclists to stop at the scene of a crash resulting in death or injury to another party, which is the same requirement that has been in place for automobile drivers.

The bill aims to remove any ambiguity about the responsibilities of cyclists on Class I bikeways, treating hit-and-run collisions on bike paths and running trails the same way they are treated for vehicle drivers on roadways. 

In the Santa Maria Valley, “we don’t have too many Class I bike paths here, except maybe just one by the Santa Maria River bridge near Highway 166,” noted Moore, but what will now change is that involved parties must contact the CHP, who will respond and write incident reports, “just the way we do with traffic collisions.”

Lawmakers also believe the need to patrol is likely to increase, as California has thousands of miles of separated bikeways and trails, and current state policies encourage and fund their continued development, according to the bill analyses. In fact, the 2017 State Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan set a target to triple bicycling and double walking paths by 2020, and also to reduce bike and pedestrian fatalities by 10 percent per year, according to the bill's analysis.

In order to achieve those goals, one of the recommendations outlined in the state plan is to increase local and regional networks of high quality bike and pedestrian facilities, including Class I fully separated bike paths and trails.

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Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210

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Courts/Public Safety Reporter