DMV Cheating Cyclists With Unlawful Surcharges and License Points

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As NYPD’s latest bike ticket blitz — “Operation Safe Cycle” — rolls into its second week, here at my law firm we’ve been getting more than the usual number of phone calls and emails from cyclists with questions about summonses. Usually the big question in these discussions is whether to plead guilty, not how to plead guilty. But now it appears that if you pay your fine online for a moving violation while cycling, you’ll probably be paying an $88 surcharge that you shouldn’t be, and getting points on your license that don’t belong there.

The problem arises when cyclists make their plea and pay the fine online, as most who receive traffic tickets in New York City do. Even though traffic tickets issued to cyclists usually indicate on their face that the vehicle is a “bicycle,” the DMV’s online payment system appears to ignore this fact.

Yet the DMV’s own rules with respect to surcharges and license points make crystal clear that they do not apply to cyclists. The specific provisions of law that exempt cyclists from the $88 surcharge and from points are set forth in a letter we recently sent to the DMV demanding that it cease and desist from applying these unlawful penalties. We have yet to receive a response.

This is no simple computer glitch either. Judging from the pre-printed traffic forms supplied by the DMV, you’d think it’s trying deliberately to trick cyclists into overpaying their fines. The form states: “included in the total amount for each violation (except equipment) are mandatory surcharges in the amount of $88. Equipment violations include mandatory surcharges of $58.”

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No doubt many cyclists paying their ticket online or by mail mistakenly believed that “mandatory” meant “mandatory.” It is not hard to imagine the outrage that would flow if motorists and the politicians who pander to them learned of a similar injustice with respect to motorists’ tickets.

While some tickets issued to cyclists are meritless and deserve to be challenged, my impression is that most are based on clear violations of the law. Just like motorists, most cyclists pay such tickets, even when they disagree with the law or how it was applied in their particular case. Yet cyclists who pay their tickets have been subjected to unfair, excessive and unlawful penalties — simply because DMV doesn’t care enough to get the law right.

If you believe that during the last two years you were wrongly required to pay the $88, or received points on your driver’s license that resulted in increased insurance rates, speak up in the comments or contact my office.

Steve Vaccaro is an attorney with the Law Office of Vaccaro & White.

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