Last year I got my first moving violation citation in more than 20 years. Decatur, Georgia’s, only traffic cop, Robert Lindsey, ticketed me for running a stop sign on my bicycle. I paid the $212.50 fine plus $21.00 online payment fees and thought the experience was over. (Yes, if you add it up, I paid $233.50 for running a stop sign on a bicycle.)
When I logged into the Georgia Department of Driver Services Website to change the address on my driver’s license I was shocked to see that I had three points on my record. And where did those points originate? The September 2011 bicycle ticket.
The points on my unblemished and, considering my teens and 20s, remarkably safe driving record were a shock. I called the Decatur Police Department to ask why I got points and was referred to Decatur City Solicitor Larry Steele. Lawyer Steele examined the ticket on file, reviewed the relevant Georgia Code, and informed me that the citation had been properly issued and that if I had any questions I should contact the Georgia Department of Driver Services.
“Wow, I never heard of that before,” said the person I reached at the DDS. She retrieved the electronic record, put me on hold, and set off in search of a supervisor. A few minutes later she told me that a supervisor would have to call me later.
According to a Georgia Department of Transportation publication on cycle safety, there’s a reason the DDS staffer had never heard of it:
Cyclists who violate traffic laws will be subject to the same penalties as drivers of motor vehicles, except that no penalty points shall be assessed against the cyclist’s driver’s license.
I’m still waiting for the call. Once I get the scoop, I’ll update this post. In the meantime, if you’re riding through Decatur on your bike, keep your eyes peeled for their motorcycle-riding version of Barney Fife.
Update (July 11, 2012): Biking attorney Ken Rosskopf wrote to me after being copied on emails with Georgia Bikes! Executive Director Brent Buice. Here is Rosskopf’s opinion on forwarding bicycle citations to DDS:
It is my position on Georgia law that Bicycle violation convictions should not be sent to the Department of Driver Services for assessment of points because a bicycle is not a motor vehicle and the provisions of Georgia law requiring the courts to forward a record of convictions to the Department of Driver Services apply only to motor vehicles. See Georgia Code §40- 5- 53(b) and §40-5-57.
I have never tried to get points removed once on the driving record. I recommend that bicyclists facing moving violation charges, when convicted or pleading guilty, ask the judge to instruct the clerk not to send the record of conviction to DDS.
Update (July 12, 2012): I spoke again with DDS and was informed that the City of Decatur Municipal Court is the only party who can request removal of the points. A call to Decatur Municipal Court Clerk Faye Brantley yielded no results. Brantley was aware of my conversation with Solicitor Steele and she said that the court correctly adjudicated the case under Georgia Code and forwarded the citation to DDS as required. Brantley instructed me to contact DDS to have the points removed.
Update (July 16, 2012): I checked my account on the Georgia DDS Website. Number of points on driving record as of 10:35 AM: 0. Thank you WSB and John Bachman.
And, I received this email from Decatur’s police chief, Mike Booker:
From: Mike Booker
Sent: Monday, July 16, 2012 11:37 AM
To: David S. Rotenstein
Subject: RE: Bike ticket & points removal
Mr. Rotenstein, first off let me apologize for our mistake from earlier. I have checked with the court clerks again this morning and verified that the error on our part was corrected and there are no points on your license. Please let me know if you need any further assistance in this matter. Chief Booker
Original September 19, 2011 Dateline: Decatur post on the traffic stop:
I had my first contact with Decatur’s law enforcement community this morning. I wasn’t working on a story; I was cited for violating §40-6-72 of the Georgia Code: I failed to stop at a stop sign.
Under Georgia law, bicycles are considered vehicles and bicyclists must adhere to the same rules of the road as drivers. When police officers observe violations, like my failure to stop at the intersection of Oakview Road and Adams Street, they are required to enforce the code. It doesn’t matter that I was wearing a helmet or that I am a Decatur resident who pays Decatur taxes. I broke the law in Decatur and I am now $212.50 poorer because of it.
I am a strong advocate of multi-modal transportation options and I avoid driving my car when walking or biking will get me where I need to go. Before this morning I knew that bicyclists are subject to the same laws and enforcement actions as drivers but I irregularly applied that knowledge while biking.
R. Lindsey, the traffic officer who saw me run the stop sign and who issued the moving violation, agreed to be interviewed after he finished generating my citation. “I can understand their frustration but also they also have to look at it’s a state law,” he said as he tore the ticket from the thermal printer mounted on the back of his motorcycle.
In his decade on the Decatur force Lindsey has witnessed a lot of cyclists riding unsafely, as I was this morning. “I’ve seen bicyclists running red lights, running stop signs,” he said. There are ways around that in the sense that when it comes to taking different routes or just taking the time to stop and make sure you are looking.”
I asked Lindsey what my take away from our encounter should be. “That’s really up to you. That’s not for me to decide,” he replied. “We know what we are supposed to do and not supposed to do. I wouldn’t want to put my life in jeopardy — Just because a bicyclist is not seeing anything, it doesn’t mean there’s not something there. Just the same with a car driver.”
He added, “Even if you go through a stop sign or a red light, you don’t think it’s horrible but if a car does hit you, when you committed the violation, that person’s never going to forget that.”
After discussing my infraction and bike safety in general, Lindsey told me that Decatur police officers will be getting some training on bike safety issues. I contacted his supervisor, Sgt. Tim Karolyi, who said that Decatur officers will be attending sessions where they will discuss some of the common violations cyclists make and where experts will clarify gray areas in older laws as well as the new law requiring motorists to pass cyclists at a safe distance.
© 2011-2012 D.S. Rotenstein