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Cyclists Sue New York State DMV for Unlawful Ticket Penalties

New York City cyclists have filed a class action lawsuit against the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles for administering penalties for traffic violations that by law apply only to motorists.

NYPD ticketed thousands during
NYPD ticketed thousands during "Operation Safe Cycle." How many were cheated by the New York State DMV? Photo via ##https://twitter.com/OpSafeCycle/status/502490308798459905/photo/1##@OpSafeCycle##
Ticketing more cyclists won’t make streets safer. Photo via ##https://twitter.com/OpSafeCycle/status/502490308798459905/photo/1##@OpSafeCycle##

In an August Streetsblog column, attorney Steve Vaccaro reported that the DMV cheats cyclists who plead guilty to traffic tickets online by billing an $88 surcharge that doesn't apply to bike violations, and attaching drivers license points that don't legally apply. The DMV online ticket payment system does not distinguish between bikes and motor vehicles.

The agency acknowledged to Vaccaro that it was violating the law, and agreed to refund the improper surcharge for two of Vaccaro’s clients, but did not indicate that it would do the same for other cyclists, or correct its procedures going forward.

Vaccaro filed suit Tuesday on behalf of six cyclists [PDF]. The plaintiffs seek to be a representative class for cyclists statewide whom the DMV penalized improperly.

"The DMV admits to cheating, but has offered to pay refunds only to bicyclists who request it in writing," says Vaccaro. "That approach would result in only a small fraction of the persons cheated receiving a refund. DMV has also failed to put forward a plan to prevent the problem from recurring in the future, other than giving DMV staff a 'reminder' that different rules apply to bicycle violations."

In the complaint, one of the plaintiffs says he pled guilty and paid the correct fine, then received a DMV notice threatening to suspend his license and apply additional fines if he didn't pay the surcharge as well. Another plaintiff asked DMV in writing for an explanation of the "mandatory surcharge," and was told he had to pay it. Only after repeated inquiries did a DMV staffer agree to revisit whether the surcharge applied to bike tickets.

The complaint says DMV directed all plaintiffs to pay the motorist surcharge and accept three license points as a condition of pleading guilty. The complaint alleges that DMV failed to train employees to distinguish between cyclist and motorist tickets. The suit seeks damages for increased auto insurance premiums that resulted from the wrongful application of license points, as well as changes to the DMV traffic ticket form and web site to prevent cyclists from improper penalties in the future.

Vaccaro filed a freedom of information request for data on how many cyclists may be entitled to refunds, a number that the complaint says may be in the hundreds of thousands. Cyclists who believe they were unlawfully penalized by DMV are encouraged to contact Vaccaro's firm.

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