THE CALIFORNIA VEHICLE ACT, 1923
The Motor Vehicle Conference bill of 1923 was introduced by Senator Arthur H. Breed, President Pro Tempore of the California State Senate. Senator Breed was the author of practically all motor vehicle and highway legislation enacted during the period 1923 to 1931, inclusive.
The 1923 Vehicle Act was logically arranged in thirteen titles: Title I, Definition of Terms; Title II, Division of Motor Vehicles; Title III, Registration of Motor Vehicles; Title IV, Violation of Provisions Relating to Registration and Licenses, Penalties; Title V, Miscellaneous Notices Required; Title VI, Operators' and Chauffeurs' Licenses; Title VII, Registration and License Fees; Title VIII, Regulations Concerning Construction and Equipment of Vehicles; Title IX, Regulation as to Operation of Vehicles; Title X, Miscellaneous Offenses; Title XI, Penalties; Title XII, Procedure Reports, Disposition of Fees, Fines and Forfeitures; and Title XIII, Title and Effect of Act.
This act established the framework for all subsequent amendments until the vehicle laws were recodified in the Vehicle Code of 1935. In the 1923 act the length of sections was restricted and much of the verbosity prevalent in prior acts was eliminated. For example, the definition of "person" was stated as follows:
See. 15. "Person." Every natural person, firm, copartnership, association or corporation.
The prior act defined the same term as follows:
"Person" shall include any corporation, association, copartnership, company, firm, or other aggregation of individuals; and where the term "person" is used in connection with the registration of a vehicle, it shall include any corporation, association, copartnership, company, firm, or other aggregation of individuals which owns or controls such vehicle as actual owner, or for the purpose of sale or for renting, whether as agent, salesman, or otherwise.
It would not serve any useful purpose to make other derogatory comparisons between the modernized drafting in the 1923 act, Chapter 266, and the prior archaic and utterly verbose drafting of the traffic laws. Rather, we point out certain of the major features of the California Vehicle Act of 1923 as finally enacted in the closing days Of the legislative session.
In Section 30 we find that the Chief of the Division was authorized to appoint a sufficient number of State inspectors and traffic officers to enforce the provisions of the act in each of the counties of the State, Such officers being vested with 'he authority of peace officers for the Purpose of enforcing the provisions of the act. The Chief of the Division and boards of supervisors were authorized to enter into cooperative agreements in regard to the appointment of such inspectors and traffic officers. This represents the rather humble beginning of a traffic enforcement body which later became the California Highway Patrol.
Registration provisions were completely rewritten. The Division was required to register motor vehicles in suitable books or on index cards under at least three systems: (1) under a distinctive registration number assigned to the vehicle and to the owner; (2) alphabetically under the name of the owner; (3) numerically under the motor number of the vehicle; (4) the Division was authorized, but not required, to register the vehicle under the serial number of such vehicle or otherwise. This furnishes substantially the basis for the maintenance of registration records during all subsequent years.
Previously, registration certificates carried in vehicles included space for endorsements by the owner and legal owner, thus affording opportunity for a thief to steal a vehicle and the document, the endorsement of which permitted its transfer, even though accomplished by forgery. The new act required the issuance of a certificate of registration, to be-carried in the vehicle for the purpose of identification and a certificate of ownership, not required to be carried in the vehicle, but intended to be kept separate and apart and to be used in effecting transfers of ownership. This basic plan has been carried through all subsequent editions of the State vehicle laws.
Nonresidents were required by Section 47 to obtain nonresident permits, without fee, and were entitled to receive a registration certificate of a distinctive form for purposes of identification.
Section 50 enumerated the grounds upon which the Division could refuse registration. We should note No. 4:
If the division shall determine that for any reason a vehicle is unsafe or is improperly equipped or is otherwise unfit to be operated. This provision has been retained and expanded in later revisions of the Vehicle Act.
The law relating to operators and chauffeurs was completely revised, but without requiring examination as a prerequisite to the issuance of a license. Minimum age limits were set--driver of a school bus, 21 years; chauffeur operating for-hire passenger vehicle, IS years; operators, 14 years. The application of any minor would not be granted unless signed by both the father and mother having custody, and the negligence of the minor was imputed to the person or persons signing the application. Again, this established a basic principle included in all subsequent editions of the vehicle laws.
In respect to registration and license fees, the 1923 act abolished the old horsepower tax and adopted a flat registration fee of $3.00, together with a schedule of weight fees for commercial vehicles.
Senator Arthur H. Breed was the author of a companion measure in 1923 which levied the original gasoline tax in this State at the rate of two cents per gallon, one cent was appropriated for county roads, and the other one cent'16r maintenance and reconstruction of -state highways. As a matter of precaution, the California Vehicle Act of 1923 contained in Section 77 a subdivision effective to reinstate the former horsepower tax in the event the courts declared unconstitutional the license tax levied on the manufacture and sale of motor vehicle fuel.
Title VIII of the California Vehicle Act was devoted to the construction and equipment of vehicles, including a complete rewrite of the standards to be applied to headlamps, and regulating the amount of light, both above and below the horizontal plane of the headlamps. It was required that every such headlamp device be subject to test and approval.
The rules of the road were reworded. The speed limit in open territory was set at 35 miles per hour, subject to the basic rule that speed should always be reasonable and prudent, having regard to the traffic, surface and width of the highway. Further, the revised speed limits were declared to be prima facie, rather than maximum limits. That is, any speed in excess of the limits set forth was presumed to be in violation of the basic rule, but did not constitute conclusive evidence of such violation. The act required sign posting of certain restricted districts.
Detailed provisions were included in reference to overtaking and passing, method of turning, and right of way. The act also established the three-way hand-and-arm signal method now retained in our Vehicle Code.
Section 140 indicated continued concern for the safety of animal drawn vehicles, requiring extra caution under certain circumstances.
The legislature, by Section 145, indicated its intent that the Vehicle Act should not be deemed to occupy the entire field in certain respects, enumerating the subjects which might be dealt with by boards of supervisors and legislative bodies of cities.
In reference to procedure upon arrest, we find the first requirement for issuance of a citation to appear in court after five days for certain offenses and for the release of the person arrested upon his giving a written promise to appear at the time and place specified. It was made a separate misdemeanor for any person to violate such promise to appear. A promise to appear could be complied with by an appearance by counsel.
Section 155 prohibited the use of speed traps, as defined, for the Purpose of obtaining evidence as to the speed of a vehicle on a public highway.
Due to a number of factors, the California Vehicle Act in 1923, in Section 85, was made effective to reduce former permissible truck weight limits as follows. The previous limit of 30,000 pounds on four-wheel vehicles was reduced to 22,000 pounds. The former permissible weight of 40,000 pounds on vehicles with six wheels and three axles was reduced to 34,000 pounds. A temporary exemption was allowed previously registered four-wheel commercial vehicles permitted to carry 24,000 pounds.
Also, by Section 118, the speed of any vehicle of a gross weight of 16,000 pounds or more was restricted to 20 miles per hour. As explained by Senator Arthur Breed in an article dated July, 1923, the State Highway Commission during the years 1910 to 1922, inclusive, had expended approximately $125 million in constructing, maintaining and repairing our system of State highways. Nevertheless, it had become increasingly manifest that the State highways were rapidly deteriorating after a very short life. It was recognized that over a million vehicles were registered in the year 1923, of which a substantial proportion were heavy-type commercial vehicles.
After thorough studies and surveys, additional highway construction funds were provided, as previously described, and it was deemed necessary to restrict the weights and speed of heavy commercial vehicles as set forth above.
AMENDMENTS TO THE CALIFORNIA VEHICLE ACT
We mention only the following more important amendments in the year 1925.
The requirement for annual renewal of certificate of ownership was omitted and the same remained valid until canceled by the Division upon a transfer. In the event a deceased owner left one vehicle and no other property, the surviving wife or other heir could secure a transfer to the name of the surviving person upon filing an affidavit.
The Division was authorized to investigate accidents and to suspend or revoke the license of any person who had driven a motor vehicle in a reckless or negligent manner, and thereby had caused death or injury to any person or serious damage to property. Such action could be taken only after a hearing within the county of residence of the licensee, and the latter was given the right to appeal to the local Superior Court.
In the field of drivers' licenses, chauffeurs' licenses were required to be renewed annually. Other outstanding licenses were deemed valid until suspended or revoked. An application for a license must be verified and contain the applicant's qualifications. The Division was authorized to examine applicants and directed not to issue a license if, in its opinion, the applicant was unable to exercise reasonable and ordinary control over the operation of a motor vehicle, or was subject to defects affecting his ability to drive.
Technical amendments were adopted in respect to headlamps, including authority granted the Division to accept the report of a headlight test from the Bureau of Standards of the Department of Commerce of the United States. During a later session the latter provision was repealed.
An amendment in Section 145 permitted boards of supervisors to overcome the usual right-of-way rule by erecting stop signs at the entrances to designated boulevards.
LEGISLATIVE SESSION, 1927
Senator Arthur H. Breed, President Pro Tempore of the State Senate, introduced and secured the enactment in 1927 of extremely important highway and motor vehicle legislation. One measure increased the rate of the State gasoline tax from two to three cents, the additional one cent permitting expansion in the development of the State highway system. We may note that the State gasoline tax was not again increased until the year 1947.
A companion bill by Senator Breed designated a primary and secondary State highway system, allocating funds in respect to each such system and as between County Group I in the north and County Group II in the south, thereby resolving a conflict which had existed for several years over the expenditure of highway funds in the northern and southern portions of the State.
Senator Breed also introduced and secured the enactment of amendments to the California Vehicle Act substantially as recommended by the Motor Vehicle Conference. This bill, as finally enacted, strengthened the drivers' license law, making compulsory the examination of new operators, including test of the applicant's knowledge of the rules of the road included in the Vehicle Act. Previously, examination of new operators had been discretionary with the Division. The new provisions were designed to authorize the Division to deny operators' licenses to the incompetent and to those suffering such physical or mental defects as to render them incapable of exercising proper control in the operation of motor vehicles.
The Division was also authorized from time to time to cancel operators' licenses outstanding three years or more and to require renewal without fee. The purpose was to enable the Division to weed out the constantly flagrant violators of the traffic laws and those repeatedly causing accidents on the highways.
Another amendment required the forwarding of motor vehicle accident records involving personal injury or death to the Division, which was authorized to tabulate and analyze such statistics for the purpose of determining the number, cause and location of highway accidents. Previously, no State agency was charged with the duty of recording or investigating highway accidents.
Various other amendments related to equipment and rules of the road. The existing speed regulations were retained, except that the prima facie limit in open territory was increased from 35 to 40 miles per hour.
The legislature refused passage of a series of bills to create a bureau of inspection and require monthly inspection of motor vehicles; to require operators of motor vehicles to stop before crossing any steam, interurban or electric railway, except street railways in cities; and to require the licensing and examination of motor vehicle mechanics. The legislature refused to sanction several measures designed to require every motorist to provide automobile liability insurance or otherwise to file indemnity agreements against any negligent act by such owner or operator.
Such controversy had arisen in respect to compulsory automobile liability insurance that the legislature adopted a resolution, Chapter 47, to provide for the creation of a joint committee of the Senate and Assembly to study the problem and to render a report to the succeeding legislative session in 1929.
LEGISLATIVE SESSION, 1929
The legislature, in 1929, received a comprehensive report of the Joint Legislative Committee of the Senate and Assembly relating to traffic hazards, other traffic problems, and compulsory motor vehicle liability insurance. This Joint Legislative Committee, of which the Honorable Edgar C. Levey, Speaker of the Assembly, was Chairman, was appointed in 1927, pursuant to Concurrent Resolution No. 19. It made an extensive study, extending over a two-year period, of the traffic accident problem in California and the advisability of a law requiring motorists to give some security that valid traffic accident claims should be paid.
The report of said committee, available at this date in pamphlet form, comprised approximately 90 pages of. discussion, statistical material and proposed legislative measures. It pointed out numerous difficulties in connection with the compulsory insurance law in Massachusetts and recommended against the enactment of such a law in California. The legislative committee recommended, and the legislature enacted, a series of amendments to the California Vehicle Act, known as the original Financial Responsibility Law, and conforming substantially with Section 16370, et seq., of the 1959 Vehicle Code.
These amendments required the suspension of the license and registration of any motorist who failed to satisfy a traffic accident judgment in excess of $100 for property damage or for damage in any amount on account of bodily injury or death. Any such suspension could not be set aside unless and until the judgment debtor paid the judgments up to certain amounts set forth in the statute and gave proof of financial ability to pay any future claims based upon negligent operation of a motor vehicle.
The Joint Legislative Committee also recommended, and the legislature enacted, a measure, new Civil Code Section 1714.5, imposing liability upon the State, county, city and other governmental agencies for damages caused by the negligence of officers and employees in operating motor vehicles in the course of their official employment or when operating publicly owned motor vehicles. This measure conformed substantially with present Section 17001 of the Vehicle Code.
Another measure, adding Civil Code Section 17141/4, extended the responsibility of owners of motor vehicles. It had always been the law in California that an owner would be held liable for the negligence of an agent or servant operating a vehicle upon the owner's business. However, in many instances, agency could not be proved and the owner escaped liability. The new measure, substantially as now included in Vehicle Code Section 17150, declared that the owner of a motor vehicle shall be responsible for the negligence of any person using or operating the same with the permission, express or implied, of such owner whether on the latter's business or not. This liability was subject to the limits as set forth in the 1959 Vehicle Code, Section 17151.
An amendment of Vehicle Act Section 62 declared the same limitations as to the liability of parents signing the application of a minor for a driver's license in respect to negligent operation by such minor.
The legislature also enacted the motor vehicle bill introduced by Senator Arthur H. Breed, and supported by the Motor Vehicle Conference. This measure created the "California Highway Patrol," to be administered by the Chief of the Division of Motor Vehicles and by a Superintendent of the Highway Patrol. The measure blanketed in those traffic officers who previously served by virtue of contracts between the State and the several counties. Thereafter, members of the Patrol were paid by the State out of motor vehicle revenues and the officers, after a probationary period, attained civil service status.
The creation of the California Highway Patrol rendered it possible to secure uniform interpretation and enforcement of the motor vehicle laws on all highways patrolled by State officers. Neither the Act of 1929 nor any subsequent act has operated to prevent cities from employing city traffic officers.
The Breed motor vehicle bill made extensive changes in respect to operators' and chauffeurs' licenses. Amendments provided that all new operators' licenses thereafter issued should be valid only for a period of two years from date of issuance and should then be renewed, the date for renewal being stamped on the card. No fee was imposed for either original or renewal of an operator's license. The Division was authorized at any time to call in any licenses theretofore issued and outstanding two years or more and to require their renewal. These provisions enabled the Division of Motor Vehicles to clear out its obsolete operators' license records, and the renewals, coming due intermittently, enabled the Division to determine each applicant's qualifications, which it could not do in the event all operators' licenses had to be renewed on the same date, annually or biennially.
Under the 1929 amendments a new type of operator's card was issued, with space thereon for notation of traffic convictions for serious offenses under the motor vehicle laws. Traffic court judges were required to endorse upon the card the record of convictions for driving while intoxicated, reckless driving, speeding, cutting in, improper passing of street cars while passengers are alighting or boarding, and for failure to stop and render aid in the event of an accident. It may be surprising, but this plan did not work out satisfactorily. Some courts endorsed the convictions on the license cards, although most courts did not do so, in part, due to the clerical work involved and the inconvenience occasioned by the transmittal or surrender of the license card to the court and its return to the licensee. The requirement for endorsement of convictions on the operator's license card was omitted in the year 1935.
Other amendments to the California Vehicle Act set up definite standards for brakes, also a practical road test to be used by traffic officers in determining whether headlights on motor vehicles were in proper adjustment.
Important rules of the road were simplified and brought into almost complete harmony with the National Uniform Vehicle Code, which was in the process of wide adoption throughout the country. Later, we give a brief history of the development of the Uniform Vehicle Code.
The 1929 amendments revised the right-of-way rule at intersections. Previously, the California Vehicle Act, in Section 131, declared a very definite rule, and without exception, that when two vehicles approached an intersection of public highways at approximately the of way, provided such vehicle is traveling at a lawful speed. It was found that this comparatively simple rule would work admirably if only two vehicles were involved at any given intersection. With increase in the volume of motor vehicle traffic, it frequently occurred that substantial numbers of vehicles would approach an intersection from all four directions at the same time. Under the strict rule abovementioned, each driver would be required to yield to those drivers on the right, who in turn would be obliged to yield to others on their right, and thus around the circle, resulting in a prohibition of movement on the part of any of the drivers approaching from the four directions.
The new rule declared that the "driver of a vehicle approaching an intersection shall yield the right of way to a vehicle which has entered the intersection," and further, that "when two vehicles enter an intersection at the same time the driver of the vehicle on the left shall yield to the driver on the right." From a practical point of view this meant that the driver on the left must yield to the driver on the right, except under the one circumstance that the driver on the left has first entered the intersection. In this event, he may proceed across and clear the intersection while the vehicle on the right slows up and waits at the entrance to the intersection.
UNIFORM TRAFFIC ORDINANCE FOR CALIFORNIA CITIES
As previously noted, Ex parte Daniels (1920) 192 P. 442, 183 C. 636, 21 A.L.R. 1172, clarified and firmly established the basic principle that any local traffic ordinance in conflict with the State Vehicle Act is invalid.
During the period 1925 to 1930 several conferences of statewide or regional organizations sponsored successive drafts of a proposed uniform or model traffic ordinance for California cities. These proposed ordinances were so drafted as to include those regulations found desirable, supplemental to, and not in conflict with the California Vehicle Act.
In the year 1930 a revision of the uniform traffic ordinance for California Cities was prepared and recommended jointly by the following organizations: California Committee on Public Safety, Municipal Traffic League of California, League of California Municipalities, California State Automobile Association, and the Automobile Club of Southern California.
The preface recited that certain former provisions in the proposed ordinance were deleted by reason of the subject matters having been included by the 1929 amendments to the California Vehicle Act. The necessity for uniformity in the city traffic regulations was emphasized in an introductory note by the following statement:
The automobile has made all of California one community. Interurban travel in large volume is a constant fact which necessitates elimination of the existing variety of local rules. Uniformity in traffic regulations in all the cities of California will result in a stricter obedience to the law, which in turn will be reflected in greater public convenience and safety.
The uniform traffic ordinance of 1930 included articles covering the following subject matters: definitions; authority of police, traffic signs and signals; pedestrians; rules for driving; stopping, standing and parking; street cars; and penalties.
The uniform traffic ordinance was revised in July, 1936, for the reason as stated in the foreword as follows:
Since 1930 the State Vehicle Code has been revised and amplified, incorporating additional regulations formerly covered by city traffic ordinances. For this reason, also, due to increased traffic problems in California, many cities are now proposing to revise their traffic ordinances and have suggested that there is need for a revision of the uniform ordinance as published in 1930.
The proposed uniform traffic ordinance submitted herewith has been prepared following careful consideration of the California Vehicle Code as recodified in 1935.
Revised editions of the recommended uniform traffic ordinance were published by the League of California Cities in 1948, 1949, 1950 and 1952. The latter edition omits many of the provisions of the earlier ordinances, since incorporated in the State Vehicle Code, as, for example, the traffic signal legend included in 1959 Vehicle Code Sections 21450 to 21454.
During the period 1926 to 1955 most California cities from time to time have revised their local traffic ordinances to bring them into approximate or complete harmony with the uniform or model traffic ordinance as recommended by the League of California Cities and other sponsoring organizations. Thus, today, most city ordinances in our State avoid conflict with the State law and include such local provisions from this model ordinance as are deemed necessary.
THE UNIFORM VEHICLE CODE
It is desirable that this history make reference to the Uniform Vehicle Code, its history and present status.
In 1924 the Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, called a National Conference on Street and Highway Safety, attended by representatives from every State. This conference appointed a committee on uniformity of traffic laws. This committee prepared the original text of the Uniform Vehicle Code, which was approved in 1926 at the meeting of the Second National Conference on Street and Highway Safety.
The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws participated to a large extent in the drafting of the text of the Uniform Code, which was approved by the Commissioners and by the American Bar Association.
The National Conference on Street and Highway Safety reviewed and revised the text of the Code in 1930 and 1934. Both the original text and the revisions were based upon studies of then existing State traffic laws and it was the endeavor of the committee to assemble from such State laws the most appropriate and desirable regulations.
In this present history of California motor vehicle legislation it is pertinent to point out that many of the new or revised regulations included in the California vehicle laws during the period 1926 to the Present date have been incorporated from the Uniform Vehicle Code. It is equally interesting to note that many provisions of the Uniform Code developed during the years were taken verbatim or adapted from corresponding sections of the California Vehicle Act of 1923, as amended, or the Vehicle Code as codified in 1935 and later amended.
A report of the Committee on Laws and Ordinances of The President's Highway Safety Conference in 1946 reviews the history of the Uniform Vehicle Code and the extent to which it has been adopted throughout the United States. Said Code was revised in the years 1938, 1944, 1948 and 1950.
During a long period the Uniform Code was divided into five acts, entitled as follows:
Act I-Uniform Motor-Vehicle Administration, Registration, Certificate of Title, and Antitheft Act.
Act II-Uniform Motor-Vehicle Operators' and Chauffeurs' License Act.
Act III-Uniform Motor-Vehicle Civil Liability Act.
Act IV-Uniform Motor-Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act.
Act V-Uniform Act Regulating Traffic on Highways.
The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances, in the year 1954, consolidated the several acts as listed above into one text, entitled "The Uniform Vehicle Code." Said code is divided into nineteen chapters covering substantially the same range of sub
ject matter as the California Vehicle Code.
LEGISLATIVE SESSION, 1931
The Motor Vehicle Conference held various meetings during the latter part of 1930 and recommended a measure introduced by Senator Arthur H. Breed, which was enacted after thorough review and with certain amendments adopted during the legislative session. Among the more important we may note the following:
The California Highway Patrol was specifically authorized to direct traffic and, upon probable cause, to stop and to inspect vehicles.
Various changes were made in the registration provisions, including required issuance of a different colored certificate of registration and ownership for vehicles previously registered in another State.
New Section 453/4 attempted to relieve the owner of a motor vehicle from liability for negligent operation by a bona fide purchaser, provided the owner immediately notified the Division of Motor Vehicles of such sale or transfer. This was substantially to the same effect as present Vehicle Code Section 5602.
Amendment of Section 47 permitted nonresidents to enter or leave the State or remain for a period not exceeding one year without payment of any fee, when displaying home State license plates, although the section still retained the requirement that the nonresident, within five days, obtain a visitor's permit, which was granted without charge.
Special provisions related to nonresident commercial vehicles, which might be registered for limited periods or for a full year, paying fees accordingly.
Section 471/2 permitted service of civil process on a nonresident by service on the Chief of the Division of Motor Vehicles and by sending a copy by registered mail to the defendant. This was based upon a similar Massachusetts statute, held valid by the United States Supreme Court in Hess v. Pawloski (1927) 47 S.Ct. 632, 274 U.S. 352, 71 L.Ed. 1091. The above subject is now covered by Vehicle Code Sections 17450 to 17458.
The newly created Division of Motor Vehicles (Chapter 478, adding Political Code Section 360, et seq.) was authorized to issue restricted operators' or chauffeurs' licenses, and an amendment of Section 72 omitted certain minor offenses from those to be endorsed upon an operator's license card.
New Section 73.5 required a showing of financial responsibility for the future following conviction for driving while intoxicated or for hit-and-run.
The weight limitations were revised so as to permit a total gross weight on a combination of vehicles of 68,000 pounds, although the weight of any combination should not exceed that permitted by a formula declared in the section. Also, a total length limit of 60 feet was imposed.
Extensive revisions were made in the rules of the road. The prima facie speed was increased to 20, 25 and 45 miles per hour, respectively, in business, residence and open territory. A new Section 113 imposed a minimum speed regulation substantially as now found in subdivision (a) of Vehicle Code Section 22400.
A prior right-of-way rule, sanctioned only by custom, was incorporated in Section 124 to provide that,
Whenever upon any grade the width of the roadway is insufficient to permit the passing of vehicles approaching from opposite directions at the point of meeting, the driver of the vehicle descending the grade shall back his vehicle to a place in the highway where it is possible for the vehicles to pass.
An amendment of Section 125 permitted overtaking and passing upon the right on wide city streets. This was brought about by reason of the practice of enforcement officers in arbitrarily arresting any motorist who approached an intersection on the right of vehicles standing next to the center line, which latter had first reached the intersection.
A new Section 1451/2 declared standard colors for curb markings to indicate no parking or parking for loading only or time limit parking, substantially as now included in Vehicle Code Section 21458.
It will be observed from the foregoing that the legislature in 1931 adopted a series of desirable amendments which have proven their worth during the intervening years. At the same time, during said session, many measures which would have proven burdensome and expensive to the motoring public were defeated.
ATTEMPTED RAID ON HIGHWAY FUNDS, 1931
An article in the San Francisco Chronicle, issue of Tuesday, May 12, 1931, bears witness to an attack at that time on motor vehicle legislation designed to benefit the proponents of certain amendments. The article is entitled '"$50,000 Lobby Grab Charged on Auto Bill." The opening paragraph recites:
A pot of $50,000 is the prize for which lobbyists are striving in their fight to amend the California motor vehicle act to obtain a 15 per cent reduction in the weight tax levied against trucks operated solely in cities.
The controversy developed as follows. Senator Breed's bill, amending numerous sections of the Vehicle Act, all supported by the Motor Vehicle Conference, passed the Senate without difficulty. It continued in effect a schedule of weight fees ranging from $8 to $70. The Assembly Motor Vehicle Committee adopted an amendment cutting these weight taxes fifty per cent. The Director of Finance immediately advised that this cut would mean a loss of $950,000 to the State highway funds. Later, the proposed reduction was reduced from fifty per cent to fifteen per cent. This would have resulted in a loss during the succeeding two-year period of approximately $285,000 in appropriations for the highway funds.
This attempt to raid the highway funds was vigorously opposed by Senator Arthur H. Breed, the Director of Finance, and members of the Motor Vehicle Conference. The attempted raid on the highway funds was unsuccessful. The Senate refused to concur in the objectionable amendments, the bill went to free conference, the Senate remained firm, and the previously adopted Assembly amendments were deleted from the bill, which was then passed by both houses, and signed by the Governor.
The foregoing illustrates only one type of the many controversies that arise in connection with motor vehicle legislation.
During the succeeding 1933 legislative session the Division of Motor Vehicles was transferred to the Department of Public Works by Chapter 318. Otherwise, only two sections of the Vehicle Act were affected. Section 159, relating to the use of motor vehicle funds, was amended. Further, a Section 159.5 as added by Chapter 1026, Statutes of 1931, was repealed.
FREAK LAWS REJECTED
An article in the Los Angeles Times under date of Sunday, March 5, 1933, is entitled "Freaks Among Proposed Laws," and enumerates various measures, the enactment of which would have proven detrimental to all motorists. Quite a number of the bills would have required that every owner equip his motor vehicle with certain special devices, at extra cost, as for example:
Every registration card to be carried in a vehicle to be placed in a special sealed holder-a patented device-from which the registration card could not be removed without its being torn.
Every license plate to be affixed to a vehicle with a patented metal seal so that the license plate could not be removed without breaking the seal; also, that only perforated license plates, to cost $5 a pair, be used so that a light placed in back of the plate would shine through the letters on the plate.
Another measure proposed to exempt all authorized emergency vehicles from obedience to any and all rules of the road, without any proper safeguards for the safety of other users of the highway.
Another bill proposed to increase the standard $3 registration fee to $18 for each vehicle, without regard to its size.
Another bill proposed to prohibit the transportation of gasoline as a cargo in any motor truck. The author did not explain whether deliveries within cities or elsewhere must thereafter be made by horsedrawn vehicles.
It was proposed to prohibit any shortwave length radio in any motor vehicle without a permit from the California Highway Patrol which could be granted only upon a showing that the radio would be used for lawful purposes and would be essential to the conduct of the applicant's business.
It was estimated that if all of the measures introduced had been enacted, including those to require motorists to purchase a substantial number of patented devices, the cost of operating motor vehicles Would have been increased by many millions of dollars per year.
Other Proposals would have drastically interfered with highway development by diverting millions of dollars of motor vehicle and gasoline tax revenues into the State General Fund.
ACTIONS RESULTING IN
THE VEHICLE CODE OF 1935
During the period 1925 to 1931, inclusive, the California Vehicle Act of 1923 was expanded by the addition of forty-eight sections, many interposed without proper sequence. In addition, amendments of existing sections numbered 175. Thus, during the 1931 session, members of the legislature and members of the Motor Vehicle Conference recognized that there was need for extensive revision and rearrangement of the subject matters in the California Vehicle Act. Also, it was deemed desirable to bring into a new and expanded vehicle code subject matters dealt with in the Civil Code and elsewhere.
The legislature, by Statutes 1931, Chapter 87, adopted a resolution to create a committee of five members, consisting of three members of the Senate and two members of the Assembly, to study the motor vehicle laws then in effect and to recommend such revision or consolidation as might be deemed proper. The resolution also authorized the interim motor vehicle committee to appoint an advisory committee, to include representatives of various agencies, official and unofficial, concerned with motor vehicle legislation.
Pursuant to the above-mentioned resolution, the following Interim Committee on Motor Vehicle Legislation was appointed: Senators Harper, Hayes and Snyder, Assemblymen Gilmore and Hornblower. The Honorable William B. Hornblower, of San Francisco, was elected chairman. The Interim Committee then appointed an Advisory Committee on Motor Vehicle Legislation, thus giving the latter a semi-official status, to include representatives of the following official and civic organizations:
Agricultural Legislative Committee
Allied Automotive Industries
Automobile Club of Southern California
Automotive Council of Los Angeles
California Electric Railway Association
California Farm Bureau Federation
California Municipal and County Motorcycle Officers Association
California Peace Officers Association
California Railroad Commission
California State Automobile Association
California State Chamber of Commerce
Casualty Underwriters Association of California
County Supervisors Association of California
Department of Finance
Department of Motor Vehicles
Department of Penology
Department of Public Works
League of California Municipalities
Los Angeles Traffic Association
Motor Car Dealers Association of Los Angeles
Motor Car Dealers Association of San Francisco
Motor Carriers Association of California
National Automobile Club
Northern California Motor Car Dealers Association
Southern California Motor Car Dealers Association
Early in 1932 the Advisory Committee organized by electing a chairman, vice chairman and secretary. In subsequent years the Advisory Committee has functioned as a voluntary association of representatives of substantially the same organizations as above enumerated. The Advisory Committee held numerous meetings during the year 1932. In December of that year the Advisory Committee submitted to the Legislative Interim Committee a complete proposed recodification of the vehicle laws to include changes recommended by the committee. The Legislative Counsel Bureau and a drafting subcommittee of the Advisory Committee had prepared the text of the proposed new code. It was then reviewed and in part redrafted under the direction of the California Code Commission.
During January, 1933, Assembly Bill 674, to recodify the California Vehicle Act, was introduced in the State legislature. It was intended to supersede and repeal the existing California Vehicle Act. Assembly Bill 674, the codification act, was amended rather extensively during the legislative process. The Assembly approved the bill, but it was refused final passage in the Senate. This was due to the fact that the measure was not simply a recodification of existing law without substantive changes. On the contrary, it contained numerous amendments to the code.
The Senate referred Assembly Bill 674 to the California Code Commission (Senate Daily Journal for May 12, 1933, p. 111), with the request that it immediately delete all new matter so that the bill would contain only a codification of existing motor vehicle laws. The Senate resolution directed that such report be made on or before the first day of July, 1933. The legislative session of 1933 recessed during May, to reconvene early in July.
The Code Commission, under date of July 1, 1933, rendered to the Senate its report relating to the Vehicle Code, Assembly Bill 674, and other supplementary measures. This Code Commission report and its subsequent reports relating to the Vehicle Code can be located in the State Law Library in Sacramento. Unfortunately, during the July, 1933, session the legislature was fully occupied with other serious legislative problems and did not have sufficient opportunity to study the report of the Code Commission. The Vehicle Code was not adopted, but was re-referred to the Code Commission.
The California Code Commission, under date of May 10, 1934, released a document entitled "Proposed Vehicle Code." This included a prefatory statement, notes relating to the form of the code and extensive explanation as to the manner in which certain problems had been dealt with by the Commission. This Vehicle Code draft incorporated certain Political Code, Civil Code and other provisions relating to the Department of Motor Vehicles, the civil liability of governmental agencies and other owners and operators of motor vehicles for damages resulting from negligence in the operation of such vehicles.
The Assembly Interim Motor Vehicle Committee and the Advisory Committee on Motor Vehicle Legislation held a series of joint meetings during the year 1934 to review the proposed Vehicle Code and to prepare separately suggested amendments to the Code.
In 1935 the Code Commission bill was introduced as a codification of existing law by Assembly Bill 172. The legislature and the Governor approved the same, and it became Chapter 27, Statutes 1935. During the same session, upon recommendation of the Advisory Committee and others, a series of supplemental bills was introduced to amend the Vehicle Code. A substantial number received legislative approval. These supplemental bills added fifty-four sections to the Code, amended 106 sections, and repealed five sections. In the Statutes of 1935, Chapter 27, as recited in a note on page 93, includes all of the amendments made to the Code during the Fifty-first Session of the legislature. In effect, all of the chapter laws amending the Vehicle Code were incorporated in Chapter 27.
The Vehicle Code of 1935 divided the subject matter into fifteen Divisions with appropriate chapters and sections. A new Division IXa, relative to vehicular crossings, was included during the legislative session. Continuing the practice first adopted in the 1923 California Vehicle Act, and upon recommendation of the Advisory Committee, the Code was drafted to include division, chapter and section headings as an integral part of the text. Such division, chapter and section headings have been of substantial aid to traffic courts, the Highway Patrol, local traffic officers and to all others having occasion to examine the Code. The Vehicle Code, by including section headings in the text, was an exception to the majority of California codes which do not contain section headings enacted by statute.
To avoid possible difficulty, the 1935 Vehicle Code provided in Section 7 as follows:
Effect of Headings. Division, chapter, article, and section headings contained herein shall not be deemed to govern, limit, modify or in any manner affect the scope, meaning or intent of the provisions of any division, chapter, article or section hereof.
The Department of Motor Vehicles issued a pamphlet copy of the Vehicle Code in 1935. The Director of Motor Vehicles included a foreword, which recites, in part:
The Director of Motor Vehicles believes the Vehicle Code is an improvement over the California Vehicle Act in that it. offers a more simple and statement of which meets the changed conditions in the operation of vehicles and in the automotive industry.
The pamphlet copy included an appendix containing the text of numerous statutes relating to motor transportation not included in the Vehicle Code. In this history we make no attempt to report on these separate statutes or the changes made in them during the years. The 1959 edition of the Vehicle Code, as published by the Department of Motor Vehicles, also includes an appendix in which we find a substantial number of laws relating to motor transportation but not included in the Vehicle Code proper.
VEHICLE CODE EXPANSION AND AMENDMENTS
Digests of Vehicle Code amendments for each of the legislative years have been examined in preparing this history. We note that during the period 1937 to 1959 approximately 588 sections were added to the Code, and amendments to existing sections total 1129. In fact, Many sections have been amended with monotonous regularity at each succeeding session of the legislature. Neither the legislature, nor the Advisory Committee, which has continued to function during the Years, has found a satisfactory solution to a substantial number of Problems. It is true that most of the amendments have been strictly technical and without material effect upon the basic provisions of the Code. Thus, in reviewing the expansion of the Code during the years 1937 to 1959, we shall point out only the major changes. Section number references during this period of years are to the 1935 Code, except under the heading, "1959 Legislation".
In 1937 the Advisory Committee opposed, and the legislature rejected, a number of bills introduced by the Director of the Department of Motor Vehicles to require fingerprinting of all motorists, to restore the use of speed traps, to require periodic inspection of motor vehicles, and to impose fees for operators' licenses. The Assembly Interim Committee on Motor Vehicles likewise disapproved of the above-mentioned measures and expressed itself in a report addressed to the Assembly under date of March, 1937, signed by Assemblyman William B. Hornblower, Chairman, Arthur H. Breed, Jr., and Frank D. Laughlin.
In 1939 amendments to the Code made the 25-mile-per-hour prima facie speed limit applicable, both in business and in residence districts. A series of new sections declared the traffic signal legend, required obedience thereto, and prohibited illegal operation of signals. Previously, all of these subjects were governed by local ordinances.
Provisions from the Uniform Vehicle Code in reference to headlamps were included as necessary to legalize the use of the newly developed sealed beam headlamps which appeared as standard equipment on practically all new 1940 motor vehicles.
During a special session in 1940, Vehicle Code Sections 211-214 were amended to relieve nonresidents from the burden of applying within five days for a nonresident permit.
In 1941 authority to establish special speed zones was granted to the State Department of Public Works and to local authorities by a series of new Sections 511.1-511.5.
In the same year, the section relating to weight of vehicles was completely revised, deleting the specific weight limits for four- and six-wheel vehicles and substituting several different formulas to govern the gross weight of a vehicle or combination of vehicles based on the distance between the first and last axles of the vehicle or combination of vehicles. The several formulas were expressed in engineering terms, which rendered it difficult for enforcement officers to apply the same. Such formulas were repealed in 1945 in favor of the present table of gross weights.
Also, in 1941, the prima facie speed on rural highways was raised from 45 to 55 miles per hour.
In 1943 Vehicle Code Section 500, defining negligent homicide, was repealed by Chapter 421, which further amended Penal Code Section 193 to set forth the penalty for manslaughter resulting from the operation of a vehicle by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year or in the State prison for not more than five years.
Chapter 229 established uniform blackout and dimout regulations, although not a part of the Vehicle Code. Another supplemental Chapter 895 directed that a person should not be prosecuted for violating a State law if such violation was required in order to comply with an order or proclamation of the commanding general of the Western Defense Command.
An amendment to Vehicle Code Section 645 required test and approval by the Department before sale of any special lamp or lighting device for use in dimout areas or during air raid alarms.
In 1945 the legislature further revised Penal Code Sections 192 and 193, defining and providing penalty for manslaughter, said amendments remaining in effect at the date of this history. Chapter 1030 enacted new Civil Code sections defining and regulating conditional sale contracts for the sale of motor vehicles.
Among other amendments to the Vehicle Code, Chapter 866 completely rewrote Section 705, substituting the present schedule of weight limitations in place of the prior engineering formulas governing weight of vehicles and combinations of vehicles.
In 1947 Division 2a was added to the Vehicle Code to establish the Department of the California Highway Patrol separate and apart from the Department of Motor Vehicles.
A new law to require a showing of security or exemption following an accident was enacted, Sections 419-420.9, added by Chapter 1235 and Operative July 1, 1948.
The Collier-Burns highway bill of 1947, enacted after much controversy, imposed the first operator's license fee ($2.00), increased the basic registration fee and the weight fees for commercial vehicles, and at the same time increased the State gasoline tax to the rate of four and one-half cents per gallon, thereby increasing the highway user revenues available for State highways, county roads and city streets.
Statutes 1947, by Chapter 1573, made an appropriation for the establishment of the Institute of Transportation and Traffic Engineering in the Department of Engineering of the University of California at Berkeley.
In 1949 Division 9b was added to the Vehicle Code, relating to privately owned toll bridges and the approaches thereto. This division, comprising Sections 610-613.2, declares that the rules of the road in the Vehicle Code are in effect on such privately owned toll bridges, and that the Department of Public Works may adopt supplemental regulations. The California Highway Patrol was authorized to enforce all such regulations.
New sections made it clear that the term "department" as used in Division 9, Traffic Laws, and in Division 10, relating to equipment, means the Department of the California Highway Patrol (see Sections 449 and 617). The legislature made extensive revision of those sections (314-319.1) relating to the authority of the Division of Drivers Licenses to conduct investigations and prescribing the procedure to be followed in respect to suspension or revocation of operators' and chauffeurs' licenses. Also, the legislature extensively revised Division 7, Chapter 3, relating to security following accident (Sections 419-423.1).
During the 1951 session a new Section 151.1 authorized the Department to issue a certificate of ownership without registration. Another amendment authorized the Department to issue special license plates to motor vehicles thirty-five or more years old (horseless carriages) used primarily for historical exhibition purposes. A new Section 210.1 granted nonresident privileges to members of the armed forces of the United States on active duty in California.
Vehicle Code Section 403.5 was amended by adding a paragraph (b) to the effect that a violation of any provision of the Code should not be deemed to constitute negligence as a matter of law in the event such violation was required in order to comply with any regulation, directive or order of the Governor promulgated under the Civil Defense Act of 1950 or the California Disaster Act.
New Section 604.13 declared:
No person shall drive a motor vehicle which is equipped with a television receiver, screen, or other means of visually receiving a television broadcast which is located in the motor vehicle at any point forward of the back of the driver's seat, or which is visible to the driver while operating the motor vehicle.
Chapter 1185 added a series of new sections, 679.1, et seq., establishing rules for the loading and securement of logs, poles, lumber, lumber products and hay in bales. These provisions appear suitable as administrative regulations, but not as penal regulations in the Vehicle Code.
New Section 737.1 and others were enacted, authorizing clerks of magistrates to accept bail and requiring magistrates to adopt bail schedules. New Section 737.5 declared new procedures in respect to arrest of nonresidents for traffic offenses when driving foreign motor vehicles.
The Fish and Game Code was amended to declare it unlawful to possess a loaded rifle or shotgun in any vehicle or conveyance or its attachments while standing or being driven on or along any highway (Section 1162). The same Code declared it unlawful to hunt with firearms or with bow and arrow when intoxicated (Section 1161).
Motorists were also affected by amendments to the Streets and Highways Code Sections 125 and 126, requiring obedience to authorized flagmen and detour signs. Bridge and highway districts were authorized to adopt -rules and regulations pertaining to parking areas constructed or maintained by such districts. The same Chapter 464 made it the duty of the California Highway Patrol to enforce such Parking regulations.
The legislature, in 1953, again devoted an appreciable amount of attention to the Vehicle Code, adding fifty-six sections and amending eighty-five, ranging from definitions to disposition of fines and forfeitures.
The caravan tax law was codified and included in Vehicle Code Sections 249.01-249.14, inclusive. The Department of Motor Vehicles was divided into four divisions, to be known as the Division of Registration, the Division of Drivers Licenses, Division of Field Office Operation, and the Division of Administration (Section 108). The Department was authorized to issue special plates to amateur radio station licensees, "ham radio operators," by Section 170.
A new Division 8a set forth regulations applicable to automobile driving schools and driving instructors (Sections 445-445.5). Section 739, When Person Arrested to be Given Notice to Appear, was made applicable to persons charged with violation of local traffic ordinances punishable as a misdemeanor.
Traffic courts were charged with a special tax collecting function by new Section 773, requiring the imposition of a penalty assessment in respect to certain convictions under the Vehicle Code, the proceeds to be transferred to the State General Fund to reimburse said fund for amounts appropriated for driver training in the public schools as provided in the Education Code.
The Lincoln highway law of 1953, which increased the State gasoline tax to six cents per gallon, also amended the Vehicle Code to include the new basic registration fee of $8 and a new schedule of weight fees.
The year 1955 witnessed a surprising and accelerating increase in motor vehicle traffic. In California at the end of 1954 registrations for the year totaled 6,194,642.
Recent years have witnessed an increase in the maximum speed of motor vehicles. Numerous sport car models, such as the Thunderbird, Corvette and the Jaguar, to name a few, also, standard stock cars, including Lincoln, Packard, Chrysler, the Buick Century, Cadillac and others, are capable of speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour.
The California Highway Department has constructed many miles of freeways designed for a maximum speed of 70 miles per hour. Other highways were designed for lower speeds. No one has reconciled the discrepancy between the capable speeds of motor vehicles, the design speed of highways and the legal speed limits in this and other States.
The California legislature, in 1955, retained the rural prima facie limit of 55 miles per hour; it rejected a proposed maximum of 65 miles per hour, based on the view expressed by some members that such a limit would be too low. The legislature increased, from 40 to 45 miles per hour, the maximum speed limit for heavy trucks. Amendments now Permit speed zoning in 5-mile-per-hour differentials, ranging from 25 to 55 miles per hour. (Chapter 822)
During the California legislative session of 1955 a total of 354 bills were introduced to amend 240 sections of the Vehicle Code, to add 173 sections and to repeal 33 sections. In this overwhelming volume of proposed motor vehicle measures a substantial number were trivial, objectionable or extremely detrimental. A minority of the measures introduced were of value and merited enactment as new laws. It is unfortunate that practically any proposal for legislation, no matter how absurd, can be introduced, thereby requiring consideration by at least one legislative committee. On the other hand, it is most fortunate that the legislature approves only a limited number of all pending measures in respect to motor vehicles and other subjects.
We find that the legislature enacted, and the Governor signed, measures to amend 120 sections of the Vehicle Code, to add 70 sections and to repeal 10 sections, some of the latter being reenacted in revised form. Among the more important changes we note the following:
Authorization was given for a new regulatory sign entitled, '"Yield Right of Way". (Sections 471.1, 550.1)
Amendments extended the minimum period from five to ten days in which appearance is required in answer to a traffic citation. (Sections 737, 739 and 743.6)
New Division 2b created a Reciprocity Commission with authority to enter into formal agreements with other States, granting exemption from license, registration or weight fees for owners of commercial vehicles.
New sections provided that a resident. in accepting a certificate-of ownership of -a motor vehicle or an operator's or chauffeur's license, gives his consent to personal service of summons upon him wherever he may be found, in any action brought in this State based on negligent driving on a California public highway.
Revised regulations from the Uniform Vehicle Code were adopted to Permit the use of new and improved sealed beam headlamps. (Sections 647 and 648)
Also, Uniform Vehicle Code brake performance requirements were included in the California Vehicle Code. (Section 670.05)
A new section prohibited the sale of safety belts for use in motor vehicles unless of a type approved by the California Highway Patrol. (Section 677.5)
Another new section prohibited the use of parking lights on moving vehicles except when used as signal lamps or used in connection with lighted headlamps. (Section 618.5)
The legislature, recognizing the increase in motor traffic on all highways, including freeways, considered and revised various rules of the road governing the movement of vehicles. These related particularly to driving on the right side of highways or close to the right-hand edge of any highway, which term includes freeway. (Sections 525, 525.1, 525.2 and 525.3)
Lastly, at the close of the 1955 legislative session, the Assembly Interim Committee on Transportation and Commerce undertook as one of its projects between the 1955 and 1957 sessions the Vehicle Code recodification. A special subcommittee was appointed to give attention to this particular subject.
The tremendous growth in motor vehicle legislation continued in the 1957 legislative session. Approximately 386 bills were introduced affecting the Vehicle Code. Following adjournment of the legislature, 119 of these became law, affecting 236 sections of the Vehicle Code.
Nineteen Fifty-seven was a year for numerous changes in laws relating to drivers' licenses. One of the most important of these called for issuance of a driver's license valid for either two years, three years, or five years, depending upon the licensee's record of traffic law violations. (Section 276)
At the same time, it was provided that every driver's license issued thereafter would expire upon the licensee's birthday anniversary, as an aid in remembering when a license is due for renewal. (Section 276)
Another new provision required that a person obtain either a chauffeur's license or a special endorsement upon an operator's license to drive a vehicle having an unladen weight in excess of 12,000 pounds, or to drive any vehicle towing another vehicle having a gross weight in excess of 6,000 pounds. (Section 250) Every person subject to this special licensing provision was required to take an examination appropriate to the particular vehicle or combination of vehicles which he intended to drive. (Sections 250, 268)
The 1957 legislature also required that each driver's license contain a photograph of the licensee. Although an extremely simple provision, this requirement has been a costly one. (Section 272)
California adopted a "point system" in 1957, although a law having the same effect, and referred to as the "negligent operator law," had been a part of the Vehicle Code for a number of years. Under the point system, convictions of traffic offenses are given a value of one or two points. Accumulation of a certain number of points within a prescribed period of time raises the presumption that the driver is a negligent operator of a motor vehicle. His record is then subject to review and his license subject to possible suspension by the Department of Motor Vehicles. (Section 271.2)
The financial responsibility and security-following-accident laws were amended. The minimum amounts of insurance coverage or bond required by these laws were increased. (Section 413, et seq.)
Speed regulations were slightly revised. The prima facie speed limit passing school grounds was increased from 15 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour (Section 511), and the description of certain trucks subject to a 45 mile per hour speed limit was modified to simplify enforcement.
Mandatory jail sentences for drunk driving received considerable attention by the 1657 legislature and ultimately a law was enacted to provide that a first offense of felony drunk driving and a second offense of misdemeanor drunk driving would be punishable by both fine and imprisonment. (Sections 501, 502)
Miscellaneous amendments included the following: The right of way of a vehicle making a left turn was modified. (Section 551) A definition of the term "freeway" was added to the Vehicle Code, together with provisions relating to removal of unattended vehicles on freeways. (Sections 81.5, 585) Turn signals were required on vehicles first registered after January 1, 1958. (Section 637.3) Comprehensive automobile dealer and salesmen licensing laws were enacted. An entirely new Division 11d was added governing !he transportation of explosives.
A proposal for a maximum speed limit of 65 miles per hour was again rejected, as it had been in 1955, but a legislative interim committee was established to study the matter of speed limits and speed zoning.
Very few changes were made in the California Vehicle Code during the extraordinary session of the California legislature held concurrently with the 1958 budget session. To resolve a problem regarding the proper licensing of station wagons, the legislature exempted them from commercial vehicle weight fees, even though some were being used to carry property commercially, and imposed a one dollar additional registration fee upon all station wagons, allowing the owner to use the vehicle as a family automobile or to transport property commercially, as he might choose.
Since that time, the registration fee for station wagons has been $9.00 and for all other passenger cars $8.00.
The program of inspecting public school buses, carried on by the California Highway Patrol, was extended to private school buses in 1958.
A resolution was adopted by the State Assembly authorizing the printing and distribution of a draft of a proposed new Vehicle Code to be considered for adoption in 1959.
In addition to the complete revision effected by recodification of the Vehicle Code in 1959, there were a number of substantive changes separately enacted-86 new Code sections were added, 175 sections amended, 12 sections repealed and one section repealed and added. All of these substantive changes have been embodied in the 1959 Code.
Foremost among measures adopted in 1959 were those relating to speed regulations. The provision for a maximum speed limit of 65 miles per hour was finally enacted and signed into law by the Governor, to be effective January 1, 1960.
The same bill contained provisions relating to speed zoning carried on by traffic engineers, and, for the first time, a definition of '"an engineering and traffic survey". (Sections 22349, 627) This term is important, for such a survey is a prerequisite to any change in speed limits or establishment of speed zones by public authorities.
An amendment repealed the 55 mile per hour prima facie limit on rural highways which had been in effect in California since 1941. Also eliminated was the 25 mile per hour speed limit applicable or State highways in business and residence districts. This change in the law, however, did not change the actual speed limits in effect, be-, cause all such business and residence districts were already posted with speed limit signs which were specifically validated by act of the legislature.
The Code provision setting forth the 25 mile per hour prima facie speed limit in a business or residence district on local streets (not State highways) was continued in effect, however, because many such districts were not already posted with speed limit signs.
The speed limit for large trucks and truck-trailer combinations was also increased in 1959 from 45 miles per hour to 50 miles per hour. (Section 22406) This new limit, however, applies only on highways of four or more lanes. The 45 mile per hour limit remains applicable on all other streets.
The use of yellow lines (pavement markings) was authorized as an alternative to the familiar double white lines used in California. (Section 21460) It is doubtful whether the yellow lines will be used very extensively, their principal use being upon those portions of the Federal Interstate Highway System which are in California. This is because Federal administrative regulations so require.
Another result of Federal regulations was the change enacted in connection with yield right-of-way signs. Formerly, California law had required that anyone approaching a yield right-of-way sign at an intersection must slow to 15 miles per hour in crossing the intersection. Federal regulations, however, call for the erection of yield right-of-way signs on ramps entering the Interstate Highway System, which is being built to freeway standards. As it would be highly undesirable to slow to 15 miles per hour in entering a freeway from a ramp or acceleration lane, it was deemed advisable to eliminate this particular requirement in California law. (Section 21803)
A section was added to the Vehicle Code authorizing the removal of a vehicle from private property under specified limited circumstances. (Section 22658)
Numerous sections were added and amended relating to airbrakes of explosives and radioactive materials.
RECODIFICATION OF CALIFORNIA VEHICLE CODE, 1959
Brief references have been made to the initial steps toward recodiflcation, beginning in the 1955 legislative session. At that time many persons, legislators and others interested in motor vehicle laws, were commenting upon the growth, and, to some extent, patchwork development of the California Vehicle Code.
As previously mentioned, the Code had been enacted in 1935 and numerous changes were made in the ensuing twenty years. Sections inserted out of proper sequence and unnecessary duplications indicated the need for a complete recodification. of the entire Code.
At the request of the 1955-57 Assembly Interim Committee on Transportation and Commerce, the Legislative Counsel's Office, legal advisor to the legislature, began the colossal task of rewriting the Code. The purpose was to achieve better organization, better and more concise wording, and elimination of duplication. There was no intent to make any change in substantive provisions of the law, but merely to rearrange and rewrite.
One of the factors considered quite carefully by the Legislative Counsel's Office in preparing the draft of a new Vehicle Code was the desire for uniformity among States as to motor vehicle regulations. Therefore, the Legislative Counsel's Office gave attention to the Uniform Vehicle Code adopted by the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances. The 1935 California Code was similar to the Uniform Vehicle Code of that date. The 1959 California Code conforms substantially with the latest draft of the Uniform Vehicle Code.
An advisory committee was appointed to work with the legislative interim committee. The membership of this advisory committee consisted of representatives of State and local governmental agencies, motor clubs, and business or trade associations interested in motor vehicle legislation.
The actual rewriting of sections was a time-consuming project and the Legislative Counsel's draft became available in early December, 1956. With recognition of the widespread interest in motor vehicle laws, it became apparent there was insufficient time to review the voluminous draft prior to the 1957 legislative session which convened in January. Therefore, no attempt was made to have the new Code adopted in 1957.
The draft, as corrected to incorporate 1957 amendments, was reviewed by the advisory committee during 1957 and 1958. Suggested modifications were accepted and the Legislative Counsel's final draft was introduced in the 1959 legislature as Assembly Bill No. 5. As enacted, it became Chapter 3, Statutes of 1959.
Comparison of the table of contents of the new and old Codes would show much of the rearrangement. Particularly, the following differences may be noted.
Definitions have been arranged in alphabetical order in Division 1. This arrangement is used in the Uniform Vehicle Code and should make it easier to locate any term which has a special or precise meaning.
The new numbering system is quite different from that employed in the former Vehicle Code. In the initial stages, there was considerable discussion of various numbering systems and selection of the best alternative was not an easy matter. It was obvious that any general rearrangement of Code sections would make it impossible to preserve the section numbers of the former Vehicle Code which many police officers, judges, lawyers and others working with the Code had come to know.
An argument was advanced for use of the numbering system used in the Uniform Vehicle Code, which employs a hyphenated number, .such as 11-105, meaning Chapter 11, Section 105.
An objection raised to this system was that in common usage many persons are inclined to omit the chapter reference and refer only to the section number. Thus, a reference to Section 105 would not be clear as to whether it pertained to 11-105, 13-105, 14-105, et cetera. In addition, this system has not been used generally in other California codes.
Sufficient space has been left between major segments of the Code to allow for future expansion. Thus, it may be noted that between Division 2 and Division 3, for example, there is space for almost 1,200 sections.
The new Code also differs from the former Vehicle Code in that section headings are no longer a part of the statutory law. This, too, is in conformity with the practice followed in regard to other California codes. However, as noted previously in this article, there are advantages to section headings and through the cooperation of law book publishers and State agencies, a uniform set of section headings will appear in practically all printed editions of the Code.
CURRENT AND FUTURE PROBLEMS
We have mentioned the tremendous increase in volume of traffic. Thus, there is increasing difficulty in applying many of the rules of the road. Traffic enforcement officers, traffic engineers and others recognize that when traffic reaches a certain volume it is impossible to apply the usual right-of-way rules as set forth in the Vehicle Code. In fact, it is generally recognized that it is impossible to write appropriate rules governing left turns and the right of way between a motorist entering a through highway and other motorists on said through highway under conditions of very large traffic movement. Such situations must be dealt with by traffic engineering, installation of traffic signals, special intervals for left turns and other remedial measures separate and apart from the usual rules of the road.
Fortunately, also, there is increasing recognition that there are three separate, though interrelated, basic purposes to be served by the rules of the road:
1. The major purpose of the traffic laws is to set forth certain specific rules of the road, based in part on custom and designed to render use of the highway safe, to avoid conflicts between vehicles and pedestrians and to facilitate traffic movements.
2. The rules of the road are enacted in the form of penal statutes and penalty by fine or imprisonment or both is imposed for any violation.
3. Traffic rules of the road also govern the civil rights of one party to collect damages from another in the event of a collision resulting in property damage or bodily injury, fatal or nonfatal.
Thus, the rules of the road must define legal rights between individuals, and at the same time they must comply with the requirements of penal statutes, violations of which are offenses against the people of the State.
Although penal statutes should be definite, it is impossible to so draft many of the rules of the road as to permit rigid or mathematical application. We recite only three of the more common rules. The first two are excellent as penal statutes, while the third presents difficulties.
The driver of a vehicle shall stop at a Stop sign.
No vehicle shall at any time be driven through or within a safety zone.
There is no ambiguity and no flexibility in these rules and they are typical of the usual appropriate form of penal statutes.
Another traffic rule reads:
The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicle and the traffic upon and the condition of the roadway.
It is obvious that this rule appeals to and relies upon the judgment of the individual driver. It is difficult to apply and enforce this rule as a penal statute. However, having regard to variable speeds of motor vehicles and required safe space between vehicles proceeding in the same direction, it would appear impossible to express the intent of the law more definitely.
A large number of traffic regulations require the exercise of sound judgment and reasonable care on the part of each individual driver. Traffic movement with safety will always depend upon the exercise of judgment by each individual. It is impossible, in respect to many traffic movements and situations, to place the driver in a legalistic strait jacket.
It is also apparent that traffic enforcement officers are called upon to exercise judgment in applying and enforcing the traffic rules. The authority vested in such officers imposes upon them a heavy responsibility. It is of the utmost importance that motorists, pedestrians, enforcement officers and the courts thoroughly understand and uniformly interpret and apply the rules of the road under like conditions.
Looking to the future, we must recognize that later changes in vehicles, highways and volume of traffic may necessitate some revision in our traffic laws. However, this history of motor vehicle legislation should demonstrate that the essential basic regulations have been included in the California Vehicle Code.