Here’s a brief look at some of the new laws affecting California motorists in 2008.  All laws are effective January 1, 2008 unless otherwise noted:

1. Handheld wireless phones.

Here’s the big one:  on and after July 1, 2008, any person over the age of 18 using a cellphone while driving must use a hands-free listening and speaking device. Violation of this law will subject the driver to a minimum fine of $70. Push-to-talk phones are exempt from the requirement until July 1, 2011.

2. Minors and cellphone use.

And for your kids:  on or after July 1, 2008, any person younger than 18 years old may not use a cell phone or any other type of mobile-service device while driving, including but not limited to laptops, pagers, and two-way messaging devices. Violation of this law will subject the driver to a minimum fee of $70.

3.  Key Codes.

Can’t find your car keys?  Drivers who wish to have locksmiths replace keys on any new vehicles sold or leased after the new year may now obtain from the automaker the key codes necessary for a locksmith to issue a replacement key.  Automakers who exclusively manufacture the keys to their cars must send a replacement key overnight until 2013, when they will be required to release the key codes for replacement keys.

4.  School Zones.

Remember to slow down around school zones!  Local ordinances may now be adopted to authorize a 15-mph speed limit around school, applicable up to 500 feet from the school when children are present.  A 25-mph speed limit may also apply at a distance of 500-1000 feet from the school.  Check your local laws to see if this applies to you.

5.  License Plates.

It is now illegal to try to obstruct your license plate to avoid paying tolls or police identification.  Anybody caught using a product to cover up your license plate is subject to a $146 fine, and anyone caught selling a product to be used to cover up your license plate is subject to a whopping $900 fine.

6.  Street Racing and “Exhibitions of Speed”.

Law enforcement may now impound a car for 30 days if the person driving the vehicle is arrested for street racing, exhibitions of speed, or reckless driving.  If you are the registered owner of the car and neither the driver nor the passenger and otherwise unaware that the vehicle was being used in the offending manner, you may still be allowed to claim your vehicle.

7.  Alternative Fuels.

To fund research for alternative fuels and other air-quality improving measures, anyone registering a car six years old or newer will be paying $11 more a year until 2016.

8.  Smoking in the car.

If there are minors in the car, don’t light up:  it’s illegal, regardless of whether the vehicle is moving.  Violators will be fined up to $100 if caught.

9. Two-point violations:  traffic school is not enough.

Courts can no longer allow drivers to expunge a two-point violation from their record by attending traffic school.  Two-point violations include drunk driving, hit-and-run, speed contests, evading an officer, and vehicular manslaughter.

10.  Gasoline testing.

Fuel, the stuff that is costing you an arm and a leg each month, expands when it is delivered, stored, or dispensed at temperatures higher than 60 degrees.  This means that at higher temperatures, the fuel you buy may be less than what you’re paying for.  The state is going to be conducting a study to test the exact effects of temperatures on fuel dispensing, and recommendations to follow.