Morning Links: Reckless driving laws apply to bike riders, too; LA Times comes down hard on Gil Cedillo

No, your bike isn’t a vehicle under California law.

But that may not matter as far as traffic regulations are concerned.

In a case involving an LA cyclist, a Los Angeles appeals court has ruled that the statute prohibiting reckless driving applies to bike riders, as well.

Even though the state defines bicycles as devices, rather than vehicles. And even though the most reckless rider poses far less risk to those around him or her than a reckless driver.

Jorge Velasquez, Jr was over twice the legal limit when he left a Dodger game in April of last year, riding brakeless on the hilly streets. He swerved to avoid a car, and slammed into a jogger while on the wrong side of the road, leaving her in a coma for 10 days with serious facial injuries.

Rather than charging him with biking under the influence, which carries just a $250 fine and no points against the rider’s drivers license, prosecutors charged Velasquez with reckless driving, with a penalty of up to three years in jail.

His public defender argued, reasonably, that the reckless driving statute was specifically written to apply to operators of motor vehicles who act in a manner likely to injure or kill others.

But the court ruled that CVC 21200, which gives cyclists with all the rights and responsibilities of drivers, meant that all traffic laws that apply to motorists apply to cyclists — unless the law is specifically written to exclude bicyclists, such as the statue setting separate penalties for riding under the influence.

In some ways, the ruling works to our benefit by reconfirming our right to the road.

If the court had ruled that the reckless driving statute didn’t apply to bikes, it could be argued that other laws that work in our favor don’t either, such as the right to ride on any road where cars are allowed — with the exception of some limited access highways — or to use any lane when appropriate, just as drivers do.

On the other hand, not everyone agrees with the ruling.

Cyclist and Century City attorney Stanley E. Goldich, a frequent contributor to this site, thinks the court missed the mark.

My two cents on the opinion.  I read the prior 1980 Clingenpeel opinion in addition to the ruling of the CA Court of Appeal in the Jorge Velasquez (pdf) matter.  The central question seems to be whether the additional reference to Division 17 in the 1982 amendment to Section 21200 is sufficient to satisfy due process requirements by making clear “to persons of ordinary or common intelligence” that cyclists can be charged with reckless driving of a vehicle under Vehicle Code section 23103 notwithstanding that a bicycle is not a vehicle under the Vehicle Code.

I think in order for cyclists to be subject to prosecution and criminal penalties for reckless driving of a vehicle there needs to be an explicit reference to reckless driving of a vehicle in Section 21200 as was done for drunk driving in the 1982 amendment with the language “driving under the influence of intoxicating liquors or drugs, or the combined influence thereof.”  I don’t think it is sufficiently clear that cyclists are subject to criminal prosecution for reckless driving of a vehicle by the vague reference to Division 17, particularly in light of the last phrase in section 21200 “except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application.”  I read this last phrase to mean that cyclists are not subject to punishments for driving of a vehicle because a bicycle in not a “vehicle.”  Certainly, without an explicit reference to reckless driving as was done for drunk driving in the 1982 amendment, there is ambiguity whether the general reference to Division 17 is intended to make cyclists liable for reckless driving of a vehicle.  This general reference does not give fair warning required for criminal statutes. In addition, there are not less severe penalties for bicyclists as was done for driving while intoxicated that takes into account that bicyclists do not pose the same dangers as motorists.

Certainly the actions of Jorge Velasquez in riding a fixed gear bike without a handbrake in traffic after the Dodger game with a blood alcohol level of 2.18 was extremely reckless. However, while he can certainly be prosecuted for biking while intoxicated (and should be subject to civil liability to the pedestrian he hit for his reckless conduct) I don’t think the criminal statute for reckless driving of a vehicle is applicable and criminally charging Velasquez or other cyclists for this violates due process of law. It is also curious that this issue has not arisen in the 32 years after Section 21200 was amended.   I wonder if there have been previous instances where cyclists in CA have been prosecuted for reckless driving of a vehicle. I certainly would welcome having the legislature address this and provide for prosecution of cyclists for reckless bike riding in conjunction with determining an appropriate penalty or penalties as was done with biking while intoxicated.

Unless the California Supreme Court agrees to take up the case, the ruling will now be law throughout the state.

……..

Red Kite Prayer offers an open letter to now ex-Santa Paula reserve officer Laura Weintraub, saying no, you are not forgiven.

And hat’s off to Cycling in the South Bay’s Seth Davidson, who responds to my post about the whole imbroglio being a teachable moment. And reaches out to a surprisingly receptive Santa Paula Police Chief Steve McLean; he’ll be meeting with McLean, along with the LACBC’s Eric Bruins, on Friday to help build a better relationship between the department and bicyclists.

I hate to sound like part of a mutual admiration society, but if you’re not reading Seth’s blog, you should be.

……..

The LA Times Opinion page comes down hard on CD1 Councilmember Gil Cedillo and his single-handed attempt to derail the already approved road diet and bike lanes on North Figueroa.

Unless some demonstrable miscalculation was made in the bike plan, or unless there’s a real safety issue, individual City Council members should not be tinkering with the plan, which was designed carefully with the whole city in mind. Currently, Los Angeles has 337.62 miles of dedicated bike lanes. Cedillo is looking at alternatives to the Figueroa corridor, but the city planners chose these designated routes for specific reasons; nearby streets, they say, won’t work. The idea is to create a seamless network of bike lanes that allow cyclists to travel continuously from one point to another.

It’s a good read, and well worth a few moments of your time. Thanks to Richard Risemberg for the heads-up.

Meanwhile, KFI’s John and Ken demonstrate how little they know about the subject in this segment from Monday’s show, beginning at roughly the 11-minute mark.

Personally, I didn’t have the stomach for it, tuning out shortly after they disregard studies proving road diets improve safety simply because they choose not to believe them. Life is too short for that kind of indignorant anti-bike drivel; maybe you can tolerate it better than I could. Link courtesy of Erik Griswold.

……..

After giving up his dream of winning a grand tour, Australia’s Michael Rogers wins Tuesday’s stage of the Tour de France. France’s Thomas Voeckler stops mid-race to berate a heckler. And BMC’s Peter Stetina is ready to step up and deliver Tejay van Garderen to a place on the podium; but only if TvG can manage to keep the rubber side down.

……..

Local

London’s Guardian looks at Nona Varnado and LA Bike Trains.

Streetsblog’s Damien Newton says new LADOT chief Seleta Reynold’s outside perspective could help overcome LA’s self-defeatist attitude.

Downtown LA could get a new 84-station bike share system and a bike hub at Union Station, courtesy of Metro.

Better Bike looks at three newly approved types of bike facilities and wonders if any will ever come to the Biking Black Hole of Beverly Hills. Don’t hold your breath.

A Santa Monica bike theft is caught on video; this is why you never secure your bike to a parking meter with a cable lock.

Construction begins on an improved bike route on PCH in west Malibu.

Pedestrian and cycling safety will be a major focus of new Glendale councilmember Paula Devine.

Walk Bike Burbank forms in response to the city’s decision to shelve a planned bike and pedestrian path.

 

State

KCBS-2 looks at last weekend’s Orange County memorial ride to remember fallen cyclists.

A Laguna Beach group proposes a two-way bike path as path of a plan to beautify downtown.

Sonoma County’s bike commuter of the year isn’t who or what you’d expect.

 

National

A new national bike website is for women only.

Even Arizona is driving less and bicycling more.

Lafayette CO police apologize for ticketing a cyclist for riding in a crosswalk, which isn’t against the law in the state.

Even Philadelphia police can be victims of bike theft; the clueless thief abandoned the bike after attempting to sell the clearly marked police bike to someone around the corner.

Not surprisingly, people who live near bike lanes exercise more than people who don’t — although the results may not be immediate.

 

International

Seven innovative ways cities are transforming themselves to improve bicycling.

The Telegraph offers advice on how to avoid common bicycling injuries.

A Kiwi writer calls cars the logical and inevitable solution to cycling injuries and dung-covered streets, and says it’s madness to expect bikes to share roads with cars. Oh, well okay, then.

 

Finally…

When the satirical Bike Lobby twitter account claims credit for two white flags that mysteriously appeared on the Brooklyn Bridge overnight, the media takes them just a little too seriously. And an easily offended Seattle driver assaults a cyclist to defend the honor of another driver. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.

 

6 comments

  1. PatrickGSR94 says:

    I don’t care for the Times OpEd implication that cyclists must have bike lanes to go anywhere. It just furthers the motorists’ view that bikes do not belong on streets. We need more cyclist education to teach that we CAN go anywhere, bike lane or not.

  2. CS says:

    Kudos to you and especially Seth and the LACBC for working towards a positive, constructive response. As a woman who cycles and is involved in cycling advocacy in LA, I completely share and understand the anger that our community is feeling about Laura Weintraub’s video. I’ve also been really disappointed at how a few people have chosen to express that anger in openly misogynistic language.

    It is helpful to see that the cycling community includes people who choose to NOT focus on the fact that this person who said something terrible is a woman, but are instead focusing on what she said and how to address that in a productive way. Thank you for that.

  3. billdsd says:

    CVC 21200 says that everything in division 11 that applies to the drivers of vehicles applies to bicyclists.

    CVC 23103 (reckless driving) is in division 11 and refers to the drivers of vehicles.

    I don’t see how there can be a reasonable argument that 23103 doesn’t apply to bicyclists.

    • Stan Goldich says:

      Bill:

      See the conclusion of the Clingenpeel opinion quoted below stating that an explicit reference to driving of a bicycle while intoxicated was required to satisfy due process standards. Of note, the 1982 amendment to section 21200 added an express reference to “the provisions dealing with driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs, or the combined influence thereof” as well as to division 17 to meet the requirement set forth in Clingenpeel. A general reference to division 11 is not an explicit reference to reckless driving of a vehicle being applicable to cyclists and there is plainly ambiguity in the statute since a bicycle is not a vehicle. Additionally, as noted in my comments, section 21200 excludes “those provisions which by their very nature can have no application.” I appreciate that one can read the references to Divisions 11 and 17 as subjecting cyclists to criminal liability for reckless driving of a vehicle in Section 23103, but don’t think that is sufficiently clear to meet constitutional due process standards as held by the court in Clingenpeel.

      Conclusion of Clingenpeel ruling:

      “To summarize: in order validly to subject cyclists to criminal punishment, section 21200 must explicitly inform cyclists that their driving of a bicycle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor will render them liable to such punishment, and it must do so in terms sufficiently clear that men of common intelligence would not differ as to its application. Judged by this test, section 21200 of the Vehicle Code fails to meet due process standards. It characterizes no conduct as criminal and invokes no criminal penalty. Furthermore, the penalties which the People would have us apply are a response to a well-recognized and highly publicized crisis attributable to drunk driving of motor vehicles, not bicycles. People of common intelligence would not assume that this response was intended to be made applicable to drunk driving of bicycles, to which it would appear to be an overkill. [108 Cal. App. 3d 403]

      We, therefore, agree with the trial court that the Legislature has not made the driving of bicycles, while under the influence of intoxicants, subject to criminal sanctions.”

      • billdsd says:

        Again, 21200(a) says the same rights and responsibilities as the drivers of vehicles so there is no ambiguity whatsoever due to bicycles not being vehicles. Most of the provisions in division 11 govern the behavior of the drivers of vehicles. If you try to claim that nothing applies if it only specifies driver of a vehicle but doesn’t specify bicycle, then you are essentially saying that bicyclists don’t have to obey most of the rules of the road.

        As for “those provisions which by their very nature can have no application”, that is a different question and for that you have to look at the provision in question, which is CVC 23103.

        It says (among other things) “(a) A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.”

        Are you actually arguing that a bicyclist can’t drive in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property? If you are, then I disagree. I can’t see how this gets out by way of “those provisions which by their very nature can have no application”.

        What really should be argued here is whether or not what he did actually fits the description of “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property”. The description sounds to me like he did but I’m not entirely sure of the legal standard for that.

  4. […] Courts Rule That Reckless Driving Applies to CA Cyclists (Biking in L.A.) […]

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