Bicycle ticket could cost Santa Ana student $400

From the Orange County Register Watchdog column, comes this gem.

The new semester had just begun. Oswald Muniz Sanchez was riding his bike to biology class at Santa Ana College, earphones in both ears, listening to the dulcet tones of National Public Radio.


Sanchez saw no cars at the intersection of Washington and Freeman streets, so he buzzed through the stop sign, as cyclists so often do. That’s when he saw the Santa Ana policeman, half-way up the side street.

Moments later, sirens blaring and lights flashing, Sanchez was pulled over. Santa Ana police Officer Berg told him to sit on the curb. How are you going to hear someone honking at you with earphones on? the officer asked. I heard you, Sanchez said. What music were you listening to? the officer asked. It wasjust the news, Sanchez said. If you were in your car, would you have stopped? Yes, Sanchez said. Are you going to give me a warning? No, the offficer said. I’m going to cite you for running a stop sign.

The ticket was yellow, just like you’d get while driving a car. “Schwinn,” it says in the spot for “Year of Vehicle” and “Make.” And Sanchez was cited for violating two parts of the California Vehicle Code:

  • Section 22450(a): Failure to stop at stop sign;
  • and Section 27400: Wearing head set or earplugs.

Infraction, the ticket said. So when the courtesy notice landed in his mailbox from the Orange County Superior Court, Sanchez nearly choked: “Bail amount: $397.”

For riding his bike?! This offended the 26-year-old’s sense of fair play. (Sanchez had, after all, once registered to vote as a Libertarian.)

Now, Sanchez is not quite a traffic choir boy. He’s had several violations over the past decade – including a DUI in 2002 and a property damage hit-and-run in 2004, for which he paid restitution and did community service. But he was much younger then. His most recent traffic faux pas was for pulling a U-turn across a double-yellow line: “I was on my way from school to work and wanted to get some food,” he said somewhat sheepishly. “That wound up being a $200 Jamba Juice.”

That a bicycle infraction could cost more than a moving-violation-in-a-car ticket seems, well, odd. We’re waiting to hear from the Orange County Superior Court on how it arrives at fines for such ticket; the court’s 2009 Bail Schedule doesn’t shed much light on how the figure could get close to $400.

Bulletin, kids: Bicycles riders on public streets have the same rights and responsibilities as automobile drivers and are subject to the same rules and regulations as any other vehicle on the road, the good California Department of Motor Vehicles reminds us. Each year in California, more than 100 people are killed, and hundreds of thousands more are injured in bicycle collisions.

“I suppose going through a stop sign on a bike is something that a lot of people do, and they’re not aware of the violation,” said SAPD Commander Doug McGeachy.“But stop signs apply to cyclists as well as motorists. Same thing with the earphones. You can have one, but you can’t have two.

“We do on occasion have serious and fatal traffic collisions involving bicycles. Officers have a lot of discretion in what they choose to enforce and not enforce – if they see something that’s particularly unsafe, they’re more likely to enforce. I don’t know if this is common, but it’s a violation.”

Sanchez was to appear in court today, but got an extension until Dec. 21 so he can research his situation and figure out how to proceed.

He’s a returning student at Santa Ana College, studying environmental science. He pays his way by working as a teaching assistant when those spots are available, and by installing office furniture. “I ride my bike to school whenever I don’t have a big load of books,” Sanchez said. “I’m trying to be environmentally friendly.”

We’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, bicyclists, stop for those stop signs – and don’t cross any double yellow lines.

34 replies
  1. ChipSeal
    ChipSeal says:

    So people who are deaf, are they prohibited from operating an automobile or a bicycle on the public streets of California?

    I wonder if SAPD Commander Doug McGeachy’s officers have also cited actually dangerous scofflaw cycling behavior like ninja, salmon and sidewalk riding? (This described scofflaw act of rolling through the stop sign was by all accounts done in a safe manner- that is, there was never any danger that someone would be hurt in this particular instance.)

    Has officer Berg used his discretion to suppress unlawful cycling that will actually improve public safety? Would officer Berg cite motorists who drove on the wrong side of the road, on sidewalks or operated at night without meeting legal lighting requirements?

    If he was alert enough to spot Mr. Sanchez from half-a-block away when he failed to stop, surly he has observed the scofflaw behaviors cited above a dozen or more times each shift, no?

    So when SAPD Commander Doug McGeachy says; “…if they see something that’s particularly unsafe, they’re more likely to enforce.” I wonder if Commander McGeachy is a liar or just a fool.

  2. Velocentric
    Velocentric says:

    Blowing a stop sign and riding with headphones on? You were also oblivious to the marked police vehicle.

    The deaf driver isn’t distracted by a radio program and is likely more visually aware than any hearing driver.

    Someday you’ll realize this officer was doing you a favor.

    Pay up, stop whining and start following the rules.

    • Chris
      Chris says:

      How self-righteous. If the best favor that a police officer can do for me is give a ticket for riding my bike through a stop sign then I’m glad that police departments are having to downsize because of budget cuts.

  3. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    Florida recently changed some of the fee schedules for bike-related violations. What was a thirty-five dollar fine has been raised to forty-nine dollars, or if you’re stopped by an unaware, uninformed uniformed Port Orange officer, one hundred and one dollars for the first stop and ninety-one dollars for the second stop, since dismissed.

    On the way home today, I stopped at the last stop sign in my neighborhood. I was operating my EV, and looked right and left after the stop, noticing a patrol car parked some distance back from the intersection. It’s a stop sign at which one can turn only right, so it’s more uncommon for motor vehicle operators to not stop than to stop. I’ve become habituated to stopping while riding my velomobile, so it’s no big deal to do the same in a motor vehicle.

    Moments later, I was outbound and stopped at the other corner and continued on to pass the parked officer. Wonder of wonders, a racy yellow (unknown auto type) with a pizza delivery sign was approaching the intersection.

    Yep, officer fired up his vehicle and was in pursuit of the scofflaw.

    I wonder if he would have tagged me in my velomobile (same color) or someone on a conventional bike? I’d like to think so, but …

  4. Scott Keeler
    Scott Keeler says:

    I get annoyed by all the wannabe police telling everyone how they need to ride. How it isn’t safe to ride listening to music or the weather or heaven forbid talking to someone on your phone! Hmmm no law against that? Gabbing away on the mobile while riding your bike?

    I’ve been riding, flying, running, driving, walking with music, ever since the day the portable radio was invented. When I feeling really sharp I toss in some gum to push the limits of distraction. Some times I don’t. Like this weekend at the Ironman. They’re pretty sensitive about that there…

    The Deafness argument is valid. Don’t even get started on being distracted by what your listening to or not able to hear anything at all. Either way your partly removed from your environment. More safe, less safe? No distractions from noise or distracted by music…

    I ride with a mirror, blinking lights 1 front and 2 rear along with a reflective safety triangle covering my ass. I do my best to be seen and SEE. The mirror is one of the greatest safety devices! It gives you the opportunity to see situations forming and take action before things get out of hand. Riding proactive and taking charge of the situation when necessary is what its all about.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      According to Florida Statute:

      You can’t listen to an iPod, but not only can you talk on the cell phone while riding a bike, you can do so with a headset:

      316.304 Wearing of headsets

      (1) No person shall operate a vehicle while wearing a headset, headphone, or other listening device, other than a hearing aid or instrument for the improvement of defective human hearing.

      (2) This section does not apply to:

      …(d) Any person using a headset in conjunction with a cellular telephone that only provides sound through one ear and allows surrounding sounds to be heard with the other ear.

      • ToddBS
        ToddBS says:

        I turn my ringer off when I ride. I only have the phone with me in case I need to call someone (taco’d wheel, etc). Heaven help you if you call me and interrupt my ride time 🙂

  5. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    Per the John Allen article, which makes a lot of sense to me, I would not consider using any headset that provides sound through one ear only. My earphones let in a lot of outside noise. Above about 17mph airspeed, the outside noise is all I hear. I taped the volume dial in place on my AM/FM radio so it doesn’t get turned up or down by accident.

    Faced with the Florida law, I’d probably just bag the news and move closer to work. Ironically, it appears that Florida would allow you to wear ear plugs, regardless of how completely they block outside sound – as long as they’re not connected to anything. Even California allows the use of foam, non custom ear plugs by motorcyclists.

    Reminds me of that commercial series that was running a while back about odd state laws…

  6. P.M. Summer
    P.M. Summer says:

    No sympathy from me on the stop sign. The headphones I’m not so sure about, but headphone-wearing (iEarplug) trail users sure seem especially unaware of the world around them.

  7. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    So under Florida law you can’t wear earbuds with the volume low enough that you can hear the sounds of your environment (I can usually hear birds chirping while wearing mine … while walking), but you can drive a car with windows rolled up and the stereo cranked loud enough to drown out everything.

  8. Rantwick
    Rantwick says:

    I’m kind of conflicted here. On one hand many fo us call for enforcement, and when we get some it seems to be the wrong kind.

    For myself, I would be happy to get ticketed for any and every infraction I made on my bike, if I felt confident that every other rider, particularly those on sidewalks, without lights, on the wrong side of the road, etc were also getting nailed, and of course motorists were also charged all the time for unsafe passes, etc.

    In Summary, like ChipSeal said, sort of.

  9. RobG
    RobG says:

    It’s legal in California to ride your bike on the sidewalk. And there are too many pedestrians walking with earphones in, playing with their phones, whatever.

    I ride from the Cal-Train station into downtown San Francisco every day (and back again in the evening) and would like to strangle the pedestrians that pay NO attention to anything going on around them. I also see lots of people using earphones in the car who shouldn’t. And there are still lots of people using their phone in the car without earbuds.

    My best suggestion to this student is to try to get them to toss the stop sign ticket if he pleads to the earphones ticket. Take it and be glad that’s all he got.

  10. MikeOnBike
    MikeOnBike says:

    RobG said: “It’s legal in California to ride your bike on the sidewalk.”

    It depends. The California vehicle code doesn’t regulate sidewalk cycling. It’s up to every local jurisdiction (city or county) to choose how to regulate sidewalk cycling. It might be legal in one city, illegal in another. It might be legal for minors, illegal for adults. It might be legal on residential streets, but not in business districts. You have to look up every city’s and county’s laws to find out.

  11. Chandra
    Chandra says:

    headphones are a distraction to riding safely, IMHO.
    i would love to try the ipod speaker thingy that fits in the water bottle cage.

    i am no saint. i have used headphones while riding my bike.

    peace 🙂

  12. 2whls3spds
    2whls3spds says:

    He got a ticket, apparently for running a stop sign and violating a no head phones/ear buds ordinance. Pay up or fight it in court. A bicycle is considered a vehicle, riding on the roads with 2 ton vehicles being driven by inattentive drivers can be dangerous, you need to have all your faculties attuned to what is going on around you. If it had been on a dedicated cycling facility I would have had less problem with it.

    Work to change the laws that you don’t like, or don’t work. Don’t whine about them. From the sounds of it Mr. Sanchez has a problem obeying traffic laws regardless of the form of transportation.


  13. Eric
    Eric says:

    Here is another ticket. This one is for $280.

    Maryland State Police have issued a citation with a charge of negligent driving to a Hollywood woman who was driving a car that struck and killed a bicyclist last month on Clarke’s Landing Road.
    . . .
    The police investigation determined that the motorist was distracted from her driving, and that the morning dew was still on her windshield, police Lt. Michael Thompson said.

    “She had a partially obstructed windshield, and she was preoccupied. She was reaching for a cigarette lighter,” Thompson said.
    . . .
    “She momentarily looked down,” Riddle said. “There was no alcohol, no indication of speeding [and] no indication of anything that would amount to reckless driving. We’re nowhere near the gross negligence standard.”

    The prosecutor reiterated earlier police comments that a bicyclist is required to ride on a roadway’s shoulder if it’s usable or as close to the edge of the roadway as possible.

    “It appears from the [accident investigation’s] reconstruction that he was in the middle of the road,” Riddle said.

    • ToddBS
      ToddBS says:

      This is the sort of story that gets my blood boiling. Not paying attention is not paying attention. It doesn’t matter if it’s “momentarily” (that’s the motorist’s description of it anyway – would she really admit it if she had looked away for a full 5 seconds?) or if it’s a minute.

  14. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    “The prosecutor reiterated earlier police comments that a bicyclist is required to ride on a roadway’s shoulder if it’s usable or as close to the edge of the roadway as possible.”

    Simply because it’s a police comment does not make it an accurate one! I don’t know the laws in that state, but that’s not a valid statement in FL, although as Mighk and I are well aware, plenty of law enforcement officers will want you to believe it.

  15. Eric
    Eric says:

    In Maryland, cyclists are required to ride in an improved shoulder. Here is a post from a different blog that has way more info:

    “Clarks Landing Road is a single lane road with a posted 40 mph speed limit. On the westbound portion of Clarks Landing Road where the collision occurred, there is an improved shoulder that is 3 feet 4 inches wide at the point of impact. Mr. Leymeister’s bicycle was 4 feet 8 inches left of the white edge line in a lane of travel that is 9 feet 7 inches wide. This places Mr. Leymeister’s bicycle a full 8 feet from the right edge of the pavement when he was struck. It would therefore be inappropriate for a bicycle to commute/travel that far into a designated lane of travel and certainly be classified as one of the primary causes of this collision.”

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      So the total paved width, including the shoulder is 12 feet 11 inches?

      The MINIMUM width for a shareable lane is 14ft!

      Shitty infrastructure like that leaves a cyclist in a no-win situation. Get squeezed by fast traffic in the substandard shoulder, or take the lane completely and risk harassment. A crash like this isn’t even a normal risk — it was caused by absolute gross negligence on the part of the motorist. That the police would even try to make this about the cyclist’s lane position is INFURIATING.

      • Eric
        Eric says:

        “— it was caused by absolute gross negligence on the part of the motorist.”

        Ah, but the prosecutor said it was not gross negligence. After all, “She momentarily looked down,” Riddle said.
        and just looking down isn’t gross negligence, he says.

        I think that around here, where the traffic is heavier and juries are getting tired of people driving badly, there might be something to it, but in small towns, I doubt a jury would convict.

        • ChipSeal
          ChipSeal says:

          It would therefore be inappropriate for a bicycle to commute/travel that far into a designated lane of travel and certainly be classified as one of the primary causes of this collision

          The only cause of this collision was that the motorist steered her automobile into a cyclist in front of her.

          Had a police cruiser been stopped in that lane, would Lieutenant Michael Thompson say that the officer who parked it there was at fault had someone steered their automobile into it?

  16. Keri
    Keri says:

    “…lane of travel that is 9 feet 7 inches wide.”

    Here’s about what that looks like:


    Imagine riding in a 3 foot shoulder next to that.

  17. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    The shoulder on that road is not of consistent width, and someone who lives in the area said that at or near the particular spot where the crash occurred, there is a mailbox projecting partway into the shoulder. In any case, this is not a shoulder that is consistently clear/wide enough to ride in. Anti-cyclist bias is alive and well in Maryland.

    It also doesn’t help that Maryland has a mandatory bike lane/shoulder law [cyclists must ride in a bike lane or shoulder if one exists, except to avoid hazards, make turns, etc.] In the vehicle code, no distinction is made between bike lanes and shoulders, and judging from the “bike lanes” that I’ve seen in Maryland, MD traffic engineers [or whoever is responsible for implementing the bike lanes] have no idea how to create a bike lane. The usual method is to simply paint bike lane symbols on shoulders [generally of substandard width]. In fact, if you see a bike lane symbol in Maryland, it generally indicates the part of the road a wise cyclist should best avoid.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      There’s a lot of stuff like that here, too. It’s not helpful that cyclists will ride on any marginal strip of pavement to the right of a fog line. The DOTs know this. They’ve done studies to prove it.

      We need to instill some self-respect in cyclists. As long as the majority of cyclists think marginalization is accommodation, this is the kind of justice we can expect.

  18. Brian DeSousa
    Brian DeSousa says:

    Just my two cents on the original topic, which is from the city neighboring mine. Unless a city has developed its own fine structure for bicycling violations, the default is the same fine schedule as for motor vehicle violations. Also, there is a large immigrant population in the city, and most of the cyclists there ride on the sidewalk, often times in the wrong direction, and often without lights at night. I’ve never heard of any enforcement efforts geared towards these cyclists, who are arguably more of a danger to themselves than the cyclist who was cited in this article.

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