My Scooter Got Me a $526 Ticket?! When Small Bikes Collide With the Law
In our new column, First Person, L.A. writers tackle the good, the bad and the funny about life as they know it.
There is a high price to pay in the city of Los Angeles for the feeling of wind rushing through your hair -- $526, or 68 community service hours, to be exact. I know, because it happened to me. Twice.
When I graduated high school, I didn't buy a Honda. I bought a used, jet black, four-stroke 150cc Bajaj Chetak scooter off Craigslist. It's a low-maintenance motor scooter made in India, a lot cheaper than a Vespa -- perfect for lazy beginners like me. My 2006 model gets 95 mpg, and I am about to hit 14,000 accident-free miles on it.
The problem comes at night, or very early in the morning. Driving in these hours should be a breezy reprieve from L.A. traffic. But in a Chetak, the open road can be a ticket to, well, tickets.
In one such instance, I was at the corner of Figueroa and Second, at a signalized, protected left-turn-arrowed intersection, waiting patiently on a wind-chilled morning for the light to turn green. At 1:46 a.m., I was the only vehicle on the whole block.
But the red-light sensors in this city are not built to be triggered by anything smaller than a full-size car. I waited nine minutes and it skipped my turn three times over.
I looked around; no cars were in sight, in any direction. I pressed my clutch, twisted my idling throttle and took the red light.
I've done it innumerable times before. This time, though, there was a police car in stealth mode nearby; it pounced on me immediately. The officer wouldn't look me in the eye as he handed me the ticket. (He didn't look at my scooter, either, apparently; after he got its color wrong, he had to send a detail correction slip in the mail.) He knew, as much as I did, that the ticket was given unfairly.
I'd fought tickets twice before. I knew the outcome: They find you guilty anyway -- but at that point, the judge is eager to give you the max. I pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 68 hours of community service.
Ask any rider in this city about this problem and they will answer the same way: "I back up, put it in neutral and roll my bike back and forth over the sensor pads, but this only works if you have a big motorcycle. It doesn't work for smaller bikes." Luis Sandoval, who got his motorcycle license in 1976 and currently rides a 2006 Softail Deluxe Harley-Davidson, confirms that this disregard for riders has existed for at least three decades.
Some riders take to toggling their high beams on and off. (It's an urban myth that this somehow helps the situation.) Others lug around a "rare-earth" neodymium magnet. It's supposed to alter the electromagnetic field and trigger the sensor. I've never tried it.
Officer John Padilla of the Los Angeles Police Department tells me officers are supposed to honor the spirit of the law: "If the violator is causing a safety hazard, we do cite. But if we think the traffic offender is telling the truth, then we give a verbal warning."
That doesn't always work; look what happened to me.
I suppose the 123,669 registered motorcyclists in this city who face this problem daily could back up, make a right and then pull a U-turn. But according to the latest edition of the City of Los Angeles Traffic Profile, L.A. has 1,800 signalized intersections with left-turn arrows. That's quite a few riled riders cutting you off in the street to get over to the right-turn lane, just to make a series of turns they shouldn't have to make anyway.
As for me, I did my 68 hours of community service at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. But I wouldn't say it was a lesson learned.Follow @LAWeeklyArts on Twitter.