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“Ask George”

Expert Answers to Common DMV Questions

By George Valverde – Director, California Department of Motor Vehicles

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Do you have questions about general driving related requirements like registration and insurance? Are you unclear about laws and restrictions related to driving? The California Department of Motor Vehicles has answers. "Save Time by Going Online," at www.dmv.ca.gov.

Q: Why are some areas in my city regarded as "double-fine" zones?

A: Due to increased accidents, injuries, and fatalities, certain roads are designated as "Safety Enhanced-Double Fine Zones." Fines are doubled in these areas and also in highway construction or maintenance zones when workers are present.

Pay extra attention where road work is being performed. Signs and message boards warn you of workers, slow moving equipment, and closed lanes ahead. Cones and/ or drums will direct you to open lanes. Merge as soon as possible without crossing the cones or drums. Reduce your speed and be prepared to merge early, slow down or stop for highway equipment.

Do not use your phone in a Cone Zone and keep your eyes on the road and vehicles ahead. Remember to "Slow for the Cone Zone."

Q: I am a first time car buyer and I'm looking to purchase a used car in the next month. In my search, I've noticed some amazing cars have "salvaged" titles. What does this mean?

A: A "salvaged" vehicle is defined as having been wrecked or damaged in some way, and the owner, insurance company, financial institution or leasing company considers it too expensive to repair. Commonly these cars are also referred to as "totaled."

DMV issues a salvage certificate when it receives a report of the damage. A salvaged title is issued after the vehicle is repaired and re-registered. This is probably what you are seeing in the car ads.

Regardless of what type of car you buy, always protect yourself by researching the vehicle's history online by using the VIN (vehicle identification number), making sure the car has complete existing DMV paperwork, or ask the seller to provide receipts of the repairs made to the car. If you still have doubts, get the car inspected before you buy it.  For more information, go to http://www.dmv.ca.gov/vr/buyinfo.htm.

Q: My husband and I are interested in buying a houseboat for our annual vacation next summer. Do we register it with the DMV like any other boat?

A: Yes, you must register your new houseboat with the DMV like any other boat. A houseboat is considered a "vessel" and every sail-powered vessel over eight feet in length and every motor-driven vessel (regardless of length) that is not documented by the U.S. Coast Guard which is used on the waters of this state, are subject to registration by DMV. Make sure to get this out of the way because without paying the applicable fees, your houseboat cannot be placed in California waters. You can obtain more information about vessel registration on the DMV Web site at: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/boatsinfo/boatreg.htm. Save Time. Go Online!

Q: I really want to become an organ donor the next time I renew my driver license but I heard that it might be costly to my family. Is this true?

A: Absolutely not! Costs related to organ and/or tissue donations will be covered by the organ and tissue donor program, so you will not be responsible for any aspect of the donation process. However, medical care up to the point of donation and funeral costs remain the responsibility of a relative or persons in charge of the estate. To learn more and to sign up online to be an organ and tissue donor in California go to: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/about/donateLife/donateLife.htm.

Q: I heard on the news the other day something about the REAL ID Act being enacted by the Department of Homeland Security. Will that affect me in any way?

A: You are correct, the REAL ID Act is a federal program that states may choose to adopt or not. The act sets minimum standards for states to issue a REAL ID compliant driver license/identification (DL/ID) card that will be acceptable for official federal purposes as defined by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. California has requested, and was granted, an extension, thus there will be no immediate impact to California drivers. For more details on the REAL ID Act go to: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/realid/index.htm.

Q: My son's friend just got his driver license and has offered to give my son a ride to school since we live nearby. Both boys are 17 and tell me it's legally okay, but I suspect they may be bending the rules. What's the real deal?

A: Your parental instincts are correct. Your son's friend has been issued a provisional driver license and if he wants to transport your son, he needs to be accompanied and supervised by a licensed parent, guardian or other licensed driver 25 years of age or older for the first 12 months after he received his license. Go to http://www.dmv.ca.gov/teenweb/dl_btn2/dl.htm on the DMV Web site for more details.

Q: My mother is in her 70s and insists on driving herself everywhere she goes! Twice, when I've been in the car with her, I've had to remind her to put her seat belt on. Does the DMV have some sort of test she can take to see if she is still okay to drive?

A: Most definitely. Visit the DMV Web site at www.DMV.ca.gov and click on the "Seniors" tab located near the top of the homepage. There you will find a Senior Driver Self-Assessment test (http://www.dmv.ca.gov/about/senior/senior_self_ess.html) that you can take with your mother.

Q: I am planning on riding my bike to work. I did a test run of my route and found that some parts of the street didn't have a shoulder or bicycle lane and the traffic lane was very narrow. Can I take the traffic lane and still be safe?

A: When you are faced with these conditions on the road, you can use the traffic lane, but make sure you ride closer to the center of the lane. This will prevent motorists from dangerously attempting to squeeze past you when there is not enough room. You should also take the traffic lane when you are traveling at the same speed as the traffic around you. This will keep you out of the motorist's blind spots and reduce conflicts with right-turning traffic. For more safety tips for bicyclists and motorists go to http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/brochures/fast_facts/ffdl37.htm.

Q: I am interested in preparing to qualify for a Commercial Drivers License. Is there a driver handbook I can review?

A: Yes. You can log on to the DMV Web site to get an online version at www.dmv.ca.gov , or just click on http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/comlhdbk/comlhdbk.pdf. You will learn about driving safety for commercial drivers, transporting cargo safely, air brakes, transporting passenger and much, much more.

Q: I know you have the California Driver Handbook available in English and Spanish. Are there any other languages available? I need an Armenian version.

A: Absolutely! You can go onto the DMV's Web site http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/pubs.htm to find PDF versions of each handbook. Other languages available are Armenian, Chinese, Korean, Punjabi, Russian, Tagalog and Vietnamese. You may also obtain the handbooks at any of the department's field offices or by calling the department's Telephone Service Center at (800) 777-0133.

Q: Are there any tips on what kinds of clothing to wear when riding a motorcycle so that I can make sure people will see me?

A: Most crashes occur in broad daylight. However, it is advisable to wear brightly-colored clothing such as a bright orange, yellow or green jacket or vest to increase your chances of being seen at night. Brightly colored helmets can also help others see you. Reflective materials on a vest and on the sides of your helmet can be an option as well. For more information, check out the California Motorcycle Handbook on the DMV Web site http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/pubs.htm.

Q: I'm disabled and have a service animal with me at all times. Is my dog allowed to come with me into the DMV office?

A: Yes, absolutely they are allowed. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal is any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. Animals which meet this definition are considered service animals whether or not they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.

Q: I almost got in a car crash when I was on a mountain road because I wasn't sure what to do and neither was the other driver. Who has the right of way?

A: When two vehicles meet on a steep road where neither can pass, the vehicle facing downhill must yield the right-of-way by backing up until the vehicle going uphill can pass. The vehicle facing downhill has the best control of the vehicle when backing up. More rules of the road can be found in the California Driver Handbook online at www.DMV.ca.gov.

Q: I own a local construction firm and all of my employees have cell phones with the push-to-talk feature. Is using that feature allowed now that the new cell phone laws are in effect?

A: No. There is only an exception to use the push-to-talk feature for those operating commercial motor trucks or truck tractors (excluding pickups), implements of husbandry, farm vehicles and tow trucks. Also, operators of an authorized emergency vehicle and motorists operating a vehicle on private property are exempt. However, if a hands-free ear piece or other hands-free device is attached to the push-to-talk feature, it is acceptable. To get all of your questions answered about cell phone related driving laws, please visit: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/cellularphonelaws/index.htm.

Q: I am a car dealer and I always like to know when there are any new laws or updates that may affect my customers and the way I do business. Is there an easy way to stay in touch with DMV happenings?

A: Yes. You can now subscribe to receive DMV e-mail alerts. These notify you immediately when we have a new publication or an update posted on the department's Web site that may affect your customers or business. Just follow this link, http://www.emailalert.dmv.ca.gov/subscriptions.asp, where you can enter your e-mail address and choose the types of alerts you would like to receive. This is a great tool for any business and can easily be updated or canceled at any time. You can also visit the DMV Web site any time by logging on to www.dmv.ca.gov. There you can find a plethora of information about all things DMV. Save Time. Go Online!

Q: I just got a mo-ped to save gas and I've heard a lot of different information regarding where I can ride it. I've been told that you cannot ride a mo-ped in a bicycle lane, is this true?

A: You may ride a mo-ped in a bicycle lane at a reasonable speed but must be careful of bicyclists using the lane. To find more information about mo-peds go to the California Motorcycle Handbook on the DMV Web site in the Publications section or click on http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/dl655/dl665mcycle.pdf.

Q: Is there a course available for my grandmother to improve her driving skills where she can participate with other people her age?

A: Definitely. Your grandmother can attend a Mature Driver Improvement Course, which is tailored to the needs of older drivers. In this course, topics such as defensive driving, California vehicle laws, the effects of medication on a person's safe driving ability and more will be discussed. The course is six hours and costs $330 which includes a DMV certificate. If your grandmother presents this certificate to her insurer, she may be eligible for a reduction on her vehicle insurance premium. A list of approved programs can be found on the DMV Web site at http://www.dmv.ca.gov/about/senior/senior_top.htm by clicking on Mature Driver Improvement Programs.

Q: I want to have maximum protection for my head and face when I'm riding my motorcycle. Do you have any tips on what is the best helmet option?

A: Although there are many styles of helmets to choose from, you will get the most protection by making sure the helmet:

· Fits snuggly

· Has no cracks, loose padding or frayed straps

· Meets U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and state safety standards

· Has the DOT lettering on the back of the helmet which IS NOT a stick-on label or easily removed

· Has a plastic shatter-resistant face shield

For more information how to best protect yourself while riding a motorcycle, go to the DMV Web site and review the California Motorcycle Handbook at http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/dl655/dl665mcycle.pdf.

Q: I always use my uncle's Disabled Person Parking Placard. I know I'm not supposed to, but what's the big deal if he lets me have it?

A: The big deal is that local law enforcement has the primary authority to enforce parking placard or disabled person license plate misuse. Placard abuse can result in the cancellation and revocation of the placard and loss of the privileges it provides. For you, the worst part may be that you can receive a minimum fine of $250, a maximum fine of $3,500, up to 6 months of imprisonment or both. But you should also consider the hardship you are causing others who really need the parking space you are using. Also, please let your uncle know that it is illegal to lend his placard to anyone. For more information on disabled person parking placards go to www.dmv.ca.gov and click on Publications, Vehicle Registration Brochures, Disabled Person Parking Placard or Plates or just click on http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/brochures/fast_facts/ffvr07.htm.

[The DMV is a department under the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, which is under the direction of Secretary Dale E. Bonner. The DMV licenses drivers, maintains driving records, registers and tracks official ownership of vehicles and vessels, investigates auto and identity-related fraud, and licenses car dealers, driving schools, and traffic violator schools. For more information about the DMV, visit www.dmv.ca.gov.]


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