Huntington Beach has become the first city in the state to offer traffic school for bicyclists who break the law.
The city's police officers now give cyclists the option of going to court and paying high fines or going to traffic school. Some counties, including Santa Cruz and Marin, offer traffic school for bicyclists, but court permission is required first. In Huntington Beach, violators will not need permission or go to court if they elect to take the city's offer.
Unlike the much longer traffic school for drivers, the Police Department's Adult Bicycle Safety Program takes two hours, said Lt. Russell Reinhart. Since the program began late last month, Reinhart said, most of those cited have gone the traffic school route. Ten people opted for the class the first day it was offered, he said.
Violators are charged $50 to cover the cost of the class, which also waives any other fees or fines.
"It's a good deal," said Frank Yonemori, who rides his bike several times a week in the city.
The new policy does not apply to bicyclists caught riding under the influence of drugs or alcohol, said Police Chief Ken Small.
State law treats those who break traffic rules while riding a bike the same as if they were driving a car. 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 fails to stop at a stop sign could end up paying $233.
"The process of going to court and paying that very high fine doesn't seem appropriate for bicyclists," Reinhart said.
In traffic collisions involving bicyclists and cars between 2008 and 2010, two-thirds of the time the bicyclists were at fault, according to city data. That points to the need to help bicyclists improve, but the law doesn't provide for that, Reinhart said; it simply punishes riders by levying fines.
The safety program, he said, "helps bicyclists save money and get more education as opposed to just paying fines."
Yonemori, who was riding his bike on the beach with a friend, said Huntington Beach's approach is a good one because many people are not aware of the rules. The class, he said, will help them become safer riders.
Steve Gardner, who was visiting Huntington Beach from his home in Oregon, 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 biking near the beach.