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Home --> Politics --> Traffic --> Wipe Out

Wipe Out

Claim:   A new California law makes it illegal to use windshield wipers when a vehicle's headlights are not illuminated.

Status:   Multiple — see below:

  • A 2005 California law makes it illegal to drive a vehicle during the day without illuminated headlights when visibility is impaired:   True.

  • That same 2005 law makes it illegal to use windshield wipers when headlights are not on:   False.
Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2005]

There is a new law effective January 1, 2005. During daylight hours, if the windshield wipers of your vehicle are in use while you're driving the vehicle, the headlamps of the vehicle must be on. A co-worker was stopped by the highway patrol Wednesday morning, January 5, 2005 because he violated the new law. The first ticket is $45. The second is $150.

According to my co-worker, the Officer who gave him the ticket said he and his fellow Officers do not like the new law. He personally felt the new law should've been advertised before subjecting unsuspecting California motorists to it. He also told him that California State Legislators dreamed up this law to help close the budget gap or something like that.

Origins:   On 1 January 2005, a number of new laws went into effect in California. Among them is a statute that enjoins motorists in the Golden State from driving without illuminated headlights when it is raining or when visibility is impaired (which is defined as visibility restricted to less than 1000 feet). It is not quite accurate to state, however, that the new law is predicated upon whether one uses windshield wipers, a phrasing that might serve to convince motorists they must turn on their headlights or risk a fine if they're to brush away those last few droplets left on the windshield after exiting the car wash. Rather, it is more accurate to say this new law requires motorists to turn their headlights on during the day if weather conditions make it necessary to operate windshield wipers on a continuous basis or if — wipers in use or not — they can't see more than 1000 feet ahead.

Implementation of this measure has been delayed until 1 July 2005. We mention for the benefit of those tempted to find some way around this new restriction that turning on your parking lights won't meet the requirement of the law.

The new law (found in Section 24400a of the California Vehicle Code) is worded thusly:
24400. (a) During darkness and inclement weather, a motor vehicle, other than a motorcycle, shall be equipped with at least two lighted headlamps, with at least one on each side of the front of the vehicle, and, except as to vehicles registered prior to January 1, 1930, they shall be located directly above or in advance of the front axle of the vehicle. The headlamps and every light source in any headlamp unit shall be located at a height of not more than 54 inches nor less than 22 inches.
(b) As used in subdivision (a), "inclement weather" is a weather condition that is either of the following:
    (1) A condition that prevents a driver of a motor vehicle from clearly discerning a person or another motor vehicle on the highway from a distance of 1,000 feet.
    (2) A condition requiring the windshield wipers to be in continuous use due to rain, mist, snow, fog, or other precipitation or atmospheric moisture.
(c) This section shall become operative on July 1, 2005.
Numerous other laws also went onto California's books on 1 January 2005. A recap of some of them:

  • Retailers must post clear signs explaining the rating system for video games.
  • Teens under 14 must get parental permission to use tanning salons.
  • Tighter controls on the operation of motorized scooters include requiring a driver's license or instructional permit. Engine modifications to make more noise are barred.
  • Those under 18 cannot buy any of several different forms of performance-enhancing dietary supplements.
  • Gay Rights:

  • Insurers must offer domestic partners the same health care benefits provided to married couples.
  • Domestic partners will have a broader range of rights and responsibilities, from pensions to inheritance to paying bills, when a partner dies. This measure was passed in 2003, but its implementation was set for 2005.
  • Gun Control:

  • A long-range weapon, the .50 BMG caliber firearm popular among hunters and at firing ranges, can no longer be sold in California. Current owners have until 30 April 2006 to register their personal rifles of this type.
  • Gun dealers, regardless of location, must run background checks on employees, expanding an existing law that limited the requirement to large population centers.
  • Law enforcement must conduct background checks before returning confiscated guns to owners to ensure they are not prohibited from possessing weapons.
  • Firestorm Aftermath:

  • Insurers must renew an existing policy at least once if a home's total loss was caused by a natural disaster, and policies cannot be cancelled between renewal periods while a home is being rebuilt.
  • Insurers must provide clear written warnings that rebuilding costs could exceed the value of their policies.
  • Firebreaks of at least 100 feet around homes will be mandatory.
  • Hotels cannot raise their rates more than 10 percent after a natural disaster.
  • Environment:

  • The rolling 30-year exemption for automobile smog checks is discarded.
  • Cruise ships are barred from burning garbage, dumping sewage, or disposing of kitchen and shower gray water within three miles of shore.
  • Ocean trawlers searching for fish cannot drag nets along the sea floor in certain areas.
  • A new Sierra Nevada Conservancy will be formed to protect the pristine mountain range.
  • Local air districts can hike vehicle registration fees by $2 and add 75 cents to the fee on new tires to cover their disposal.
  • Driving:

  • Toddlers will no longer be allowed to ride in the front seat if they are under age 6 or weigh less than 60 pounds. They must be secured in a back seat car restraint system unless there is no rear seat or the space is being used by children under the age of 12.
  • Motorists cannot buy devices, now used by emergency vehicles, to change red lights to green.
  • Fines will increase for motorists caught driving faster than 100 mph.
  • Public transit and school bus drivers cannot use cell phones while behind the wheel, unless it is for work-related calls or emergencies.
  • Headlights must be turned on when weather conditions require continuous use of windshield wipers.
  • Insurers must post their lowest price policies on the Web or make them available through toll-free telephone numbers.
  • Penalties will increase for street racing to also include a mandatory 40 hours of community service.
  • DUI convictions will remain on a driver's record for ten years, rather than seven.
  • Computers:

  • Users and Internet Service Providers can collect $1,000 for each unwanted e-mail advertisement sent to them using a false or misleading subject or address.
  • Secretly installing spyware — programs that can collect data from computers without the owner's knowledge — is banned.
  • Those who use the Internet to send copies of music and films must disclose their true e-mail addresses to discourage piracy.
  • Miscellaneous:

  • Pharmacists can dispense up to 10 clean needles a year to those without a prescription — a move supporters say will help stem the flow of disease while critics call it an endorsement of illegal drug use. However, cities and counties must approve first.
  • The bedroom is added to a list of locations ordered off-limits to filming without permission in response to an explosion of cell-phone cameras and miniature recorders. Current law already includes dressing rooms and bathrooms.
  • Those convicted of drug possession or use are no longer barred from receiving food stamps. Those convicted of dealing or manufacturing drugs are still banned
  • The return of the June primary, eliminating statewide elections in March.
  • Limits on providing vaccines to pregnant women and children under the age of 3.
  • Wild and exotic cats cannot be declawed.
  • The state will pay a $10,000 death benefit to the surviving spouse or beneficiary of any member of the California National Guard, State Military Reserve, or Naval Militia who dies or is killed after 1 March 2003 in the performance of duty.
  • Retailers must honor gift certificates that carry "redemption" dates. California law has barred "expiration" dates, but some retailers substituted "redemption" to force customers to use the gift within a year or lose the money.
  • Smoking in prisons by inmates and guards will become illegal on 1 July 2005.
  • Men now have two years from a child's birth or a paternity declaration to file paternity challenges based on genetic testing. The previous deadline was six months.
Barbara "westlaw" Mikkelson

Last updated:   24 January 2005

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  Sources Sources:
    Bird, Andrew.   "CHP Can Now Ticket for No Headlights in Safety Zone."
    Eureka Times-Standard.   1 January 2005.

    Gardner, Michael.   "New Year Brings New Laws to Ponder."
    Copley News Service.   4 January 2005.

    Mendez, Lys.   "Winter Precipitates Problems for Motorists."
    [Riverside] Press Enterprise.   5 January 2005   (p. B1).

    [Chico] Enterprise Record.   "Some Driving Laws Will Impact Butte Motorists."
    28 December 2004.