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##

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.

  • Samuel L Bronkovitz Presents

    YES!!!

  • SteveVaccaro

    Fielding the numerous inquiries coming into our law office as a result of Streetsblog’s and Gothamists’ coverage of this issue demonstrates several things:

    1) We have received many, many inquiries, and about half of the people writing in were improperly overcharged. Even allowing for self-selection among the inquiring group, I believe that DMV must have misclassified at least 25% of the 10,000+ annual cycling tickets as motorist tickets for the last several years.

    2) Some cyclists ended up having to pay “Driver Responsibility Assessments” of $300 because they plead guilty to two or more bicycle violations that were misclassified as driving violations, and therefore accrued 6 points on their licenses. This is another way DMV has been cheating cyclists.

    3) Given the volume of inquiries, it is apparent in hindsight that it was necessary to file the class action and publicize it before full scope of the problem could be appreciated; DMV’s offer to pay refunds only to cyclists our firm brought to its attention would, if we had accepted it, have brought redress to perhaps 1% of the population affected.

  • Prinzrob

    We have this same problem in many California cities and counties as well. I’ve helped individual cyclists beat tickets based on the fact that it was classified as a motor vehicle violation, with a point assigned. I can’t imagine how many tickets like these must be issued statewide. It must be a huge amount.

  • Han Solo

    Will you subpoena the cops’ family members as well to get them to testify that they had a history of bullying and so that everyone they ever arrested can get a good look at their family?

  • camp6ell

    Thanks to Steve’s lawsuit, the DMV has indeed updated their website. Last night I was able to pay the $190 (no mandatory surcharge) and it clearly stated zero driving violation points. Thank you Steve.

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DMV Scrambles to Contain Scandal of Wrongful Bike Penalties

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Last Friday, New York State DMV responded to mounting evidence that it has been systematically cheating cyclists by imposing motorist-only surcharges and license points for bicycling violations, contrary to state law. The problem was first brought to DMV’s attention on August 12, in a Streetsblog post. DMV admitted that it was violating the law and agreed […]