Woolley on good track to win appeal
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Saturday, January 09, 2010

Woolley on good track to win appeal

by Bjorn Haake at 12:39 PM EST   comments
Categories: Commuting, Advocacy
 

Cyclist Andrew Woolley is on a good track to win his appeal against a traffic ticket given to him for supposedly riding in the wrong part of the lane, in San Diego, California. San Diego's city attorney Jan Goldsmith agrees with Woolley's arguments, which will be heard in a few months with the Appellate Division judges.

Goldsmith and Woolley have the same view about basic rights to riding a bicycle on the roadway, as written in the California Vehicle Code (CVC). The judge for San Diego County's superior court, Andrew Liska, saw the matter differently and, in his initial ruling, confirmed the validity of the ticket.

The case has stirred a lot of interest with San Diego's City Council, Woolley told Velonation. "They are trying to correct this problem. So far, they've been very responsive and have organized a meeting between the police and the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition," Woolley said.

Woolley is an experienced cyclist who does all kinds of riding. From recreational riding to track and road racing he also commutes, usually four times a week and about a 12-mile round trip. He runs many of his errands on two wheels and uses the bicycle for general transportation purposes, but still owns a car. This was the first time he had such a negative encounter with traffic police.

"Hopefully there can be some training for law enforcement concerning safe bicycling," Woolley said. The San Diego County Bicycle Coalition provided some help but wasn't able to get Woolley in touch with attorneys, so he represented himself at court. "I thought it was such a clear-cut case that there is no way they would find me guilty."

After the city attorney's statement came through, lawyers started to take an interest. Still, he had to write the appeal himself. "I think I spent probably around 50 hours on this case so far." But Woolley says he is almost glad that the lost court case and the ensuing appeal is bringing some much needed attention to the traffic court system.

"It made me realize that a lot of people go to traffic court, are found guilty and then just pay the fine. I am bit surprised of what kind of mistreatment they accept," he said.

Woolley's tips for a smooth ride

After his bad experience with law enforcement in San Diego, he wrote up a few tips for fellow cyclists on his blog. For one, it is important to know the traffic code pretty well and operate within its legal settings.

He also advises against arguing with a police officer, who shows a lack of knowledge in certain areas of the traffic code. In hindsight, he would have avoided the ticket and instead contacted "the Contact City Council member and inform them that their efforts to educate law enforcement are inadequate."

One thing Woolley did and will continue to do is to contact the officer's supervisor after an incident. "Not as a personal vendetta," he clarifies. "You call because you are concerned for cyclists' safety and police misunderstanding." This also gives the cyclist the chance to review the traffic code to be sure the arguments are bullet proof.

In case there is an unjust citation and the cyclist opts to go to court instead of paying the fine or arguing the case via email, then Woolley is adamant about good preparation. "Contact your bicycle coalition and attain expert witnesses (certified cycling safety instructors) to testify on your behalf. Do not assume that facts and logic will prevail... You have to prove not only that you are allowed in the lane, but why you are allowed in the lane."

Woolley's case is still pending after more than nine months. The appeal process is not easy, but possible. "It can be time consuming, confusing, and difficult, but the results may prove well worth the effort; not just for you personally, but for all cyclists in your area," Woolley said.

Woolley's case

The case sounds like it is straight out of a bad movie. In March 2009, Andrew Woolley was riding his bicycle on El Cajon Boulevard, in an area with two travel lanes in each direction. Traffic was heavily backed up, so Woolley split the lane; that is he passed cars in the leftmost portion of the right hand lane. This is not illegal under the CVC but Woolley was pulled over by David Root, a 22-year veteran in the police force.

He cited Woolley for violating CVC 21202 ("shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway"). Woolley argued that 21202 only applies if the cyclist is going "at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time." The trial transcript shows that Root did not make his judgement based on the law. "I told him my feeling of the Vehicle Code," Root said in court.

Besides the speed requirement there are also exceptions when cyclists don't have to ride on the right hand edge and can instead use the full lane. These include when passing other vehicles (which was the case) and "when approaching a place where a right turn is authorized," which was also the case.

Woolley received a court date. He called Root's supervisor, Sergeant Martinez, who agreed that there should not have been a ticket issued. Martinez agreed to counsel Root. By Court Day, the counseling was either not done or was conducted improperly and Root continued to argue that the ticket was properly given.

Judge Andrew Liska agreed with Root and held up the citation. Liska interpreted that the "normal speed of traffic at this time" was the speed limit - as if speed limits frequently change. Despite the officer acknowledging that he issued the citation near a right hand turn in this area, Liska did not accept that as an exception under CVC 21202.

The fact that Woolley was passing other vehicles by Root's account also did not sway Liska to rule according to the law.

Note: In June 2010, the charges against Woolley were reversed and the case dismissed.

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