California traffic tickets while cycling: Points on your license?

FAQ: I was cited for [ running a “dead” red light / CVC 21202 violation / impeding traffic ] while riding my bicycle. Will I get points against my drivers license? Will my car insurance rates go up?

Police Woman

Here’s a frequently asked question that used to be on the SF Bike Coalition website about a decade ago, but they apparently removed the discussion some time back. The question pops up now and again but it’s hard to find a definitive answer online.

The definitive answer: it depends on your local courts.

California Vehicle Code 1803 spells out the rules for reporting traffic violations to the California DMV. It has this important exception you should be aware of. CVC 1803 (b) says:

The following violations are not required to be reported … Violations for which a person was cited as a pedestrian or while operating a bicycle or a motorized scooter.

The important note: the courts are not required to report the citation to the DMV. Some local courts don’t know about this exception so you might want to mention it. Many police definitely don’t know about this exception, and many law enforcement officers will flat out give you wrong information about this so don’t even bother to ask. When you sign your ticket, be sure that the citation notes that your violation occurred while you’re riding a bicycle.

A couple of other handy tips you should be aware of:

  • California law gives cities the option of reduced fines for bicycle infractions. Lower fines encourage enforcement and compliance, believe it or not, because many policemen don’t like to write $300 tickets for what they consider minor traffic violations. Davis and Palo Alto are among cities with reduced fines for bicyclists.
  • Some California localities allow ticketed cyclists to attend a traffic safety class in lieu of paying a fine. Areas with these bicycle traffic citation diversion programs include Santa Cruz County, Stanford University, and UC Davis.

Important: IANAL, YMMV. Everything you read on the Internet is not necessarily true but I believe this information to be accurate.

I’d love to hear your experience with tainted driving records from citations you received while bicycle.




  1. I wonder what would happen if you didn’t show them your driver’s license? You don’t need it to ride the bike. Maybe I’ll see if I can get an ID card separate from my DL.

  2. I have been been stopped for a moving violation in a car while having forgotten my wallet at home. Don’t forget they have fancy computers in there cars now days. Its no problem for them. Just tell them your DL number and it will be easier for you. Note, my experience was in Los Angeles, California, and I am a white guy. Your experience maybe different.

  3. You can add UC Berkeley to the list of places with bicyclist ticket diversion programs, although it only applies to tickets written for university code violations (biking through a walk zone, locking a bike on UC property blocking a doorway or ramp, etc) and not state vehicle code violations.

    At Bike East Bay we are working on a very simple state vehicle code change along with our partners at the California Bicycle Coalition to enable any city and police department to opt into a bicyclist ticket diversion program which would apply to any moving violation ticket. This would allow ticketed cyclists to attend a bike ed class and pay a reduced fine.

    We are still looking for a sponsor in the legislature for this proposal, but in the meantime you can read more about the effort via our petition at

  4. @Paul S, Can’t speak for CA, but in IL the number on the ID card is exactly the same as the number on the DL, except that the letter that appears at the front is moved to the back of the number. e.g. F123456 = DL#, 123456F = ID# The state simply won’t let us separate the two.

  5. Changing the law to ‘allow’ cities to opt in still requires cities to actually opt in. That may take another hundred years for all cites to get around to it. Instead why not just change the law to allow bike moving violations to be dismissed by regular traffic school, like drivers get to do. Same rules, then why not same traffic school. Then it would apply to all cities all the same time. A city by city approach will permanently lock out this option for many who don’t live in just the right city. Bad idea Bike East Bay. Make it state wide, not city by city.

  6. I don’t think California allows diversion programs for drivers. Courts may order traffic school for offenders, but they can’t be done in place of other punishments.

  7. Use a passport if you don’t want to be tied to a drivers license, but I bet they can still connect to your DMV record if they really want to.

    I wonder what’s involved to get one of the new “undocumented immigrant” licenses now available for California residents. Probably requires some kind of consular document for identification.

  8. I doubt that sending bicyclists to driver traffic school would be a very useful proposition. The rules for bicyclists and drivers may be (mostly) the same, but how bicyclists keep themselves safe in traffic involves very different considerations and behavior.

    I’m not against the idea of a statewide cyclist ticket diversion program, but that would require a much larger effort than the opt-in program that I am proposing, including finding funding, developing a statewide curriculum and having it approved, and passing a much more complex update to the vehicle code compared to the one word change I am proposing.

    Although you are correct that an opt-in program wouldn’t reach every area of the state, I and other bike advocacy organization representatives have talked with many police departments who have told us that they would be glad to operate such a program if it wasn’t for the prohibition in the vehicle code. If we were able to get programs up and running in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Oakland, Berkeley, Davis, Huntington Beach, Long Beach, and other locations that have expressed interest, and showed that they were successful via experience and data, that would then make the case for a county or state-wide program much more compelling.

    The actual coordination of the programs would be with the police and not with the city itself, though, which means that smaller areas could still be served if a program was set up with the regional police responsible for traffic duty (often the CHP in unincorporated areas).

    Beyond that, citywide programs set up in coordination with local police departments also give local bike educators an opportunity to do training with the PD ahead of implementation to both help them target their enforcement to have the biggest impact on safety (instead of just nuisance tickets) while also addressing some of the common misconceptions about bike law that are sometimes even shared by law enforcement officers.

  9. I scanned my driver’s license and printed it on high quality paper, then on the back wrote my auto insurance information and sealed it in one of those ‘instant lamination’ sheets you can pick up at an office supply or department store.

    I’m told Santa Clara has a ‘diversion program’ that primarily targets underage riders without helmets (from what I understand – several years ago our BPAC’s police rep spoke about this and other subjects but he retired and we’re working on building a relationship with a replacement). I’m glad you brought this subject up because I’d love to look into it more.

  10. Robert wrote: “The rules for bicyclists and drivers may be (mostly) the same, but how bicyclists keep themselves safe in traffic involves very different considerations and behavior.”

    I disagree that safe cycling is “very different” from safe driving. Instead, I’ve come to pretty much the opposite conclusion. I’ve found that the more I act like a driver, the less conflict I have, the fewer close calls I have, the less grief I get from motorists, and the less stress I experience.

    It took a lot of unlearning for me to get to this point.

  11. MikeOnBike, I also use those same strategies, but my point was that there is a whole host of considerations related to biking in traffic that drivers never have to think about, and which would not be covered in a driver-focused education program.

    We never hear drivers talk about lane position, getting “doored” or “buzzed”, adding lights or reflectors to their cars, how to drive over train tracks, how to take a car on transit, car locking techniques, strategies for making left turns, how to trigger green lights at intersections, and on and on.

    Though the rules may be the same, the playing field is certainly not level for bikes versus cars on our streets. Until more of these issues are solved via smarter infrastructure cyclist-focused education programs will help people to cope with the inequity.

  12. The most effective way to do cycling education is what SVBC is doing with their program for schools, which they seem to be expanding now. This is where the resources will have the most impact, not ticket enforcement safety classes. Teach kids the basics in elementary school, then follow up with best known methods in a later grade. Spread the program to more schools and start a whole new generation off using BKM. They will then set an example for those two did not receive this education.

    Once someone has been doing things the wrong for decades, the chance of reforming them is rather low. Someone people will debate with you until blue in the face that wrong way cycling is the safest way to go, and a safety class is unlikely to change their mind. Plus great safety information is widely available on the net and through already free classes.

    I would also doubt that we will be able to get all the tens of thousands of police to stop issuing nuisance tickets. That didn’t work out so well in Portland, where only two rogue traffic cops handed out 100s of tickets for Utah stops, many at a traffic circle that should have had yield signs instead of stop signs anyway. Better off to change the law to eliminate the nuisance tickets. Put in a Utah stop law and repeal or revise FTR so it can not be used as a harassment tool. I hear people are still being stopped because they are not to the right of fog lines.

  13. CVC 42005
    (b)In lieu of adjudicating a traffic offense committed by a person who holds a noncommercial class C, class M1, or class M2 driver’s license, and with the consent of the defendant, the court may order the person to attend a licensed traffic violator school, a licensed driving school, or any other court-approved program or driving instruction.

    – – It does not seem to exclude violations committed on a bike, but does require a drivers license. – –


    (2)Ineligible offenses

    A court clerk is not authorized to grant a request to attend traffic
    violator school for a misdemeanor or any of the following infractions:

    (A)A violation that carries a negligent operator point count of more than one point under Vehicle Code section 12810 or one and one-half points or more under Vehicle Code section 12810.5(b)(2);

    (B)A violation that occurs within 18 months after the date of a previous violation and the defendant either attended or elected to attend a traffic violator school for the previous violation (Veh. Code, §§ 1808.7 and 1808.10);

    (C)A violation of Vehicle Code section 22406.5 (tank vehicles);

    (D)A violation related to alcohol use or possession or drug use or possession;

    (E)A violation on which the defendant failed to appear under Vehicle Code section 40508(a) unless the failure-to-appear charge has been adjudicated and any fine imposed has been paid;

    (F)A violation on which the defendant has failed to appear under Penal Code section 1214.1 unless the civil monetary assessment has been paid;

    (G)A speeding violation in which the speed alleged is more than 25 miles over a speed limit as stated in Chapter 7 (commencing with section 22348) of Division 11 of the Vehicle Code; and

    (H)A violation that occurs in a commercial vehicle as defined in Vehicle Code section 15210(b).

  14. FYI: In the USA you are not required to carry identification, but you are required to “identify yourself” if detained by law enforcement. Theoretically, verbally telling them who you are should work, but they may hold you a bit longer to verify what you tell them. YMMV. I am not a lawyer! (Me? I carry a DL and medical insurance card in case somebody needs to scrape my body parts off the pavement)

  15. I agree that cycling education for children is a good thing, but the problem is that’s where it stops. It’s absolutely not integrated into driver’s ed at all. The SVBC recently patted themselves on the back for helping CA DMV create a bicycle-related section in the state driver’s manual, but if you read it you’re reinforced with the belief that bicyclists are supposed to stay out of the way all the time. When I commented on it on the SVBC’s site (which doesn’t allow comments anymore, conveniently), someone from the DMV lambasted SVBC for not working with them more or being more responsive to them. Ah, bikey politics…

    Frankly I care more about having new drivers learn about safe cycling than small children. I think the baby step that can be made is to reword driver’s manuals to communicate that cyclists can and will take the whole lane. Then it should be put into the test – when I took the CA test a few years ago none of the practice or real tests had anything related to pedestrians or bicyclists whatsoever – in fact the important question I got wrong was how many days I have to report the sale of a car to the DMV… yeah that’ll keep me safe.

    Tennessee even experimented with a program that took new drivers out bicycling as a way to get them to understand the viewpoint. At least the wording in their driver’s manual (sec C-3) makes sense:

  16. I blatantly ran two red lights that a motorcycle cop followed me through. When I say blatant I mean I was pretty obvious about it, I didn’t see the cop and had no reason to try to conceal my actions. I did not impede traffic in any way, the cars were gridlocked. I still stopped before continuing through, but I did cross the red illegally, and one was a left turn.

    He wrote me up a very vague ticket that didn’t say which of the two intersections he was citing me for. There were also some other minor issues on the citation that I used in court to make my case against the officer.

    I researched not just San Jose local laws, where the citation was issued, but also San Francisco local laws, where I lived at the time of citing. I made a good case that the laws in San Jose were unreasonable, and that the overall laws governing bikes and stop lights are very vague.

    I made a good enough case in court to get it reduced down to the minimum fine of about $25, which after court fees was about $200. Still better than $500 and getting a point on my license, which was the original threat being made by the officer/the citation.

    He was not happy and stormed out of court, another cop said I should be a lawyer. If anyone wants my research notes let me know, I’ll gladly pass them on to anyone who needs to get out of a bullshit citation. I am not saying bikes should be able to legally run red lights, I am saying it should be a different violation than with a car; which currently is not the case, the same law applies to bikes as cars.

  17. Hello, my son got a ticket for running red light in San Mateo on September 18 – 21453 (A) CVC. When he tried to go to Court on November 10, 2014, the clerk did not find a record of his citation. We checked again online after 3 weeks and still found no record so we thought it was forgotten. Last week he received a notice of Bail for $490.00. Can you share your contest statements, thanks.

  18. Do you have any documentation of when you went to the court to check on it and the clerk found no record? Do you have a name of the clerk who helped you? It should be pretty easy to clear up as it seems like the court made a clerical error, but it would definitely help if you had some documentation to use.

  19. I recently fought a stop sign ticket (bicycle) by written declaration and lost (4-5 cyclists waved down and stopped at the same time, 5 blocks away from alleged violation and not within sight of it–all on bike to work week. hurray).

    I am trying to decide whether to request a trial de novo. Would like to hear your thoughts and also interested in reading your notes about the above red light ticket you successfully fought in court. When I checked my driving record on, the citation was not there, but its only been about 5 days since the ruling, so I don’t know if it has posted yet.

    Any thoughts? I can send my email along if that is easier.

  20. Hey Shady,

    Your comment prompted me to do what I should have done when first asked about it on this thread and I just wrote a post about it on my blog laying out my reasoning, now it’s out there for everyone to read in the open.

    I don’t know much about trials de novo as I am not a lawyer and I did not use that in my case, nor any other time I have been before a judge. I doubt you would have gotten any points based off my experience, but it all depends on where you live and what judge you get. I wish you the best with your case!

  21. Thank you! A “trial de novo” is basically a new trial. This option exists only if you use a trial by written declaration initially. For a trial de novo, you have to go to court. (It is the only situation that basically allows you a whole new trial even after a guilty verdict.) The benefit of going this route is that often the case is dismissed initially because some officers are too lazy or busy to write their statement to the court, without ever having to appear. If the case isn’t dismissed or you are found guilty, you then get a second chance to go to court by requesting a new trial. This is the first time I’ve lost a trial by written declaration.

    I’ve read your post and am likely to use similar arguments for my stop sign violation. Thanks for the followup.

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