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Are there new laws about catalytic converter theft, street racing? Ask the lawyer

Q: Two questions: First, we have been the victim of catalytic converter theft. Twice in fact, once in our own neighborhood. Now, finally there are new laws that crack down on this?

F.K., Encino

A: Catalytic converters are utilized in vehicles to purify emissions, and are made of valuable metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium. Unfortunately, the converters became a target for thieves. Insurer State Farm reported that thefts of catalytic converters rose substantially in the past few years.

The good news: This past September, two bills were signed in California that prohibit the sale of catalytic converters without legal documentation of authorized ownership. Violators can be fined $1,000 or more and, while it was a misdemeanor to purchase a stolen catalytic converter before, now there will be an additional infraction as well. These two bills went into effect Jan. 1.

The crackdown hopefully will work, but probably will take time, as diligent enforcement is key. Also, to be clear: Part of the new law prohibits buying detached catalytic converters (so, not just selling them), unless the sellers have documentation to prove they are authorized owners of the vehicles that housed the converters.

Q: Our high school daughter came home the other night and told us a bunch of kids were street racing. Turns out, there is an area, not all that far from the high school, where they do that crazy stuff. Street racing also is being dealt with?

F.K. Encino

A: A new law is now in effect that allows authorities to charge a  driver with vehicular manslaughter if someone dies as a result of a “side show,” street racing, or driving more than 100 mph. And while speed contests have been illegal for years, per California Vehicle Code Section 23109(a), the code references a “highway.” Now, parking lots and off-street parking facilities are included, along with public streets.

While street racing or similar activities may somehow be considered “innocent fun” by some, there has been property damage, injuries and, sadly, in some instances death.

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If convicted of a speed contest, the penalty can be 90 days in county jail, or a fine up to $1,000, or both jail time and a fine; and community service will be required. Additional subsections of Vehicle Code Section 23109 also are important, such as (b) and (f): No one is to aid or abet a speed contest and, if there is a second conviction for a speed contest within five years of a prior offense, the punishment is enhanced.

Bottom line, street racing is dangerous. Thus, if you have not already done so, my suggestion is inform local law enforcement about what you know about street racing in the vicinity. I believe this disclosure can be done while keeping your identity confidential.

Ron Sokol has been a practicing attorney for over 35 years, and has also served many times as a judge pro tem, mediator, and arbitrator. It is important to keep in mind that this column presents a summary of the law, and is not to be treated or considered legal advice, let alone a substitute for actual consultation with a qualified professional.

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