City debuts traffic school for bike violations

Huntington Beach has become the first city in the state to offer traffic school for bicyclists who break the law.

The Police Department now gives cyclists the option in lieu of going to court and paying high fines.

Unlike driving traffic school, the Adult Bicycle Safety Program only takes two hours and is offered by the Police Department at City Hall, said Lt. Russell Reinhart.

Since the city began the program May 20, Reinhart said, most bikers who were pulled over took the traffic school option. On the first day, 10 people opted for the class, he said.

The department charges violators $50 to cover the cost of traffic school and waive any other fees or fines.

"It's a good deal," said Frank Yonemori, who rides his bike four to five times a week in the city.

The new policy does not apply to bikers caught riding under the influence of drugs or alcohol, said Police Chief Ken Small.

State law treats those who break traffic rules while driving a car the same way as those who break the rules on bikes. The difference is that bike violations, except for the DUI equivalent, don't appear on drivers' DMV records.

For example, a bicyclist or a driver who doesn't stop at a stop sign would end up paying $233.

"The process of going to court and paying that very high fine doesn't seem appropriate for bicyclists," Reinhart said. "It's the same fine as someone driving a vehicle."

Data of the number of traffic collisions involving bikers and cars between 2008 and 2010 in the city show that two-thirds of the time, the bikers are at fault, which points to the need to provide tools for bicyclists to improve.

The law doesn't provide bikers with ways to improve, but just punishes them by forcing them to pay fines, Reinhart said.

"It helps bicyclists save money and get more education as opposed to just paying fines," Reinhart said.

Yonemori, who was riding his bike on the beach with his friend, Scott Williams, said he avoids riding on the street. Nonetheless, he said what Huntington Beach is doing is a good thing because a lot of people are not always aware of the rules and the class will help them become safer riders.

Steve Gardner, who lives in Oregon and was on a visit to Huntington Beach, said the rules should apply to everyone, as should traffic school.

"We should have the same options when it comes to fines and violating the law," he said while riding his bike near the beach.

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