New York City Transportation Department Thumbs Nose at Federal HOV Law

PICKERINGTON, Ohio — In one of the most outrageous acts the American Motorcyclist Association has seen in years, the New York City Transportation Department defiantly refuses to change its rules so that they comply with federal law to allow motorcycles to use high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes.The department states that it won’t change its rules to comply with federal law because the New York City Police Department opposes the change. But transportation officials refuse to explain the police opposition despite numerous attempts by the American Motorcyclist Association to get an explanation. The Police Department opposition was supposed to have been recorded, but wasn’t, in a public forum–a city Transportation Department hearing that was held Sept. 12, 2007 to change department rules related to motorcycle use of HOV lanes to comply with federal law. The rule change was to go into effect within 60 days of that hearing.

“New York City’s public servants are intentionally ignoring a law passed by the American people’s elected representatives in the U.S. Congress,” says Imre Szauter, AMA legislative affairs specialist, who has been trying to get answers from New York City transportation officials on the HOV-motorcycle issue. 

“Because the New York City Transportation Department refuses to change its rules, every American motorcyclist faces tickets and fines when riding in New York City HOV lanes,” Szauter continues. “This is outrageous and totally unacceptable. Karen Perrine of Staten Island, New York, suffered through a two-and-a-half-year nightmare because of a ticket she got on Oct. 26, 2005 while riding her Yamaha FZ1 motorcycle in a New York City HOV lane.”

The New York Department of Motor Vehicles Appeals Board, in a letter dated February 15, 2008, agreed that Perrine was within her rights to use the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway HOV lane when she was pulled over and ticketed for an HOV lane violation. The board reversed her conviction and removed it from her driving record.

Perrine, however, is afraid to use the HOV lane again.

“When I opened the envelope from the Appeals Board I felt some satisfaction in having the conviction reversed, but it’s been extremely unfair to me that I have had to sit for over a year and a half with the points from this ticket on my driver’s license, while I waited for a decision from the Appeals Board,” Perrine says. “I was not breaking the law.

“In the last year and a half, those points have made me eligible for a new $300 New York Drivers Assessment Fee and led to the cancellation of my auto insurance policy.  The total cost of this ticket including the appeal, the Drivers Assessment Fee and the replacement auto insurance policy has been $1,270,” she says.

“When I attended a public hearing at the New York City Department of Transportation in September 2007, and read a statement about my ticket and traffic court hassles, I thought that I was helping to change the local traffic laws and prevent other bikers from suffering as I have,” she says. “The New York City Department of Transportation had drafted an amendment that would make local traffic rules comply with the U.S. Code, finally. The new rules were to take effect by this spring.”

In recent years, motorcyclists in Phoenix and Pittsburgh also were ticketed for riding in HOV lanes. But those tickets were dismissed when the ticketed motorcyclists and the American Motorcyclist Association pointed out that federal law allows motorcycles in HOV lanes.

In fact, Pittsburgh even put up signs allowing motorcycles in HOV lanes after officials there were informed of the federal law.

The U.S. Code governing HOV lanes–Title 23, Section 166 (23USC166)–states agencies that govern HOV lanes must allow motorcycles to use the lanes unless they prove motorcycles pose a safety hazard on the lanes, and that proof is accepted by the U.S. Transportation Secretary following a Federal Register notice and public comment period on the ban.