Confirmed: The DMV and NYPD Are Cheating Cyclists Again

It's not the first time DMV has bilked cyclists en masse.

Photo: Rob Foran
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.”

  • JohnBrownForPresident

    Call the DMV and yell at them. And stop electing these trash politicians who cater to the Marty Goldens of the world and not you as a voting cyclist.

  • Daphna

    To avoid the DMV wrongfully adding points to one’s license, it makes me want to have a non-driver ID in New York against which tickets can be written, and have a driver license from another state that is never shown to the NYPD at time of cyclist ticketing…
    Thank you to Steve Vaccaro!! Thanks for your help in raising awareness and getting this problem addressed the first time around, and for again raising awareness and taking steps towards another remedy!

  • Daphna

    Pedestrians are not given tickets for jay walking even though it is illegal because it is accepted that that behavior is reasonable although technically illegal. I wish it would reach the same acceptance threshold with cyclists where they would not be ticketed for behavior that is safe and rational although technically illegal. Numerous laws covering many areas of life are not enforced. It will be great when this ticketing of cyclists ends. It is a waste of police and court resources.

  • X

    Why would police stop a bicyclist?

  • AlexWithAK

    This would be great and completely reasonable. But this is the NYPD we’re dealing with. They are not reasonable and actively aim to undermine cyclists.

  • Jeff

    To prove a point.

  • stairbob

    Even fining a bicyclist $190 is unconscionable. The city should pass a law to reduce that to something more proportionately fair.

  • Joe R.

    Like $0 unless you’re actually endangering someone. The problem here is the law. It shouldn’t be illegal to pass red lights on a bike (or jaywalk) unless you’re usurping someone else’s right-of-way.

    A second problem is the sheer number of traffic signals in NYC, along with their poor design. We should get rid of as many signals as possible. If an intersection doesn’t have uncorrectable poor lines of sight, it doesn’t need a traffic signal. Either a stop sign or yield sign will do, or even better an uncontrolled intersection. If there is a traffic light, it needs sensors so it only goes red when something is actually crossing. The city is making everyone waste time by requiring them to stop at red lights when nothing is there because it refuses to engineer the traffic lights to function better. Maybe there should be a class action lawsuit to get the city to install pedestrian and vehicle sensors at every traffic light to ensure the lights are only red when something is crossing (and then only for as long as it takes that something to cross).

  • Joe R.

    How about also the limiting the options on the tablet to prevent fining for more than one red light offense on the same stop? The point of escalating penalties is to prevent motorists from passing red lights in the future after they’ve already been ticketed once for red light running. It was never meant to be applied to running multiple red lights in a short time span. And it’s never applied that way to motorists.

  • qrt145

    Do the escalating fines for repeated offenses legally apply to cyclists? Where can I find the law or regulation listing the schedule of fines for various offenses? I’ve tried searching but wasn’t successful.

  • Alexis Leonardo Solórzano

    Almost got charged that extra $88 because the guy didnt even bother to check the ticket. I had to mention that I was riding a bike and that the surcharge shouldn’t apply. Thats when the guy at the DMV looked at it again and realized. There should be a better system, or else people will continue to be unjustly charged.

  • SteveVaccaro

    The amounts of the fines are always hidden in some dark corner of the legal code far away from the provisions that impose the fines! Easiest way to find is to do a search within the code using the dollar amount of the fine (for red lights, “one hundred – ninety”).

    I agree that the serial red light ticketing by the cops has gone way out of control. It seems like it just used to be an isolated phenomenon and now it seems to be the norm. In my limited experience the judges in traffic court would throw out all but the first ticket as long as you gave a spirited defense on on fairness grounds. But only this week I heard about the first case in which a judge sustain the full fine amount for the 3rd and 4th tickets in a series, each of those tickets go for $940 each. I think the cereal ticketing is becoming more widespread because from the point of view of the some cops it’s pretty clever and funny to be able to issue four tickets to each of five people in a couple hours, make quota, then knock off work early.

  • letsbrainstorm

    I got confused about the escalating fines for repeated offenses and thought it were a technical issue on the website. (I got one ticket in July and one in August.)

    Your post here is the best explanation available anywhere, especially to a layman.

    Thank you.

  • jeremy

    I had a cop put “improper use of bicycle” 1231 code once for a red light.
    It’s just a 50$ fine.

    It doesn’t hurt to be polite and request that they use that code

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