Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Just what the Court ordered?

If you've spent any time in traffic court, or have acquaintances who have, you are probably aware that the vast majority of cases are settled by the driver accepting a sentence to Defensive Driving School, or some other form of Driver Education. They have to pay for the class, but usually get a break in their fine, and fewer points are deducted from their license. So the driver wins, and the community wins in that a bad driver is now being exposed to education (I say "bad driver" because they did something that warranted a ticket, so they can't be a perfect driver, right?). There's another entity that wins in this scenario also: The Driver Education company. They have a court-mandated steady supply of customers, they can charge pretty much whatever they want for the class, and they are able to educate drivers.

So why doesn't this happen with cyclists?

It does in a few places around the country. There's even a model here in California. Santa Cruz County, on the north shore of Monterrey Bay, has a cyclist education program that offending cyclists can be ordered to in lieu of paying a fine in traffic court.

There are so many benefits to a system like this, both obvious and subtle, that I probably can't even think of them all. First, the obvious, and already mentioned:

-Cyclists who need bicycle safety training are ordered to get it!

-The organization that gives the training has a steady supply of students.

And the not so obvious. . .

-The organization that gives the training will, indirectly, be training the police and the courts about proper and safe cycling!

-Cycling advocacy and education becomes a real and accepted entity within the city government. No longer working from the outside, but sitting at the table with decision makers.

-The groundwork is set for positive police/cyclist interaction. Police can pull over cyclists and know that they are actually helping them, rather than giving them a hugely expensive ticket for a seemingly minor infraction.

-Cycling is legitimized in the minds of police and courts (after all, there's a county/city supported education program).

There's probably more benefits that I can't think of or articulate right now. This is an idea worth pursuing. The infrastructure is there (police, education system, courts, etc). Now, how do we get them all on the same page? San Diego wouldn't be the first place to do this, so it can't be that hard!

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