Traffic Court

bike_laneWhen I commute to work, I usually ride a bike. It is nice to get a little exercise, and it is also the cheapest way to get there. Also, the town I live in has bike lanes on some of the streets, which makes it a very relaxing way to travel.

Unfortunately, my stress-free commute was interrupted a few weeks ago by a police officer. He shouted at me that, “you have to ride in the bike lane.” To which I responded, “Okay.” He then gave me a ticket for riding outside of the bike lane.

I was annoyed, until I saw what he did next. He proceeded down the street handing out tickets to anyone who rode their bike near him. No bell, have a ticket. Headphones in the ears, have a ticket. Reflector cracked, have a ticket. Clearly he had some sort of directive to ruin the day for as many people as possible.

The penalty for my victimless crime was not too high. It was just low enough that most people would choose to mail in payment rather than taking the day off from work to fight it.

I was still a little angry, though, so I thought about trying to fight the ticket. I looked up the local law and, sure enough, bikes need to be in a bike lane. However, the rule explicitly stated some exceptions. If there is no bike lane, then you don’t need to be in one. Makes sense. Similarly, if the bike lane is blocked, you are turning, etc. then you do not need to be in the bike lane.

Well, it just so happened that when I was ticketed, I had just turned onto the street with the bike lane. The bike lane was on the other side, and it was blocked by some parked cars. So, as far as I could tell, this met not one, but two of the exceptions in the rule. I also heard that the burden of proof was on the police officer, so I thought my chances of getting the ticket overturned by a judge were pretty good.

So I scheduled a hearing at the court house. There were a few other people there who also wanted to fight their tickets. They judge came in and explained how things would work and then called up the first person. It was an elderly man whose English was not very good.

The man was charged with riding outside of bike lane and not having a reflector. He said he had a reflector and showed a picture of it. Then he said that there were some men unloading a truck in the bike lane, so he had to go around them. He showed a picture of that as well. The judge said he did not get back into the bike lane fast enough, so he was going to rule guilty on the first charge, but would drop the second one. The old man was angry, but the judge dismissed him.

Then I got called. The police officer read a report that did not really have any content. It was clear that he did not remember the incident and just wrote a generic description before coming to court. I said that the officer’s description was correct, but that he never asked why I was outside of the bike lane. I explained that the lane was blocked and I was turning, so I should be found not guilty.

The judge said that I wasn’t riding in the bike lane, so I was guilty. I was clearly confused and the police officer was clearly uncomfortable.

I showed him a print out of the actual rule, and pointed out that there were exceptions that applied to my situation, so he should find me not guilty.

He read the rule to himself, mouthing each word, which made me wonder if he had ever seen it before. I showed him a picture of the intersection and pointed out how I could not ride my bike directly into the bike lane because it was blocked.

He thought about it for a while and then said that the safer thing to do would have been to dismount the bike, walk it via a pedestrian walkway to the bike lane, and then continue riding.

I agreed that it would have been safer, but insisted that the question was not what would have been the safest thing to do, but whether I had broken the rule.

He said that I was unwilling to do the safest thing, and that if I wanted to live to an old age I would have to learn a lesson. He said that I was found guilty by clear and convincing evidence, stamped my form, and then told me I would thank him one day.

I certainly learned something.

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