LACBC has been getting more calls from bicyclists who want to know what they can do when they get tickets. We are not lawyers, so if you are looking for solid legal advice, seek a professional, but here are a few things we do know:
Look at the vehicle code on the ticket and then look it up online. Make sure it’s valid. If it’s not valid, you can fight it. One example would be getting a ticket for no lights or reflectors during the day (the law only requires them at night). You can look up CA vehicle codes here: http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/
Make sure the ticket says “bicycle” or “bike” on it. This indicates you were cited while riding a bicycle and not driving a motor vehicle. This is important because the ticket should not show up on your driving record. You’re not required to have a driver’s license to ride a bike so a ticket for a traffic violation while riding a bike doesn’t apply to your driving record. If it doesn’t say “bicycle” on your ticket, make sure the court knows that it was a bicycle-related citation. Here’s the DMV website page that says points assigned for traffic violations do not apply to bicyclists or pedestrians: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/dl/vioptct
Follow the instructions on your ticket. If it says you have to set up a court date, do it. If it says you have to pay a fine and then you can contest, do that. Read the instructions carefully and follow them.
Don’t blow it off. If you do, the fine will increase and it will eventually catch up to you. If you have a court date and you don’t show up, the judge probably won’t have any sympathy for you later.
You can challenge the ticket, but you’ll have to go to court. Be honest about what happened. If there was an unusual circumstance to your citation, explain that. It might not get your citation dismissed, but the fine could be reduced. You may be able to do a “Trial by Written Declaration” instead of going to court in person. You can find the details about doing that here: http://www.lacourt.org/division/traffic/TR0035.aspx
Remember, the judge didn’t give you the ticket. Be polite and don’t try to tell the judge that the law is wrong, bicyclists shouldn’t be subject to the same rules, or bring up the stop laws in Idaho. It won’t work and you’re likely to annoy the judge. If you believe the citation is not valid in your case, bring a copy of the vehicle code that’s mentioned on your citation and be prepared to explain why you think it doesn’t apply.
Bicycle traffic school is now an option legally. This is a new option than wasn’t available before this year. Unfortunately, there currently aren’t any bicycle traffic schools in Los Angeles. LACBC has been working to help change this in collaboration with the L.A. City Council and LAPD, but the status on this is currently pending. We posted about this in the past here. You can join our ongoing campaign to establish bicycle traffic schools by signing up here https://goo.gl/forms/8OKnhnYTXzGWntJy1 . Once established, bicyclists will be able to attend and get their fine reduced.
Learn and follow the rules of the road. The LACBC Bike Smart pocket guide is a handy reference for the main vehicle codes in California that apply to bicyclists, although you are expected to follow the same rules, signs, signals, and street markings. You also eliminate 50% of the risk of being in a collision with a motor vehicle if you know and follow the rules. If you don’t have a CA driver’s license and don’t know those rules, you can get a driver’s handbook for free at a DMV office or online here: https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/pubs/pubs
Take a bike education class with LACBC. We offer regular classes where you can learn about riding safely and legally. You can check our website calendar or sign up for our weekly e-newsletter for announcements.
Check your driving record after it’s all over. Even though your citation should NOT show up on your driving record, sometimes it still does due to clerical error. If you find that your citation shows up, contact the court to get it changed. The DMV will not change it unless the court tells them to do it.
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