The city of Davis is the biking capital of America, where an estimated 20% of the population commutes to work on their bike. 40% of students on the UC-Davis campus who have a job also get to work by bike, according to U.S. Census American Community Survey Data.
The high rate of cycling means a correspondingly high incidence of people violating traffic law. Local police and judges are reluctant to impose California’s high traffic fines on what they consider minor violations, so traffic law goes unenforced and unpunished in this city west of Sacramento. In an attempt to increase compliance with the law, the city of Davis recently reduced fines for traffic code violations committed while riding a bike.
A report by the city police department indicates that many “officers are hesitant to issue citations for bicycle violations, fearing a significant level of animosity from the public because of the perception that the fines are excessive.” Students at UC Davis, which has an estimated 20,000 bicycles on campus, have long considered fines too severe, at least for those who get caught.
To encourage hesitant bicycle officers to enforce road rules, the Davis City Council took a counterintuitive tack last week by voting unanimously to reduce fines for bicycle infractions immediately. The new tiered bicycle fine system imposes a less-severe $50 fee on first-time offenders.
This may seem counterintuitive, but I’ve long believed that reducing fines for bicyclists is a key factor in improving law enforcement. I even believe that same holds true for many traffic violations committed by motorists. Police are reluctant to issue tickets with truly punishing fines for what they consider minor violations, so practices by motorists such as speeding and running stop signs continue unabated. When the California Office of Traffic Safety funds the occasional “sting” operation, people become resentful. Remember that California imposes “administrative fees” that nearly triple cost of the scheduled fine.
Bicycle advocates have also found that many local judges dismiss fines against cyclists because they consider them too high. When fines drop, enforcement goes up, judges are more willing to uphold the citation and fines, and compliance also go up. California cities with similar reduced fines include Palo Alto, West Sacramento, Winters, and Woodland.
CVC 42001 gives local jurisdictions authority to establish their own schedule of fines for bicyclists. In 1993, the City of Davis sponsored the bill allowing lower bicycle fines, but they’ve never passed a resolution to take advantage of this law. The city resolution passed last October 8 assesses a fine of not more than $50 for a first violation. A second infraction within a year results in a $100 fine, and subsequent violations can cost you up to $250 plus those administrative fees. The resolution is effective immediately.
Read more in the Sacramento Bee: Davis adopts new bicycle fines after public backlash.
Davis also provides for alternative penalties for traffic violations committed by minors who ride. The available punishments include:
- Attend traffic school for a period of six Saturdays.
- Have bicycle equipment inspected at the police department within five days of any equipment violations.
- Write a composition of not less than two hundred words on a subject, title specified by the chief of police or his or her representative.
- Copy the section of bicycle chapter violated one hundred times.
Another problem is Davis is a college town, so fines will have a very different impact on your life depending on whether you’re a student or employed. Perhaps fine need to be pegged to income, like in Finland.