Get a Ticket? Beware of Unlawful $88 Surcharge

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Operation Safe Cycle, a two-week crackdown by the New York City Police Department on violations of the rules of the road, such as riding the wrong way and failing to yield to pedestrians, has shed light on an unlawful surcharge that you may be paying unknowingly if you receive a summons.

It’s in the amount of $88, included in the total fine, and what most people who plead guilty and pay a ticket online don’t know is that it applies to motorists, but not to cyclists. And, before you stroke out over the points that you see on the screen when you call up your ticket on the New York Department of Motor Vehicles website, know that points apply to motorists only, as well.

Steve Vacarro of Vaccaro & White, a law firm that specializes in representing cyclists, says confusion on these topics stems from 1) information printed on the back of the ticket itself, which says that the surcharge is “mandatory” despite DMV rules that exempt cyclists and 2) the fact that the DMV’s online system is set up for motorists not bicyclists, even though the same laws apply to both.

I recommend reading Vaccaro’s informative post on StreetsBlog NYC, plus the comments section. But here’s the top line on what to do if you receive a ticket and plan to plead guilty. (If you believe you were wrongfully cited, then follow procedures on the back of the ticket to contest it.)

Pay by mail Here’s why: Your payment will be handled by a human being versus the automated online system which provides no option for bicyclists to delete the surcharge. Deduct the $88 from the total of your check. When this happened to me earlier this summer, I also included, on Vaccaro’s advice, a brief note of explanation in the envelope. So far so good, but I’ll keep you posted.

Ignore the points When you call up your ticket on the DMV website, you may see points assigned for a moving violation (which is scary because it can affect your automobile insurance rates). Once again, the computer system is recognizing you as a motorist.

The larger issue, of course, is that the online system needs to be adjusted to distinguish between motorists and cyclists. Vaccaro notes in his post that the firm recently sent a letter to the DMV asking it to cease and desist from applying the unlawful penalties. The DMV acknowledged that under state law, “there are no points assigned for violations committed by bicyclists,” and that the law “exempts bicycle violations from the mandatory surcharge.” But there was reportedly no word on fixes to the system.

If you believe that you were assessed the surcharge or wrongfully assigned points within the past 2 years, you can contact Vacarro’s office here.

Photo: velojoy

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