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Road Rights – Ticket Talk, Part 1

By January 28, 2013October 23rd, 2021No Comments

Although traffic citations are not a part of my law practice, I’d like to explain some of the issues that face cyclists who have received traffic tickets. Let’s start where your encounter with the legal system begins, at the traffic stop. Here are three important things to know.

Yes, You Have to Stop
Whether you were breaking the law and got caught, or you were riding 100 percent legally, do not ignore a police officer who orders you to stop. One of my first Road Rights columns was about a cyclist who was arrested for failing to stop. He later triumphed in court, but not before he was tased, beaten, and cuffed before being hauled off to jail. Whether you think you deserve a ticket or not, when the cop says stop, pull over.

The Officer Is Not Your Friend
When a police officer asks you if you know why you were stopped, he is not making idle chatter. He is gathering evidence. Remember the Miranda warning? Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law (even if you are only getting a traffic ticket and the officer is not legally obligated to read you your rights). The police are not kidding about that. If an officer asks about information on your driver’s license, he may be looking for evidence that the information on your license is not up-to-date, which can garner you another ticket. The best response to these fishing expeditions is to answer the question without incriminating yourself. For example, “No, I don’t know why you stopped me.”

Speaking of your driver’s license, you don’t need one to ride your bike, but in at least one state (California) you will need to present a driver’s license or its “functional equivalent” (a state ID, a passport, or a military ID) if you are stopped for a violation and the officer asks you to produce ID. Failure to produce the requested ID can lead to a trip to jail. So can lying about your identity, and not just in California.

It Pays to Be Polite
There are several reasons for this. The officer may just be planning to talk to you about the violation he witnessed (or thinks he witnessed); you don’t want to convince him to write you a ticket instead by being difficult. But even if the officer is planning on writing you a ticket, you still don’t want to be a problematic traffic stop. For one thing, you might be able to change the officer’s mind and get a verbal warning instead of a ticket. How do you do that? By asking. Politely. But there is one drawback to asking for a warning instead of a ticket—you risk saying something incriminating about your actions that can be used against you later in court. So if you do ask for a warning, be careful about what you say, unless you want your words to come back and haunt you later.

Even if the officer writes you a ticket, you want to remain polite. Why? Because the officer writes a lot of traffic tickets, and you don’t want to be the one who stands out in his mind. You don’t want to give the officer incentive to show up in court and testify against you on your trial date, and you don’t want him to remember you and everything that you did and said when your case goes to trial. So if the officer decides to write you a ticket, politely accept your ticket. Do not argue with or insult the officer. Just take your ticket and ride away to fight this battle another day.

And that is the key here. You want to argue your case in the proper venue, which is the courtroom. The roadside is not a courtroom, and being combative with the officer will only anger the officer, which will make it worse for you when your case goes to trial.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t disagree with the officer. If the officer says you broke the law, and you believe the officer is wrong, you can disagree with the officer, but the key here is to disagree politely. If the officer is unsure of the law, and you are polite and sure of the law, you may be able to persuade the officer that you did not violate the law. But if the officer insists that you violated the law, despite your best efforts to convince him that you did not, or if he doesn’t want to listen—which he is not obligated to do—you may need to accept a ticket and make your legal arguments later in traffic court. In Part 2 of this article, I will talk about what happens next, after you’ve been ticketed.

Research and assistance by Rick Bernardi, J.D.

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This article, Ticket-Talk ,Part 1, was oriinally publixhed on Bicycling on January 28, 2013.

Now read the fine print:
Bob Mionske is a former competitive cyclist who represented the U.S. at the 1988 Olympic games (where he finished fourth in the road race), the 1992 Olympics, as well as winning the 1990 national championship road race.
After retiring from racing in 1993, he coached the Saturn Professional Cycling team for one year before heading off to law school. Mionske’s practice is now split between personal-injury work, representing professional athletes as an agent and other legal issues facing endurance athletes (traffic violations, contract, criminal charges, intellectual property, etc).
Mionske is also the author of Bicycling and the Law, designed to be the primary resource for cyclists to consult when faced with a legal question. It provides readers with the knowledge to avoid many legal problems in the first place, and informs them of their rights, their responsibilities, and what steps they can take if they do encounter a legal problem.
If you have a cycling-related legal question, please send it to Bob will answer as many of these questions privately as he can. He will also select a few questions each week to answer in this column. General bicycle-accident advice can be found at
Important notice:
The information provided in the “Road Rights” column is not legal advice. The information provided on this public web site is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors to this web site. The information contained in the column applies to general principles of American jurisprudence and may not reflect current legal developments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and therefore should not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Understand that reading the information contained in this column does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Bob Mionske. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained in the web site without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.