Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A "Safety-Surcharge"

Is anyone else as sick of my winter header above as I am? Even though we received a smattering of snow here over the prior weekend, it's nearly the middle of May for goodness sake. Tulips are in bloom, runners are out again in mass, squirrels are happily hopping from branches to phone wires nibbling on their latest find. I promise, I am working on it. I have a specific spot in mind that I'd like to take a photo, but I have to get brave enough to ask for permission to cross into the space and that hasn't happened as of yet. Likely, I will just settle for another location and life will go on, but I keep hoping that I'll have a chance run-in with the right person and will be granted passage for just a few brief moments. I suppose I could just sneak through and hope I don't get caught, but I'm really not in the mood to end up speaking to police officers for trespassing because I wanted to get a photo. So, in summary, I am sick of the header too and I promise something more spring-like (or at least that doesn't include snow and Christmas lights) is on its way soon.
In the meantime, spring seems to have very different meaning across the country right now. My mother-in-law who lives on the beaches of southern California has been experiencing 108-115 F degree temperature days over the last couple of weeks. Snow is still coming down on occasion here in Colorado as we swing wildly from below freezing temperatures and up again into the 80s. The northeast (from what I've been told), seems to be hanging in there with some solid 70-80 degree temperatures. Despite variances in temperatures across the country, people seem to be out living and participating in typical spring-time activities.

With spring well on its way, I spotted this local article discussing the possibility of implementing a $10 safety surcharge for moving violations in our city. The idea was originally brought forward by our local bicycle advocacy group and the funds would go to "educate drivers and cyclists" in the area. I will leave out the fact that this is a very generic means of explaining what the funds will be used for (but, if you read my recent rant about the advocacy group, it's not all that surprising); however, I couldn't help but be curious about the commentary that would likely follow this type of news.
I wasn't at all surprised to see people complaining that cyclists need to be ticketed as well (I didn't bother to chime in that cyclists can be ticketed the same as a motorist - but they get to share the road as well - which seems to be such an issue for some of those commenting). I also enjoy the random statistics people decide to throw out, such as "Ninety-nine percent of cyclists are breaking the law... ticket them." Hmm... not sure about that. I know there are cyclists who routinely run stop signs, lights, don't signal, and so on, but I don't think the percentage is any higher than those in motorized vehicles who break the law (and in fact, I would be willing to bet it's lower for cyclists, simply because they know the risks of death/severe injury when not paying attention).

At any rate, I'm curious what others think about this idea. I haven't had a ticket since 1995, but I can't see that the $10 fee would be so much of a hardship to not move forward with the idea. If I'm breaking the law, I have to accept that I may get pulled over and have to pay the fines for my violation(s). At the same time, I am not entirely convinced that there is enough accountability in place to know where these funds would be going (though I could be entirely wrong as the article does not go into detail in that regard), or that they would be used appropriately. Do you think it makes sense to add a $10 surcharge to traffic violations to help educate the public? Do you think $10 is an unreasonable amount to add on, or do you think the amount could be even higher? Has your city implemented anything like this? If so, how has it gone/what were the results?


  1. As a policy person, I have to ask what the point of this really is. Is it to create a safer environment for people or just a way to ding cyclists for "not following the rules." Certainly there are those cyclists who flagrantly run stops or commit other violations, but in general I find that many cyclists are trying to manage their place in traffic. One of the ways we can do that is by jumping ahead, which means running a light, so that we are not stuck in the middle of vehicular traffic that is bearing down on us at a speed faster than we can comfortably maintain. Just a thought. In DC there is occasional enforcement of moving violations while cycling, but it seems more like a symbolic gesture that says, "See we are trying to make everyone follow the law," as opposed to creating a safer city.

    1. I always question the "why" of such things as well. The surcharge would be for any moving violation - so motorists and cyclists alike would see this increase. It is rare to see a cyclist ticketed here (I am not certain I've ever seen it, honestly - other than one intoxicated individual several years ago), so I think this is the major beef many motorists have with the idea. The authorities can claim it is for any moving violation, but they know full well who will be paying for these increases. It also doesn't help that there are many who already have dislike (some would go so far as to say hatred) of cyclists, so something like this seems to fuel the fires. I still think that having motorists experience what it's like on a bicycle for a length of time might cause some changes in attitudes - but then again, how would such a thing be enforced? Perhaps as individuals renew their drivers license they would have to take something similar to a road test, but it would instead involve a certain amount of hours on a bicycle in traffic?

    2. I like your idea of enforcing a bicycle awareness "road test" at the time of driver's license renewal. I can see that kind of action as being politically feasible to implement. From a practical standpoint, maybe it involves watching a video and taking a written test. I can imagine some of the ingenious minds found on YouTube could produce a funny and effective video that gets the bicycle awareness points across. Time to harness some of their energy.

  2. I'm a big advocate of cycling, but I have to confess I am of the mindset that "90% of cyclists" regularly break the law. I personably would not run a stop light like I see cyclists routinely do in our downtown urban core, but I do roll through stop signs. Technically, I'm supposed to come to a full stop.

    To put my viewpoint in perspective, I think most motorists are oblivious to many traffic laws and probably could not pass a basic test on the rules of the road. So why would bicyclists be any different?

    That said, I do not believe anyone in law enforcement will make a regular practice of ticketing cyclists. Cyclists are subject to tickets in most, if not all, states already, and no one enforces any law - unless the cyclists commits the most egregious offense. Hence "90%" violate, knowing their will be no repercussions. I wish this was not the case, as the flagrant violation of the traffic laws by cyclists that I witness on a regular basis infuriates motorists, something that threatens the safety of all cyclists.

    1. I guess for me, I have to ask if you feel the same about motorists (90% are breaking the law regularly). I see motorists who don't fully stop at stop signs, who run red lights, who tailgate, don't signal when changing lanes or turning, don't follow signs on the road (such as 'no turn on red'), and so on every day and quite frequently. I will agree that it seems that there are a large number of cyclists who don't exactly follow the rules either (some are more flagrant about it than others), but I think this high percentage (which is of course just a random number we're throwing out) could be pinned to motorists as well. Being both of these at some point in time over the course of any given week, I can honestly say, I'm sure I do things that aren't exactly legal on both sides. I do my best to be aware while traveling in/on either transportation choice and to follow the rules of the road regardless, but I know I'm not perfect. Additionally, there are times on a bicycle when it just doesn't make sense to stop at a signal (and I know there are others who will disagree), but I don't find it to be in any way intrusive to the flow of traffic. It doesn't mean it isn't illegal though and I could easily be ticketed if an officer felt it was warranted. Cyclists definitely don't always follow the law, but I would say this is true of a lot of motorists as well - and they are often less aware that they are even committing a violation.

      I think you are very correct that the police seem to not ticket cyclists as a whole. Oddly though, they blame cyclists in traffic accidents most of the time, which seems kind of a conundrum to me. Perhaps ticketing cyclists would be a better way of helping to control those who continue to break the laws? I think the biggest reason it isn't done is that in most cities here in the U.S., there aren't enough cyclists to draw attention from law enforcement. Cyclists are still viewed by many as being poor and unable to afford a motorized vehicle (I still run into this frequently when I'm riding)... even here, in an area where people frequently own bicycles that are more expensive than their cars. Perhaps the thoughts are a bit different for road cyclists, but I find this frequently when using a bicycle as transportation.

    2. A coworker just sent me this link on bike laws in the U.S.:

      I see Colorado is somewhat progressive, and has an "Idaho Stop" allowed in some areas. Washington State is a "Dead Red" state.

      In answer to your question, yes, I feel the same about motorists - that a large percentage break certain traffic laws regularly. Speeding for example, many of us are guilty. The difference, is we are housed in a two-ton metal cage when we are in our vehicles. With the ability to inflict carnage on others, all the while protected from harm inside.

      I do wish law enforcement would take a stronger stance against cyclist that violate traffic laws. If they did, I think motorists would view us in a better light. But for the police to ticket a cyclist, is like asking them to enforce traffic laws for transit bus drivers. It will never happen.

    3. Thank you for the link.

      There are definitely differences between motorists and cyclists who don't follow the rules of the road, but I suppose it's difficult for me to understand why some motorists believe it's okay for them to break the law, but not a cyclist. There seems to be such an uproar when cycling legislation or something like this potential local surcharge comes up, but some motorists don't understand what their unawareness can mean to those on foot or two wheels. There are those who seem to have so much distaste for cyclists, and I always think, "I'm just riding on the side of the road, minding my business and looking out for motorists," so it's sometimes difficult to understand why there's so much disdain. As I've said before, I try to be overly polite with motorists because I know there are those who truly would love to run me off the road, so I want them to see that not everyone rides like an outlaw. I have no idea if it actually does anything to change anyone's opinion, but I suppose it can't hurt anything either. :O)

      Stronger enforcement for cyclists violating traffic laws would be a great start, I think. But, as you say, it is unlikely this will happen any time in the immediate future.


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