A couple of new California traffic laws took effect on January 1, 2023. The laws will change penalties for driving without a license (Vehicle Code Section 12500) and failing to appear in court.
Driving Without a License
Vehicle Code Section 12500 prohibits operating a motor vehicle without a valid driver's license. This offense is referred to as a "wobblette," meaning it can be charged in court as either a misdemeanor criminal offense or in traffic court as an infraction. The discretion on how to file lies with the prosecuting and law enforcement agencies. Previously, in some jurisdictions the violation would be filed in criminal court, regardless of the person's driving record. In other jurisdictions, absent the driver having a history of prior convictions, the violation would be filed in traffic court as an infraction. Effective January 1, 2023, Section 40000.11 has been added to the Vehicle Code to require a person's first or second violation of driving without a license to be filed as an infraction. The prosecuting agency would not have discretion to file it as a misdemeanor criminal offense until the person's third violation, e.g. the person already has two traffic court infraction convictions.
Failure to Appear
Under the law prior to January 1, 2023, if a person received a traffic citation and failed to respond prior to the compliance date on the ticket, the court would notify the California Department of Motor Vehicles and their driver's license would be suspended. The Vehicle Code section that provided the authority for the court and DMV to take these actions has been repealed effective January 1, 2023. The change in law will effectively eliminate driver's license suspensions for failing to respond to a traffic ticket for violations occurring on or after January 1, 2023. It remains to be seen what actions the court could take in response to those who fail to appear. For example, Los Angeles County Superior Court already refers those individuals that fail to respond to red light camera tickets to a collection agency (note that red light camera tickets in Los Angeles County were not previously reported to DMV). We will learn more in 2023 about what action the courts could decide to take in response to a person's failure to appear or respond to their traffic ticket.