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.