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Missing Front Plate Can Bring $25 Fix-It Ticket

BEHIND THE WHEEL

State requires motorists to display numbers on both ends of a vehicle. Police say some are removed to avoid traffic camera citations.

December 31, 2002|Hugo Martin | Times Staff Writer

After actress Winona Ryder was convicted of taking a "five-finger discount" at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, she hopped into the sports car of her attorney, Mark Geragos, and sped away from the courthouse without comment.

Justice may have been done for Ryder, but it seems now that Geragos has some explaining to do.

Joanne Crisci, a reader from North Hills, wrote to say that she noticed something missing in a newspaper photo of Ryder being whisked away in Geragos' Porsche: The car had no front license plate, and Crisci suspects a law has been broken.

Question: What is the law in California regarding license plates?

Answer: The state vehicle code requires motorists to display plates on the front and rear of a vehicle. The penalty: a $25 fix-it ticket.

Police say that some motorists remove the front plates to thwart those automatic cameras that snap photos of drivers who run red lights at intersections. The penalty for running a red light: a $271 citation.

In many cities, police need a clear photo of the driver and the front plate to identify the violator. So, no front plate, no ticket.

No one is suggesting that Geragos purposely removed his plate to thwart such cameras. Perhaps his plate simply fell off and he didn't notice.

Or maybe the plate was pilfered by some deranged kleptomaniac.

Yes, such a thing could happen, even in Beverly Hills.

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Southern California has the most extensive carpool lane system in the country, but it is not always the easiest to use.

Mona Field, who described herself as a "frustrated carpooler in Southern California," wrote to complain about several spots where the exits from the carpool lanes do not line up with the exits from the freeway. At these locations, Field said, it is impossible to get out of the carpool lane in time to cut across traffic to get to the freeway offramp.

Q: What is Caltrans doing to make sure that, if you are in a carpool lane, you can legally exit in time to reach your designated freeway exit?

A: State Department of Transportation officials say the carpool lanes generally have fewer exits than the freeways have offramps because the carpool lanes are designed for the long haul.

Traffic moves more smoothly if motorists are not cutting in and out of the carpool lanes every few hundred feet.

So, how do you know when to get out of the carpool lane in time to make your offramp? The freeway should have posted signs on the median giving such information. If there is no sign, call Caltrans at (916) 654-5266 and request one.

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A Harvard University study recently suggested that traffic deaths involving cell phones have increased dramatically in the last few years.

This charged up the nationwide debate about banning cell phones in the car.

Constance Damey of Seattle wrote to ask if such bans actually work.

Q: Has there been any proof that these laws do improve anything?

A: So far, New York is the only state in the nation to ban the use of hand-held phones while driving. Hands-free phones are OK. New York lawmakers won't get a report on the effectiveness of the law until 2004.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety couldn't wait, so it conducted a study this year. The institute watched motorists at various locations in New York before and after the ban took effect in November 2001. The results: The number of motorists spotted using cell phones dropped about 50%.

There is no question cell phones can be a distraction, but how much of a distraction is in debate.

According to a 2001 study by the University of North Carolina, cell phones are responsible for only a fraction of the distraction-related accidents.

If we really want to crack down on behind-the-wheel distractions, the study seems to indicate that we should instead ban car stereos, drive-thru meals, annoying passengers and screaming children in the back seat.

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Mike Duffy of Van Nuys wonders why motorists who are involved in minor fender-benders on the freeway don't get out of the traffic lanes to exchange insurance information, thus helping to keep the freeways moving.

Q: I believe the law should be rewritten [so] that, when there is no serious bodily injury involved and the vehicles are roadworthy, they should be moved out of the traffic lanes and the matter resolved at the side of the road, rather than in the midst of traffic during rush hours.

A: That is such a good idea that, well, someone already did it.

There was a time that state law required motorists to immediately stop in traffic lanes and exchange information after a traffic accident. But that changed in 1999 with the passage of Senate Bill 681, a law that allows motorists involved in minor, noninjury accidents to drive off the road to a safe location without clouding the question of who was at fault.

By moving your cars off the road after a minor accident, you also can greatly reduce your chances of becoming road kill.

Los Angeles Police Officer Jack Richter recommends that motorists involved in fender-benders pull as far out of traffic as possible, especially at night, when speeds are fast and visibility is low. "It comes down to common sense," he said.

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A recent Behind the Wheel column about a plan to launch a safe-driving campaign in Los Angeles prompted several readers to submit their ideas for a campaign slogan.

Here are some of the suggestions:

* If you drink and drive, you're a bloody idiot.

* Hang up and drive.

* What's your hurry? Death is a long time.

* No hospitals nearby. Watch your driving.

* Drive with care. The life you save may be your own.

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If you have a question, gripe or story idea about driving in Southern California write to Behind the Wheel c/o Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012, or send an e-mail to behindthewheel@latimes.com.

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