Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Rear View Distractions, Sticky GPS Tracking Devices, FasTrak Replacement Strips, Siri & Google Maps + MORE

February 24, 2014 14:00 pm · 41 comments

Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Every Monday at 2pm on

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Greetings, all! This column is for everyone who negotiates the highways and public transit of the Bay Area. It runs every Monday at 2pm and answers your commuting and transportation questions.

Email your questions to

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Controversy arose in the most recent column over this question from the esteemed ClayDen:

COMMUTER: I see so many cars with “jewelry” hanging from their rear view mirror.  First, I believe it’s illegal, as it’s an obstruction to your forward vision and a distraction to your driving and situational awareness.  One common item I see dangling is a tassel, often with a young driver in the car.  Frankly, I don’t care to see proof that you graduated from high school; I would rather you demonstrate that you can drive safely.  I also see beads and a bunch of other stuff swinging around in drivers’ cars.

Also, I still see people with a GPS unit mounted to their windshield in the middle of the windshield, contrary to the law that prohibited this a few years ago. You don’t see this as much now, since more cars come with it integrated into them, as well as smartphones having built-in GPS capability.

Can you check with your officer friend and see how (if?) they are enforcing this?


TRAFFIC JAMMER: The Jammer responded, “They (dangling items) are obstructions to the driver’s clear view, and hence a violation of the Vehicle Code.” Several Claycordians took issue:

COMMUTER: My GPS does not distract me at all. And it will stay where it is on the windshield. What I have hanging from my mirror does not distract me either so it will stay. No cop is going to waste time pulling someone over for this. Maybe ClayDen is the one getting distracted while looking into other people’s vehicles while driving.

–Mrs. T

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Some agreed and some disagreed with Mrs. T, leading to a series of hilarious exchanges including Mrs. T jokingly encouraging ClayDen to “go on with your bad self” (all in good humor).

The Jammer’ personal favorite was between Cowellian, who commented, “For every stupid law, there was at least one stupid person who made it necessary,” to which RunnerDope responded, “And if we have a law for every stupid person, we’re going to end with a lot of stupid laws,” capped off by Cowellian’s response, “I think we’re already there.”

But to return to the basic question, IS it against the law to hang stuff from one’s rear view mirror, and DO law enforcement officers mete out tickets for doing so? Clearly, it was time to enlist a professional, and the Jammer called upon Daniel Hill, our helpful California Highway Patrol officer. Here’s what he had to say:

The California Vehicle Code states that any item that obstructs the view of the driver is illegal, specifically per Sections 26708(a)(1) and 26708(a)(2) of the Vehicle Code. This includes items that hang from the rear view mirror.

The CHP does enforce this violation, especially when it obviously affects the driving behavior of the motorist. During our Start Smart teen driver safety courses, we emphasize that teens should do everything they can to increase their safety while driving.

There are three locations where things can be affixed to a vehicle’s windshield. GPS devices and other things that could potentially obstruct a motorist’s vision may only be mounted in the extreme lower right or left of the windshield.

A FasTrak transponder, or other transponder that allows commercial vehicles to communicate with our inspection facilities, can be affixed to the windshield directly above the rear view mirror. Objects affixed to any other location on the windshield are in violation of the law, and can earn you a chat with a member of the CHP.

The CHP enforces this law, along with other mechanical violations, because they affect the safety of the vehicle and its occupants. Windshield obstructions, malfunctioning lights, and other mechanical or equipment issues could pose a hazard that might contribute to a collision, and thus we enforce them just as we enforce moving violations.”

That’s a pretty strong statement, beloved Claycordians. Since tickets are ungodly expensive these days, the Jammer doubts any of you want to test the veracity of Officer Hill.

COMMUTER: Please, would you find out whether California is one of the four states now using the sticky GPS tracking device which can be fired from a grill launcher during a police chase?  The police can shoot it at the suspect’s car, call off a dangerous high speed chase, and then ambush the suspect later.

Also, why doesn’t the suspect realize the device is there and remove it….maybe even putting it on someone else’s vehicle?


TRAFFIC JAMMER:  The Jammer passed this question about CHP practice on to Officer Hill. Here’s what he shared:

“The CHP is not currently testing the sticky GPS tracking device. This is a burgeoning technology that hasn’t made its way to our department for testing yet. We are excited for any technology that allows us to reduce the number of vehicle pursuits that we have to become involved in.

Whenever our officers engage in vehicle pursuits, they constantly weigh the risk posed to their lives, the lives and safety of the general public, and the safety of the violator against the benefit of catching the evading violator.

Whenever the risk exceeds the benefits, our officers will cancel the pursuit themselves. Vehicle pursuits are a dangerous business, and can be completely avoided if the violator simply does what every motorist should: stop for the red lights.”

COMMUTER: I have had my FasTrak transponder many years and the Velcro strips seem to be getting worn out. It’s hanging by a thread at present. Any ideas?


TRAFFIC JAMMER:  Not to worry, Unstuck. Call FasTrak and they will send you replacement strips. The number is (877) BAY-TOLL (1-877-229-8655).

TRAFFIC JAMMER:  And now, the Jammer turns the table on her beloved Claycord readers! For the last few months, her jammin’ around the Bay has been helped by Siri, then by the Google Maps app.

Actually it would be more accurate to say “hindered.” Siri took the Jammer to an empty field in Livermore after being given the correct address of a gym. Most recently, after being given the address of a Lucky store, Siri took the Jammer right past the store, directing her a mile down the road, then stranded her in a strip mall, intoning, “Arrived at your destination.”

Claycordians, what has been your experience with Siri and the Google Maps mobile app? Are you having similar disasters, or not? Any advice?

TRAFFIC JAMMER:  And now, a QUIZ! It has been a while since the Jammer has run a quiz, because the mighty Claycordians who read this column are so smart it’s hard to find a truly challenging question. Finally, the Jammer found one to test your mettle:

“If an officer is driving down the road and is going slower than the posted speed limit, do you have to go the same speed as the officer?”

(This does not apply to CHP doing a traffic break on the freeways.)

The first three correct answers will appear in this column. Email your answer to Thanks, beloved Claycordians!

TRAFFIC JAMMER: That’s it for this week – see you next Monday. Be sure to cruise by at 2pm for more traffic intelligence. Remember, whether you drive, walk, bike or hop Amtrak, BART or AC Transit, Traffic Jammer Janis Mara is here to answer your questions.

Send your questions to

1 Killjoy February 24, 2014 at 2:05 PM

No. You do not have to go as slow as the officer. As long as you don’t exceed the posted limit, you can pass.
What if they are looking to the side of the road for a suspect?

2 Killjoy February 24, 2014 at 2:07 PM

As for Siri, I believe it works currently with the Apple Maps app and no longer with Google maps.
There was a big stink about this when Apple dropped Google Maps as the Apple app was more often wrong than it was right.
I suggest you try the Google Maps app from the App Store or even try Mapquest which offers a turn by turn voice prompt as well.
Both are much better than the Apple Maps fiasco.

3 a February 24, 2014 at 2:15 PM

Are there lanes to pass the officer? If not I suppose you have to, unless you want to rear end the cop.

I’m 6’2 and most cars I drive including my own the rear view mirror itself is right in the center of my view. I’m more than used to ducking down or looking around it. So much for obstructing my view with some hanging mardi gras beads.

4 ClayDen February 24, 2014 at 2:41 PM

You can obey the basic speed law, i.e., do not go any faster than is safe for the current conditions, as long as you do not exceed the posted speed limit. So, if you go faster than the officer, but at or below the posted speed limit, you are OK. However, the “safe for current conditions” is a judgement call and I suspect that you better be on firm ground for going faster than the officer.

5 just a concordian February 24, 2014 at 2:54 PM

With Killjoy there, on both accounts.
Apple maps are a total joke. Google Maps are much better and much more accurate.
Yes, pass the officer. Unless they have their lights on, and slowly moving, they are just another car on the road. However, doing so you run the risk of being pulled over, because that officer slowed down for that very purpose.

6 Atticus Thraxx February 24, 2014 at 3:15 PM

That’s a good question on the slower then pace of traffic. I don’t know. If I was in a group of cars passing, I’d probably join in passing, but by myself, until I figure out the cops intention, my job is to stay out of the way. right? Of course I can’t remember ever seeing a cop driving slower then traffic who wasn’t up to something.

7 Claytonian February 24, 2014 at 3:20 PM

You can pass an officer that is going slower than the posted speed limit if: a) it is safe to do so, b) you don’t exceed to posted speed limit to pass, c) you don’t violate the basic speed law and d) he isn’t trying to perform a traffice break (meaning his emergency lights are on and he is weaving back and forth across the lanes.

8 bob February 24, 2014 at 3:43 PM

Prefer Waze over google maps. Although I guess they are the same thing now. Better, more up to date traffic status and the all important report a cop (hidden or visible) feature. Don’t have an apple so don’t know from Siri.

9 Lyle Burks February 24, 2014 at 3:48 PM

NO, pass him/her “safely” and at the speed limit, or he/she just may match your speed.

10 Chp Wife February 24, 2014 at 4:04 PM

Yes, you can pass the officer as long as conditions are safe to do so

11 RunnerDope February 24, 2014 at 4:07 PM

Yes, it is OK to pass a slow cop. If it is a single lane, be sure to honk your horn as you go by so he knows you’re there.

12 WC Resident February 24, 2014 at 4:07 PM

I have stuff hanging from my mirror and I am going to remove the crystal and a little Christmas ornament of homemade skates out paperclips. It seemed so small to me but maybe not and I do not need my view obstructed.

13 RunnerDope February 24, 2014 at 4:13 PM

All GPS devices suck near my house. About 30 years ago, Janet Lane used to go through to Clayton Rd. Then the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church built up their back parking lot (without a permit, I’m told) which made the road impassable. But you’ll still end up in their parking lot if you specify any destination in my neighborhood.

14 TOB February 24, 2014 at 4:23 PM

I pass them all the time.. People slow down afraid to pass. I just keep the speed limit (sometimes few miles over) nothing scares me about passing police. Police break is very obvious with the zig zag moves so that doesn’t need an explanation. Pass that, you’ll be a star on Claycord. :)

15 I'm The Urban Spaceman February 24, 2014 at 4:34 PM

>>> Siri took the Jammer to an empty field in Livermore after being given the correct address of a gym.<<<


Siri has the ability to predict the future…in 5-10 years, there will be a Gym at that location.

16 Sheila February 24, 2014 at 4:42 PM

Whenever I see an officer, he’s always going faster than I am.

17 ClayDen February 24, 2014 at 4:59 PM

I have never tried Apple Maps, but I love Google Maps (and maps in general). In the last three years I’ve used Google Maps to plan two 4,000 mile plus road trips, one to the Canadian Rockies and Glacier National Park, the other to Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, and the Tetons. Google Maps worked perfectly for both. I also used Google for a trip to Austin, and it went well also. I’m currently deep into planning a trip all over New England, and am using Google Maps as my primary route planner.

18 Anon February 24, 2014 at 5:14 PM

“My GPS does not distract me at all. And it will stay where it is on the windshield. What I have hanging from my mirror does not distract me either so it will stay. No cop is going to waste time pulling someone over for this. Maybe ClayDen is the one getting distracted while looking into other people’s vehicles while driving.”

One more person that knows that the laws do not apply to them/ Know this — if you get into an accident– the illegal things you do will be used against you in a civil case. I wish I was still in law enforcement so I could write her a citation.

19 VikingPrincess February 24, 2014 at 5:42 PM

Google maps is right on spot for me.

Only exception has been when I have travelled near or in a military base. (Does not seem to matter if it is still functioning in that current capacity).

20 attitude February 24, 2014 at 5:42 PM

“My GPS does not distract me at all. And it will stay where it is on the windshield. What I have hanging from my mirror does not distract me either so it will stay. No cop is going to waste time pulling someone over for this. Maybe ClayDen is the one getting distracted while looking into other people’s vehicles while driving.”

Unless the cop needs a reason to pull you over, you just gave him one.

21 Mrs. T February 24, 2014 at 5:53 PM

Thank you Janis for pointing out that my comments with Clayden were in fact in good humor! Also I would like to say that if anything hanging in my rear view mirror distracted me I would take it down. Seeing as how I drive a big truck it would have to be something pretty big though ;)

22 Julio February 24, 2014 at 6:50 PM

We have had several large errors on our old MapQuest. Had us drive all over Menlo Park once completely on the wrong side of town. Yes there have been others. No longer use those things much at all and no Siri. On the windshield obstruction, just today I saw a FasTrac on the middle of the right side, passenger side, windshield of a car. Didn’t distract them I guess but it annoyed me.

23 Mrs. T February 24, 2014 at 7:39 PM

#23 unfortunately nothing is original about you lol :)

24 Antler February 24, 2014 at 8:22 PM

Thank you, Janis and Officer Hill (aka LEO), for answering my question about the GPS tracking devices which can be launched from a patrol car’s grill.

For this week’s Traffic Jammer question…I am completely happy with Claytonian’s answer at #7. But in all honesty, whenever I spot a patrol car, my reflex is to ease up on the accelerator at least momentarily “just in case” that patrol car is about to make a move. That started after the second time a patrol car a little ahead of me and in the next lane suddenly hit lights and siren and needed to pull into the lane ahead of me in order to move faster than the vehicle directly in front of him in his original lane.

Sending highest praise to police and highway patrol…. To you, too, Jammin’ Janis!

25 Harvey Tilkin February 24, 2014 at 9:02 PM

Driving home from work Thursday at about 4PM on Highway 24 about a mile before the 680 split, a truck signaled and moved into the lane in front of me. It was hauling a trailer and a large home sized air conditioner was sitting right at the back edge of the trailer which had no back gate and the equipment was obviously not secured. I slowed down and put some distance between our vehicles. Just as we rounded the curve to 680 the truck hit a bump and the air conditioner came flying out of the trailer into my lane. I was able to avoid it and the car next to me stopped inches from it. We were travelling only about 25 mph in heavy traffic. If we had been going 65 the result would have been on your front page this morning. It would have been a disaster. The truck pulled off at Ygnacio Valley Road either unaware of what happened or to escape the consequences. This letter is warn that if you are in back of a vehicle with heavy equipment and no safeguards, slow down and get out of that lane. I hope someone got some identification. I was unable to make any kind of identification because he left 680 so quickly.

Harvey T

26 Janis Mara February 24, 2014 at 10:00 PM

…oops, posting on my cell and hit. “Done” inadvertently – Harvey T, so glad you’re OK! Your quick thinking saved your life. Whew!

27 Dr. Jellyfinger® February 24, 2014 at 10:18 PM

City should put up a couple “Turkey Crossing” caution signs on Cowell Rd at Ygnacio Valley Rd. and one at Larwin for folks heading up toward Ygnacio. People already drive it way too fast in both directions, I see close calls there all the time & somebody is going to crash swerving for those stupid birds.

28 Janis Mara February 24, 2014 at 10:42 PM

Ack ack ack, @Dr. Jellyfinger(r) #30, you’re talking about the intersection of Ygnacio and Cowell in Concord, yes? Not sure whether to contact Animal Control, police or Traffic Czar Ray Kuzbari. Guess I’ll start with Kuzbari, who is very helpful.

Anyway, Claycordians, this thread is the bestest ever and I love you all1

29 Janis Mara February 24, 2014 at 10:54 PM

@Urban Spaceman #15, can’t stop laughing at your comment – you’re so right, I’m sure Siri was directing me to the Gym of the Future. Thanks to all for your great insights. Checking out waze right away.

@Mrs. T and @Mrs. T (original) – dueling Mrs. T’s! What is going to happen if Mr. T shows up? Er, are you related to Harvey T?

@Antler #27, thanks so much for your kind words! I see I have confused everybody with regard to the law enforcement officers who add so much to this column. Here’s the scoop:

Michael Hill is my retired sheriff’s deputy friend. He is also the author of the current Quiz Question, which I failed to note – mea culpa!

Officer Daniel Hill is our resident California Highway Patrol point man who helps out with highway questions.

Leo is our resident Claycordian police officer who kindly sacrifices his spare time to answer Claycordian law enforcement questions. He does so anonymously, hence we all voted on a nickname for him, “Leo.”

And finally … answers to the Quiz Question are still coming in … so far, everyone is coming up with great answers! Look for the results in next week’s column and there is still time to respond.

30 Concordanon February 25, 2014 at 7:07 AM

My mom has had something hanging from her mirror for over 13 years and it has never been a problem. I’ve had something hanging from mine for over a year. I don’t see the problem..

You know I saw a Disney show that explained almost this exact scenario just with soda. Soda was banned in their city, so these two young girls start making bootleg soda, and when they get caught they tell the police “How can you take soda away from everyone, if only a few people abuse it”

That’s exactly how this is. My tiny little mirror hanger is practically invisible to me, although I understand it’s not that way for everyone, but why can’t I have one just because people are dumb?

31 Connie Dobbs February 25, 2014 at 7:08 AM

The Thomas Bros guide is cheaper and more accurate.

32 Mimi (original) February 25, 2014 at 8:42 AM

Just last week my Google Maps turn-by-turn led me PAST the shopping center where my destination was located, into a housing development, around a court which backed up to the shopping center and announced that my destination was on my right. It was, however, I would have had to traverse someone driveway and back yard and then hop a fence to get to my destination, something I’m not likely to do since I’m in my 60’s!

33 Janis Mara February 25, 2014 at 10:05 AM

Oh @Mimi #35, you are my sister! Getting ready to try out waze on my next trip – thanks to Claycordians for the recommendation!

34 uhhduhh February 25, 2014 at 1:34 PM

Playing with the GPS on your “smart phone” is so much safer than a mounted, hands-free GPS unit :/

35 Monica February 25, 2014 at 2:31 PM

Whatever happened to maps hanging in the windows of local gas stations? I trusted those old, worn things.

I do not trust some irritating female voice trying to tell me how to get somewhere when I’ve lived in CA all my life, and the Bay Area since 1967. I have a good sense of direction, and just because I purchase a nice, new vehicle, I don’t want her yapping at me. I turn it “off.”

That chick should be shot. Where’s she from? New York?

36 Say What Now February 25, 2014 at 3:10 PM

Technology has gone WAY TOO FAR! I’m waiting for the days where I’m in a business meeting, and I can s**t through my smart phone.

The more I think about it, I better use an ipad, lap top or a flat screen plasma TV. Like a 60 inch or so.

What will they think of next?

37 Janis Mara February 25, 2014 at 5:32 PM

@Monica #38, AhahahaHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA I assure you, I was ready to throttle Siri when I discovered I was going to miss my kickboxing class because she took me to an empty field!

38 Cowellian February 25, 2014 at 5:58 PM

And I thought that Siri had no sense of humor.

39 Archie March 3, 2014 at 1:04 PM

Worn Velcro, really??? Figure it out!!

40 Cowellian March 3, 2014 at 1:18 PM

If you don’t want to pay for new Velcro, you can go to the FasTrak website and order free Velcro and Mylar bags.

41 Unstuck March 3, 2014 at 1:26 PM

I got it figured out. I called Fastrak and got a new transponder. But that didn’t fix the problem. Turns out the velcro on my windshield was worn out. So I had to buy a new car. Of course, the new car didn’t come with velcro, so I had to pay extra to have the dealer install it. Unfortunately, they installed it upside-down, so I have to go through the Fastrak reader on my roof until I can get back to the dealer to have it fixed. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

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