Jan. 20th was round 2 in Criminal Court. In round 1, I refused to accept the $300 fine the very kind and wise judge originally offered me at my first hearing in Criminal Court. $300 and all three criminal charges would be dropped. As I told this very wise and kind judge, his offer was very tempting.
But, no. I wanted a Jury trial. I am angry about this new law. It is totally contrary to just about every citizen behavior modification our state AND our nation is allegedly encouraging! AND...while on the surface it is bringing in much needed state revenue, it really is costing the taxpayers a LOT more money in both the short AND long term. Why? For one reason, because of the salaries we pay police officer and meter maids to enforce these petty laws...and the trickle down economics for tow trucks (yes, even for low-speed scooters) and storage fees required by impoundment lots. This is nothing short of extortion. My scooter is worth $500 tops. If it were to be impounded for not taking up a car parking space (as required by the new law), I would have to pay more than the value of the Scooter. But, because it is now licensed, I would not be able to "abandon" it without being charged a daily storage rate!
I suppose I could have accepted the judge’s offer during my last hearing. But maybe the voice of my ancestors were nagging and scolding me. After all, my great, great aunt was Lucretia Mott, a famous woman suffragette, ostracized and threatened for BREAKING THE LAW and stepping on toes in her outspoken attempts to improve womens' rights, wages, and voting privileges, in addition to being an outspoken opponent of slavery. And before that, Deborah Sampson, who taught herself how to read because back in the 1700’s it was AGAINST THE LAW – at least in her parish – for girls to get a formal education. Later, she disguised herself as a man and enlisted in General George Washington’s army and fought in the Revolutionary War. The 2nd bullet she took put her in the infirmary, where her gender was discovered. Still, in spite of BREAKING THE LAW by fighting as a soldier in the male-only army, she was given an honorable discharge. Later, she was the first woman to receive a pension from the Army. Fast forward a few generations, to my mother, a journalist, who was dedicated to the constitution, freedom of speech ALONG with responsibility of the press to report the truth. One of her greatest achievements was exposing the publisher of racist and anti-semitic hate literature that was being distributed at local high schools. She risked her life by tracing the source of this hate literature to George Lincoln Rockwell, one of the founders of the American Nazi Party. Her newspaper received a award for her work. She received death threats. Much later in life, my mother was so proud of her husband, my step-father, a former soldier and P.O.W. in World War II, when – in his 70’s – he was arrested for picketing in front of the White House against apartheid. He took a bus into Washington, DC from their retirement center in Maryland, so that he could PROTEST A LAW that he felt was wrong. Maybe I felt compelled to fight this law because of a cumulative result of my upbringing. I believe it is the responsibility of citizenship. As a child, our minister -- a white Southern Baptist -- marched arm-in-arm with Martin Luther King, and I have lived to see the results of such responsible-yet-peaceful Civil Disobedience as promoted by H.D. Thoreau.
Maybe I’m just trying to be a responsible citizen. I’m extremely upset at a stupid law that is transparently about revenue. This would be understandable, but it is ignoring the bigger picture. Sometimes the short term gain is not worth the long term, sometimes hidden costs. How much are we paying our police officers to enforce these scooter laws? Criminal charges for operating a low speed scooter? You gotta be kidding. And, especially since it is a NEW law and EVERYONE is so confused, the police should be prohibited from giving tickets, especially when they are criminal charges, for a grace period of say a year. Or AT LEAST until there is less confusion about exactly WHAT ARE THE NEW LAWS? I found this quote from a scooter rider on the web site www.savescooters.com:
"In my experience, few law enforcement individuals are able to correctly answer parking questions. Sometimes I ask them a question I already know the answer to. They give the wrong answer about half the time. Whether or not I get a ticket on any given day has more to do with who’s patrolling that street and what kind of mood they’re in...
A friend of mine saw this firsthand in court, when she went to fight a scooter parking ticket. The judge and the cop couldn’t even agree. Her argument was, “If neither of you can explain the law, how am I supposed to follow it?” CLICK HERE to see TV COVERAGE of this issue.
BUt...in the end, I sold out. Jan. 20th, I woke up so dizzy and feverish (a result of some recent surgery that should have healed by then), I had to take a taxi to the DMV.
Net-net --- I just didn't want to continue the fight. I was totally out of energy. However, it was VERY educational.
Police Officer Cronin of Arlington, MA, had actually been wrong about two things -- 1. he claimed the new requirements for scooters were not new at all...had been that way as long as he could remember (NOT!!!); 2. he cited me for the criminal charge of driving an unregistered, unlicensed vehicle. In fact it WAS registered, but the registration sticker had expired. The judge picked up on this and dismissed that charge altogether because a lapsed registration is not a criminal charge, but a civil charge.
I successfully argued that my lack of a "modified motorcycle operators permit" was the fault of the DMV, because when I initially went to the DMV to get the newly required "modified motorcycle license" (instead of the formerly required sticker) they knew I was riding my scooter because I told them, AND I had my helmet in my arms. Yet they did not even INFORM me that I had to take a test and get an operator's permit, let alone insist that I do so then and there, before going back on the road.
So the judge dismissed 2 out of 3 of the criminal charges.
I could have argued about the lack of insurance, since the Globe article said that was "up in the air" and still being debated, and when I asked, my own insurance agent did not know if it was mandatory....yet. When I finally was informed by the DMV, I was en route to get insurance when Officer Cronin stopped me and felt compelled to have my scooter trucked six blocks to get it off the street, and to issue three criminal charges against me, very serious charges had I been driving a car.
The issue about mandatory liability insurance for low speed scooters is arguable because I cannot imagine any collision that would do more damage to another motor vehicle than the amount of my deductible. Since health insurance is already mandatory in the Commonwealth, injuries to drivers or pedestrians are already covered. A well-tuned racing bicycle can easily exceed 40 MPH, and a modified reclining bicycle has been clocked at 80 MPH. Yet these do not require special operators permits, insurance or license plates, and regarding parking – the wheel base of most low speed scooters is smaller than that of a bicycle.
While I realize criminal court is not interested in considering such questions, I also question if the new scooter law arguably might be unconstitutional. Tax payers never got a chance to vote on this, although ENCOURAGING low speed scooter commuting would save the taxpayers lots of money. I DID notice we got the chance to vote on taxing booze in the last election. For the life of me, I cannot understand why we would choose to boost state revenue by tripling the costs and multiplying fines, towing and impounding fees for low speed Scooters, while dropping the "double" tax on booze (I'm not necessarily in favor of double taxation, but if this is just about revenue, let's keep our priorities straight!) Which causes more trouble for our state, and what costs the taxpayers more money to police and treat – booze abuse or scooter abuse?
On any day when whether permits, if 1/10th of the cars in the city of Boston and surrounding suburbs were low speed scooters, AND the old parking regulations allowed low speed scooters to park like bicycles, just think of all the problems this might solve:
a. Minimal grid lock.
b. More parking for cars.
c. Minimal cell phone abuse
d. Minimal text messaging while driving
e. No need to police teenagers using cell phones
f. No high speed police chases
g. No drunk driving
h. No drinking while driving
i. Minimal smoking while driving
j. Minimal road rage
On this last point, I would like to point out that just this year, an off-duty police officer was shot to death over a disputed city parking space. The news story quoted a local resident, whose only comment was, “parking spots are really hard to find in this neighborhood. It doesn’t surprise me when tempers flare.”
Prius owners have been given tax incentives. Considering all the benefits from low speed scooters, shouldn’t the Commonwealth be encouraging and rewarding people who use low speed scooters for commuting? I maintain that they are safer than bicycles -- since bicycles are either stop or go, and feet are frequently strapped into the pedals. Additionally, many bicycle commuters are doing it for exercise or preparing for competitions, so many of these racing types like to go really fast, and don't like to slow down or stop for things like pedestrians or traffic lights. Low speed scooters do not involve any shifting, and – unlike bicycles -- they can go as slowly as the surrounding traffic requires without tipping over. And, on a practical level, you can go to work fully dressed, and not have to take a shower when you get there.
But this hearing was not about whether or not the new scooter law is smart or stupid, good or bad. It is whether or not I broke the law.
If anyone is interested, drop me a line, and I will forward to you what I presented to the D.A. fully intending to use it for my jury trial, including a photograph of 10 scooters taking up 10 car parking spaces. After all, it is no longer a "Scooter"...it is a "licensed motor vehicle." And the law requires a $65 fine for any licensed motor vehicle parked on the sidewalk. And sometimes they can even impound. Apparently, London has passed a similar law, only the Civil Disobedience is much more organized and vocal. The Brits are making the once rebellious Yankees look like a bunch of lemmings! Considering the traffic problems in London, I'm glad to see it. Seems like we're so focused on Repbulicans vs. Democrats, we're not paying attention to these little, unnecessary laws that are creeping into our lives and making responsible, good citizenship not only difficult, but expensive and even illegal! I could use a few Brits over here to join me in my protest.