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In order to drive in California, you must have a valid California license. International driver’s licenses issued in other countries are not valid in California. While tourists can drive with the license from their home country, students are considered by the Department of Motor Vehicles to be residents, and are, therefore, not eligible to use their home country license.
To obtain a California Driver’s license, you must pass written and driving tests. The written test is based entirely on the California Driver’s handbook. Free copies of the handbook are available at the Department of Motor Vehicles office. While the handbook is available only in Spanish and English, the written test is available in many languages. After passing the written test, you will then make an appointment to take the driving test. You will have three opportunities to pass each test, written and driving. You will need to provide a car for the driving test. To apply, visit the Department of Motor Vehicles Office at 500 Cohasset Lane (number 1 or 2 bus routes). There is a $24 application fee. You will need your passport and a social security number (or a letter from the social security office that you are not eligible for a social security number).
Auto Insurance: California Compulsory Financial Responsibility Law requires that an owner of a motor vehicle have an auto insurance policy. It must cover, at the minimum, $15,000 for personal injury or death, $30,000 for multiple injuries or deaths and $5,000 for property damage.
Safety belts: The Private Passenger Motor Vehicle Safety Act of January 1986 requires drivers and passengers in a passenger vehicle to use safety belts. The driver may be fined for the first offense and the fine increases thereafter. A passenger 16 years of age or older may be cited if riding up-belted. Infants and small children may be transported in cars only when the appropriate restraint devices are used. Failure to provide this protection will result in a heavy fine.
Helmet: The law requires that both operators and passengers on motorcycles and motorized scooters wear proper safety helmets on their heads.
Alcohol, Drugs and Driving: Drunk driving is a leading cause of accidents and deaths in this country. There are very strict laws which must be observed if one decides to operate motorized vehicles or bikes.
Implied Consent Law: When you drive in California, you agree to submit to a test of your blood, breath, or urine if arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If you refuse or fail to complete the test, you will lose your license, whether or not you were under the influence. If you are convicted you may be sentenced to 96 hours in jail in addition to a fine up to $1000 and you will lose your driving privileges for six months. The court may also take away your vehicle for 30 days and you are responsible for the cost of storing your vehicle while it is impounded.
Open container: You must not carry an open bottle, can or container with any alcoholic beverage in it on you or in your car. A container of liquor, beer or wine carried in a vehicle must be full, sealed and unopened. Otherwise, it must be put in the trunk or a place where passengers cannot access it. Please read the California Driver Handbook.
Cellular Phones: In California, it is illegal to use a cellular phone while driving, unless you use a hands-free device. Drivers under the age of 18 may not use a cellular phone while driving under any circumstances.