According to information from the Highway Patrol, collision investigations involving farm-labor vehicles have shown that many drivers are unlicensed or not properly licensed to transport passengers. They also lack a clear understanding of current California traffic laws as well as the special requirements related to the transportation of farm laborers.
That was evident during a traffic stop Monday afternoon on Pitzer Road west of Highway 111 and Heber Road as one Highway Patrol officer conversed with a driver who spoke little English.
The Calexico man was driving a 1978 van that had a smashed taillight, prompting the traffic stop.
Inside the light blue van were seven men who had been working in a nearby field Monday. Some were sitting on milk crates and no one was wearing a seat belt.
CHP Officer Joe Somenek said the driver had no insurance and a Highway Patrol commercial vehicle inspector called in to inspect the van found the steering box was broken as well as numerous exhaust leaks.
The driver of the van was instructed to drive his vehicle to a nearby parking lot and find another ride home.
Specific laws have been created to address unsafe farm-labor vehicles and those who fail to make corrections, said Highway Patrol Officer Jose Salazar.
The new laws allow Highway Patrol officers to impound the farm-labor vehicle on the first offense. If officers find the vehicle has not been repaired on subsequent traffic stops, the vehicle can be impounded for longer periods of time, or until the driver makes an effort to make repairs.
Any vehicle that continues to be operated in an unsafe condition can be taken permanently, Salazar said.
"Once it has been cited and they continue to use it in an unsafe manner, they can lose it," Salazar said.
"If the steering box is still loose … these new laws would apply to that person," Salazar said of the Calexico man stopped on Pitzer Road.
Additionally, a law dealing with people riding in the back of pickups has been changed, Salazar said.
Any person in the back of a pickup is required to be properly restrained whether there's a camper shell on the pickup bed or not.
The change in the laws came about after Highway Patrol officers in the Central Valley repeatedly stopped the same farm-labor vehicle drivers for the same infractions, Salazar said.
Now, those who fail to obey a lawful order can be jailed and fined under the new laws, Salazar added.
On Monday, officers stopped some 15 farm-labor vehicles. Of those, 13 were equipped to carry nine or fewer passengers and three were equipped to carry 10 or more. The laws for those carrying 10 or more passengers are much stricter, Salazar added.
Six tickets were issued in the stops, mostly for seat belt violations and some minor mechanical violations, Salazar said.
Officers distributed educational materials to the drivers and passengers, informing them how to comply with state regulations.
Those wanting their farm-labor vehicles inspected can call the CHP inspection facility at 768-4000. Inspections are done every Thursday from 6 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Drivers are not cited for infractions and there is no charge for the inspection, which should take no more than 30 minutes, depending on the condition of the vehicle, Salazar said.
On the Web: www.leginfo.ca.gov/bilinfo.html
Staff Writer Marcy Misner can be reached at 337-3441.