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The People vs Andrew Woolley - Cyclelicious

The People vs Andrew Woolley

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009
By Yokota Fritz

I present to you the case of cyclist Andrew Woolley, which has been appearing on the various California bicycling listserves and other discussion forums.

Andrew Woolley was cycling west through congested traffic on El Cajon Boulevard in San Diego last March, splitting the lane to pass traffic because he was cycling faster than the speed of the other traffic. Numerous streets and business driveways intersect El Cajon where Woolley was riding, so splitting the lane seems reasonable to me.

Woolley passed San Diego motorcycle cop David Root, who was sitting on his bike in the traffic lane. Root flipped on his lights and told Woolley to pull over. According to Root's testimony at traffic court, Woolley evidently is familiar with the California Vehicle Code and corrected Root on the wording of CVC 21202(a), which Root dismissed as "semantics." Because Mr Woolley apparently got a little uppity with Officer Root in trying to educate him on traffic law, Officer Root responded with, "I was going to give you a warning, but now I'm giving you a ticket 'cause you can't take a warning" and cited the cyclist for violating CVC 21202(a), which is the Far To The Right rule for cyclists in California.

Transcript of the case posted by Serge Issakov here. Mentioned also at Bike San Diego. H/T to Mark Sauerwald for bringing this to my attention.
CVC 21202(a) says: "Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway...." I'm not a lawyer, but in my dumb untrained mind, the cyclist was riding at a speed greater than the normal speed of traffic, so the Far To The Right rule doesn't apply, right?

Woolley argued this in court and, because the speed limit on El Cajon is 35 mph, the judge decided that was "the normal speed of traffic" and found Woolley guilty. Bah, humbug.

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Rarely is the posted speed limit the "normal speed of traffic."

I hope Mr. Wooley appeals.

Compare the California language to the Illinois Vehicle Code:

"11-15-1505- Position of bicycles and motorized pedal cycles on roadways - Riding on roadways and bicycle paths
(a) Any person operating a bicycle or motorized pedal cycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as close as practicable and safe to the right hand curb or edge of the roadway except under the following situations: 1. When overtaking and passing another bicycle, motorized pedal cycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction; or 2. When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway; or 3. When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, motorized pedal cycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right hand curb or edge. For purposes of this subsection, a "substandard width lane" means a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle or motorized pedal cycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane. 4. When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized. (b) Any person operating a bicycle or motorized pedal cycle upon a one way highway with two or more marked traffic lanes may ride as near the left hand curb or edge of such roadway as practicable."
Woolley should have argued that his speed was safe for the current conditions. Good example is today posted speed limits are too fast for conditions.
Yeah, having a hard time mustering up a ton of sympathy. The cop is ready to let him go, but it's more important to be right. Like the two guys in that Bicycling magazine article who led the cops on a chase rather than pull over. Get a grip, folks.

You got some brown on your nose, and it smells of bacon.
This is why cops scare me. Even if I pass one and I know I'm following the laws, it only takes one power-hungry second for the cop to decide who to go after next.

His choice was either to appease the cop ("yes, of course sir") or try to go against thousands of years of power abuse. Kinda obvious what gets the better outcome.
@Steve: California code has similar exemptions along with the other 41 states with the discriminatory "far to the right" law, but I only posted the very first section because the rest is moot -- the bicyclist is moving faster than the "normal speed of traffic ... at that time."

There are already two other laws on the books (CVC 21650 & CVC 21654) that address the operation of slow moving vehicles on the road. The League of American Bicyclists and the various state bike advocacy groups have CVC 21202 (and their equivalents in other states) on their hit list of discriminatory laws. There's some informal discussion within California to work a little more earnestly to repeal 21202.

@Velo: I suspect Judge Andrew Liska probably had is mind already made up. He didn't listen at all to Woolley's arguments.

@Cezar, @Pete @GeekGuyAndy: It's a tough call in my opinion. We have a problem throughout California with police writing citations for laws that don't exist -- it's harassment, plain and simple. I tend to be the passive/aggressive type (I'll agreeably say I'll do as I'm told, then go back to do what's safe), but I don't judge Woolley for standing up to the cop.
@Cezar Yeah... he's brown nosing cops... that's it.

I think it takes a special kind of moron to assume they're going to win an argument with a cop. In the moment, the guy has all the power. Best case scenario, he's a decent but misinformed working stiff. Worst case, he's a bully with a Napoleon complex, rage issues and boatloads of racism. Also he has a gun. And a badge.
Wooley did the "right" thing by trying explain to the cop how it wasn't illegal. However, that right thing in this case was a good way to piss off a cop and a bad way to avoid a ticket. It's an extremely corrupt system, and I wish there was some way to fix it but I don't foresee cops taking educational advice from those they pull over.
...it's often all in the explanation...

...if you come across as pedantic & know it all, whether you're right or wrong, then you're "showing up" the cop...dumb move, 'cuz no matter how "nice" the cop is, that's a definite no-no...

...if you wanna "show up" a cop, become a good lawyer & stick to doing it in court if he/she deserves it...
...even a lawyer can't show up an officer of the law on the street & expect to get away w/ it...

...however, to suggest to the cop that you believed you were within your rights because the law as you knew it to be, offered you the option of your action, may find empathy & nothing more than a talking to or at worst a warning...

...that being said, you are absolutely right, fritz, there is a lot of harassment these days by police who believe themselves to be in the right...

...on top of that & i hate to say this about our judicial system but a lot of judges seem to use their knowledge & your lack of it to convict...whereas a lawyer who knows the inroads might get you off for the same traffic offense given actual facts, if you can't make the same argument for yourself w/ absolute certainty, damn son, you ARE gonna pay that fine...

...cities are broke...guess who gets to help out w/ that little problem ???...
[...]As I noted in the companion post on this issue, a cyclist in Logan, Utah was convicted this month on a misdemeanor charge of improper passing on the right of a vehicle. A few months before, in August, a cyclist in San Diego, California who passed a lane of traffic on the left was convicted for the infraction of not riding as close to the right as practicable. This case is a mirror image of the case in Utah, and like the Court in Utah, the California Court got the law wrong on several points.

Let’s take a look at what happened to see why.[...]
Rick Bernardi's post on this at Bicycle Law is spot on. Read it when you get a chance.
Oh, this stuff makes me crazy. Sure, everyone who posted "don't argue with cops" is right. But it really annoyes me they are. Why should it be that cops get to do whatever they want and have judges back them up. And is there any recourse when a judge is so clearly out of line?
Peace on our roads remain elusive when minutiae is allowed and often used to dictate results. Harassment is minor compared to the financial costs of insuring justice. But that is exactly the game that those in power seek to utilize, sad but true.
The "how to tell a cop about the law" can be done with various degrees of finesse or lack thereof, but lots of the finesse factors are beyond the cyclist's control. And, just to complicate things, you don't know what's going to activate any given ego... would I be perceived as a smart-mouthed woman who needed to be put in her place, or could I pull off being a nice, sweet lady who was really trying hard to obey the law and had even looked it up and everything (and was going to look even sweeter in court)?
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