Monday, May 21, 2007
C.A. Approves ‘Fix-It’ Tickets for Helmetless Motorcyclists
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
Failure to wear a proper safety helmet while riding a motorcycle is a potentially correctable infraction, the Sixth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
The panel Thursday agreed with Santa Cruz Superior Court Judge Michael Barton, who said the California Highway Patrol was wrong to believe that it could not issue “fix-it” tickets to violators of the state’s mandatory helmet law.
But the court nevertheless vacated Barton’s order in favor of a motorcyclist cited nine times for violating the law, saying his actions were unsafe and that the officers who cited him acted within their authority.
Barton in January 2005 held that all nine violations—by Northern California resident Richard J. Quigley, who was stopped by CHP and Watsonville officers for driving his motorcycle either with no head covering or with just a baseball cap embroidered with the letters “DOT”—were correctable.
Quigley had been found in violation of Vehicle Code Sec. 27803(b), which renders it unlawful for anyone to operate a motorcycle or similar vehicle without wearing a safety helmet meeting certain requirements.
After finding his offense correctable, Barton ordered the CHP to “sign off” on certificates of correction for five of Quigley’s citations if and when he presented a helmet with a DOT certification symbol to the agency.
The CHP refused to comply with Barton’s directive, prompting him to issue an order to show cause why it should not be held in contempt. A contempt hearing was held, but Barton postponed a ruling to give the agency an opportunity to challenge his underlying order.
Petitioning the Court of Appeal, the CHP contended that Barton erred as a matter of law in deeming the five citations to be correctable offenses and ordering the agency to sign off on them.
The justices agreed.
At issue were Vehicle Code Secs. 40610 and 40303.5, which list the types of violations that qualify as correctable offenses and set forth the circumstances under which an arresting officer may issue a notice to correct an alleged violation instead of a final citation. A fix-it ticket involves the violator signing a written notice containing his or her promise to correct the alleged violation and deliver proof of the correction of the agency issuing the ticket.
Sec. 40610 generally provides that violations involving a registration, license, all-terrain vehicle safety certificate or mechanical requirement of the code are grounds for issuing a fix-it ticket. If, however, an officer finds evidence of fraud or persistent neglect, the violation presents an immediate safety hazard, or the violator cannot or will not promptly correct it, the officer is not required to treat the violation as a correctable offense.
Sec. 40303.5 provides that fix-it tickets must be issued for “[a]ny infraction involving equipment set forth in Division 12…”—the division containing the section under which Quigley was cited.
The court held that Sec. 40610 was inapplicable to Quigley’s case, but—rejecting the CHP’s view—held 40303.5 did apply to make safety helmet violations potentially correctable.
The agency had argued the latter section could not reasonably be construed to apply generally to all equipment violations in the divisions listed in the statute, and specifically to helmet law violations, because such an interpretation “flies in the face of common sense” and “would yield an absurd result.”
But the court said it would apply the plain meaning of the section.
Presiding Justice Conrad L. Rushing explained:
“Although the Legislature could have specifically listed the types of equipment infractions that do and do not qualify as correctable offenses, it chose instead to use the all-inclusive statutory phrase ‘any infraction involving equipment’ and then give officers in the field the authority to make factual findings that determine whether an infraction is correctable or not.”
Lawmakers did not create a “rigid classification system” for correctable and noncorrectable infractions, but instead opted for a “flexible, fact-based, case-by-case” approach, the justice said. Nonetheless, he concluded that under Sec. 40303.5, the officers’ decision not to issue fix-it tickets to Quigley were valid.
“[T]he officers did not issue ‘fix-it’ tickets to Quigley, and therefore the standard citations that were issued imply a finding that in driving his motorcycle without a proper safety helmet, Quigley presented an immediate safety hazard to himself,” Rushing wrote. “…Such circumstances unquestionably support each officer’s implicit finding of a safety hazard and decision not to issue a ‘fix-it’ ticket.”
The CHP was thus not required to sign certificates of correction for Quigley’s violations, he wrote.
Justices Eugene M. Premo and Wendy Clark Duffy concurred in the opinion.
The case is Department of the California Highway Patrol v. Superior Court (Quigley), 07 S.O.S. 2505.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company