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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 to refund the improper surcharge to two cyclists, but did not indicate that it would do the same for other cyclists, or change its procedures going forward.

On September 2, State Senator Brad Hoylman wrote a letter to DMV Commissioner Barbara Fiala demanding that she respond to the August 12 charges against the DMV in Streetsblog. Then on September 17, I filed suit against the DMV on behalf of six cyclists as putative representatives of a statewide class of thousands of cyclists who faced excessive and improper penalties for bicycling violations.

DMV finally broke its month-long silence by responding to Senator Hoylman in a letter delivered last Friday. Commissioner Fiala’s letter details DMV’s extensive efforts to identify all of the cyclists affected by improper ticket coding. DMV says it has reviewed 25 years’ worth of bicycle traffic tickets -- including 50,000 bicycle tickets issued in the last five years alone.

Commissioner Fiala states that DMV has taken the following steps to remedy the “regrettable” miscoding of bicycle tickets:

    • Paying refunds to 84 cyclists improperly required to pay motorist-only surcharges
    • Removing penalty points improperly applied to the licenses of 222 cyclists
    • Recoding 570 pending tickets issued for cycling violations that had been miscoded as motor vehicle violations
    • Making plans to issue a memo to law enforcement officials to reduce the incidence of future miscoding of cycling tickets
    • Making plans to change internal DMV procedures used to identify bicycle tickets
    • Making plans to add language to form UT-60 and to the DMV website to advise cyclists that they are not subject to surcharges or penalty points

These are important and welcome steps to help correct the problem. Cyclists owe great thanks to Senator Hoylman for focusing Commissioner Fiala’s attention on the problem, and to the commissioner for her willingness to admit mistakes and to take the problem seriously.

Nonetheless, it appears that DMV’s efforts have only scratched the surface.

More than 84 cyclists subject to the improper surcharges have already directly contacted us as plaintiff’s counsel in the lawsuit. While it does appear that a number of cyclists with pending tickets have had them recoded so that the penalties for pleading guilty are appropriate, reports received by our office suggest that many improperly-coded tickets, paid and unpaid, remain unaddressed.

Our office has also received reports of cyclists forced to pay the mandatory surcharge even after the remedial steps described in Fiala’s letter. We have learned that some cyclists received added charges of $300 -- called “Driver Responsibility Assessments” -- based simply on the penalty points for cycling tickets that never should have been applied in the first place. DMV’s response does not address these continuing problems.

Because significant work remains to be done to resolve the problem, we have amended and will proceed with the class action suit Cohen v. State of New York. We will pursue the lawsuit until an enforceable, written resolution of the problem is reached that will ensure a remedy for every improperly penalized cyclist that can be identified. The plaintiffs' amended complaint, filed today, is available here.

Speak up in the comments if you have received a refund or had your ticket recoded.  If you are still owed a refund of the surcharge you paid, or if your bicycle ticket is still coded as a motorist ticket, let us know at Vaccaro & White.

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