(Adapted from California Bicycle Coalition website)
Since 1993, cities in California have been free to lower the fines given to bike riders. This past October, the City of Davis became one of the few cities to take advantage of that power. Now, bicycle advocates are watching Davis closely to see how cheaper fines will affect how police officers and people who ride bikes interact — and if that will impact ridership.
Davis has recently chosen to reduce the fines given to bicyclists from $202 to $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second, and $250 for any subsequent tickets. As flat fines, there are no associated court costs.
Some expect that these fines will compel bicyclists to better comply with traffic laws. According to the Davis police department, officers have been hesitant to slap bicyclists with California’s high traffic fines, “fearing a significant level of animosity from the public because of the perception that the fines are excessive.” Many local judges will also dismiss bicycle-related fines for the same reason. Considering the fact that a car crash is so much more destructive than a bicycle crash, penalizing the two activities differently makes sense.
If police officers use these fines sparingly, by penalizing bicyclists who are putting themselves or others at risk, it could increase safety while not decreasing ridership. The way that people ride their bikes is generally different than how they drive a car, because of how bikes are less destructive, more agile, and more dependent on momentum. Police officers won’t be able to change this, but they may be able to decrease the most dangerous behaviors, like riding on the sidewalk and riding in the wrong direction. With that said, police officers need to be educated about which types of bicycling are dangerous.
As Davis’ mayor Joe Krovoza said, “The goal is education and promotion of cycling. Overly onerous penalties don’t meet that goal.” We’ll see if these penalties will.