Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wednesday's Weird But True Legal Cases - Vol LIV

Wednesday's Weird (but true) legal case analysis returns with what might be the weirdest case in 2009, a case which asks - can one be arrested for driving a bicycle with no hands? The answer may surprise you.

In People v. Chen, 25 Misc.3d 1240(A), 2009 WL 4827498 (City Ct Ithaca 2009) the court considered a matter where the defendant was issued a ticket by a Cornell University Police Officer for Insufficient Control of a Steering Mechanism, a violation of Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1226.

The court described the following facts in its decision:

On October 9, 2009, at approximately 5:30 p.m., Officer Cady of the Cornell University Police Department observed Mr. Chen riding his bike on East Avenue on campus. The officer testified that Mr. Chen took both hands off the handlebars, spread his arms out to the sides, and then placed his hands behind his head, while continuing to cycle. There were no pedestrians or other vehicles in Mr. Chen's path at the time, but the officer stopped and issued him the ticket for failing to keep at least one hand on the bike steering mechanism at all times.
The court noted that Chen testified in his own defense and stated that he was a very proficient bicycle rider and that he had complete control over the bicycle at all times. However, the court did not dismiss the ticket.

Instead, the court cited to two decisions from New York appellate courts in which it was stated that cyclists did not need to give a continuous hand signal for 100 feet before turning (like the driver of car) because it would be inherently dangerous to keep one hand off the handlebars for that length of time.

Based on the above decisions, the Court stated that it was:

[C]onstrained to conclude that given the inherent dangers in riding with no hands on the bicycle steering mechanism does pose a danger, especially in a municipal area riddled with potholes and other irregularities in the road. As the facts in this case are not contested, the Court finds and concludes that Mr. Chen, on October 9, 2009, did operate a bicycle within the City of Ithaca at a time when he did not have at least one hand on the steering mechanism, and as a result, the Court finds him in violation of Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1226 .

The court did get creative in its sentencing as the defendant was sentenced to a conditional discharge, with the condition that in the future, Chen use at least one hand to steer the bike.

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