Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Kids on Motorcycles, Suicidal Cyclists, Do Child Seats Need to be Replaced After a Crash? + Much More

April 28, 2014 14:00 pm · 9 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

COMMUTER: Everyone I know is conscientious about strapping their kids into a car seat. What are the rules governing youngsters on motorcycles?


TRAFFIC JAMMER: Under California law, a passenger’s feet must remain on the footrests while the motorcycle is moving, Curious, so that means smaller children can’t ride a motorcycle. For those whose feet reach the footrests, the child must be seated behind the driver on a seat securely fastened to the machine and must wear a helmet. The Jammer adds: You can make an informed decision whether to ride a motorcycle; a child cannot. Leave the kids at home.

COMMUTER: Lately I’ve been playing a game: Find the most suicidal cyclist in Claycord. I saw one guy riding a bike carrying a six-pack in one hand, not wearing a helmet. Then, yesterday I was making a left turn at a traffic signal and a cyclist was right in front of me in the turn lane. What if a driver didn’t see him?

–Worried about negligent bikers

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Worried, strange as it may seem, the bicyclist was not in error. In general, cyclists are governed by the laws of California affecting vehicles, and in general (though not always) they should ride as though they are cars.

If the bicyclist signaled, merged into the traffic lane, signaled and went into the left-turn lane, then made the left turn, he or she was doing the right thing. Another option: Jump off the bike and use the crosswalk. If you get off the bike, you’re a pedestrian again.

COMMUTER:  If a car containing a car seat is in a crash but the car seat was empty, does the car seat need to be replaced?


TRAFFIC JAMMER: Officer Daniel Hill of the California Highway Patrol kindly obliged with a detailed response. Here you go:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that all car seats involved in a moderate to severe traffic collision be replaced. Car seats involved in minor collisions do not need to be replaced, so long as ALL of the five criteria are met:

  1. A visual inspection including under any easily movable seat padding does not reveal cracks or deformation the crash might have caused;
  2. The vehicle was capable of being driven from the crash scene;
  3. The vehicle door nearest the child safety seat was undamaged;
  4. There were no injuries to any of the vehicle occupants; and
  5. The air bags did not deploy.

If any of the above is not met, or if it is still uncertain whether the seat was damaged, contact the insurance company. Many will replace car seats involved in collisions.

COMMUTER: (Follow-up question regarding the Interstate 680 toll lane:) Since I can use that HOV lane even if I don’t have the required number of passengers in my car, how does the CHP know that I actually have paid for use of that HOV? Do I risk as a single occupant any time I use that particular HOV to be pulled over by the CHP? Do I have to show the CHP my transponder (that is, the FasTrak tag most people display on their windshields)?

What if I have forgotten my transponder in a different car, can I not use that HOV the same way I could still cross bridges without transponder? Otherwise why would anybody ever pay for use of the HOV as a single occupant car?

…Or more importantly. If I’m using that HOV as a single occupancy vehicle but either forgot my transponder or by accident forgot to take out of my Mylar bag and I get pulled over by the CHP, do I risk a car pool violation ticket for it?


TRAFFIC JAMMER: JWB, the Jammer is glad you continued with your follow-up questions. The more we all understand about how this works, the better off we are. Here are short answers to your questions: (1) Via special equipment; (2) Yes; (3) If pulled over, yes; (4) No; (5) That’s a rhetorical question; (6) See officer’s final answer below.

Now, here’s the detailed response from Officer Hill:

The High-Occupancy/Toll (HOT) lanes, or Express lanes as the signs refer to them, can be confusing. All Northern California HOV and HOT lanes are enforced by the following two California Vehicle Code sections:

Vehicle Code section 21655.5 – HOV and HOT lanes shall have regulatory signs posted that tell motorists how the lanes are restricted. Drivers must obey all posted restrictions.

Vehicle Code section 21655.8 – HOV and HOT lanes may be separated from regular traffic lanes by double lines to the right. No vehicle shall cross those lines unless doing so because of an emergency vehicle behind it. (This is a moving violation)

The Bay Area has two HOT lanes, on I-680 S/B on the Sunol Grade, and on the I-880 to SR-237 transition roads. These are fully automated lanes without toll booths. Toll is paid electronically by a system that scans the vehicle transponder and deducts the indicated toll. If a vehicle is using the lane as an HOV lane, the driver is instructed to store the FasTrak transponder in the Mylar bag to prevent it from being tagged.

CHP officers tasked with enforcing the HOT lanes use special equipment that tells officers whether or not a vehicle’s transponder is read. If the officer observes a vehicle within the HOT lane, which is not HOV and does not have a properly tagged FasTrak transponder, the vehicle will be stopped and the driver cited for violation of the HOT lane restrictions (the same violation as the “carpool” ticket).

All vehicles with sole occupants MUST have a FasTrak transponder in the vehicle when using an HOT lane. No system exists to scan vehicle license plates as they do at the toll plazas. Such a system would defeat the purpose of allowing HOV users to be in the lanes; An HOV within the lane that stored the FasTrak in the bag would be scanned and charged anyway with such a system in place.

A vehicle with a sole occupant in the HOT lane without a properly tagged FasTrak transponder will be cited for an HOT lane violation.

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 Teacher Wannabe April 28, 2014 at 5:09 PM

I hate to beleaguer(sp?) A point, but on the HOV/HOT sections do you HAVE to have a transponder? I don’t use Fastrak since I dont use the bridges often enough to make it worthwhile. If I drive 680 at Sunol with 3 people in the car, but no Fastrak will I get cited? I shouldn’t, but I know with the GG bridge you have to to use Fastrak.

2 Charles-the-cat April 28, 2014 at 5:36 PM

@Teacher Wannabe – You don’t have to use Fastrak on the Golden Gate Bridge (that would be crazy given that it’s a major tourist destination). The GGB payment system is all electronic and Fastrak is the least expensive option but definitely not required.

3 Suicidal Title Writer April 28, 2014 at 8:13 PM

Carpool Toll Rate: The carpool toll rate is only available to eligible vehicles with a FasTrak Account displaying a properly mounted toll tag.

4 @Suicidal Title Writer April 28, 2014 at 8:49 PM

Where do you get it from and how do you display it correctly?

5 Janis Mara April 28, 2014 at 11:14 PM

@Suicidal Title Writer #4: You can get a FasTrak transponder from Costco, Walgreens and many Safeway stores. Here is a list of retail locations:

Or you can order a transponder and have it sent to you. Order it here:

Mount the transponder on your windshield using the Velcro strips that come with it. For a drawing showing where to put it, visit

@Teacher Wannabe #1, fear not, I will ask Officer Hill.

If you want to pay the discounted, $6 toll rate on the Golden Gate Brd, as Suicidal Title Writer #3 said, you must have a FasTrak Account displaying a properly mounted toll tag.

If you are willing to pay $7 to cross the bridge – and Teacher Wannabe, it sounds like that might be fine with you, since you seldom cross

6 Janis Mara April 28, 2014 at 11:27 PM

…oops, sorry, my post was cut off before I finished! If you are OK paying $7 to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, which sounds like it’s the case for you, there are options other than having a FasTrak transponder. You can choose license plate options. Here’s a rundown:

7 ale April 29, 2014 at 7:03 AM

I am trying to figure out how “worried about negligent bikers” thinks the bicyclist is going to turn left if he or she doesn’t use the turn lane. It is frustrating how ignorant drivers can be about the laws. Bicyclists are supposed to act like a car, its the law!

That being said turning left is one of the scariest things I do on my bike. You have to cross across lanes of traffic to get to the left turn lane and then drivers like this treat you like you are breaking laws. But sometimes you have to turn left…

8 ANON April 29, 2014 at 7:52 AM

“Bicyclists are supposed to act like a car, its the law!”

Many do not are about the laws…especially the court jester wearing punks who violate every law out there.

9 cyclist April 29, 2014 at 8:25 AM

And it is the law we worry about–every day. Especially those on cycles.

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