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Bicycling

Confirmed: The DMV and NYPD Are Cheating Cyclists Again

Photo: Rob Foran

The Department of Motor Vehicles just can't seem to stop tacking on erroneous $88 fines for cyclists who receive a traffic ticket.

Under the law, the $88 surcharge for traffic violations only applies to motorists, not cyclists. But a growing number of people have recently contacted attorney Steve Vaccaro showing DMV's online tabulation of their bike tickets with the excessive and illegal fines -- plus points on drivers licenses that also don't apply by law.

Because cyclists only see the wrongful penalties on the DMV site after they've already input their decision to plead guilty, Vaccaro (whose firm is a Streetsblog sponsor) believes the vast majority of people getting bilked are not aware that anything is off. "We think a lot of people just pay the money without looking, without investigating," he said.

The rising incidence of excessive penalties imposed on cyclists coincides with NYPD's transition to a tablet-based system of issuing summonses. Vaccaro has written to DMV Deputy Commissioner Herb Barbot and NYPD Transportation Bureau Chief Thomas Chan requesting a full account of all erroneous cyclist penalties under the new system, refunds, and preventive steps to stop the excessive fines and license points.

It's not the first time DMV has ripped off cyclists en masse. Four years ago, Vaccaro pressured DMV to refund cyclists who were wrongfully fined and to revoke points that should never have been added to their licenses. At the time, the agency blamed NYPD paperwork errors and its own misinterpretations for the mistaken penalties. The agency amended its online forms and worked with NYPD to prevent the problem from recurring.

But as NYPD has switched to a new, tablet-based system to record traffic violations, DMV is assessing the same wrongful penalties on cyclists. Vaccaro began receiving complaints in April and the pace has been accelerating, which he attributes to NYPD phasing in the tablets to issue summonses.

mandatory_surcharge

The error stems from police using the code for motorist red light violations, Vaccaro says. But that shouldn't even be an option, since the officer has to select the vehicle type before the violation type.

Recoding the tablets to make this mistake impossible should be trivially easy. "The system should limit the options so once you choose the vehicle type as 'bike,' you can only choose violation types that apply the proper fine for a bike, and would not apply any points," Vaccaro said. "What would it take to prevent this kind of error? Nothing. It should be right all the time. It’s very easy to fix it."

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