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From Friction Zone March 2004
From the monthly Column ‘the CHP Connection’ by officer Ron Burch
reprinted with permission of Friction Zon, copyright 2004

My observation is that motorcycles are ticketed proportionately less than automobiles or trucks. Is this a valid observation and if so, why? Are we better drivers; are we more aware of where Officer Burch is waiting for us; or do we obey the laws better?

Gary Yant
Cambria, CA

Officer Burch’s Response

After years of scientific research, Gary came to the conclusion motorcyclists are ticketed less than autos and trucks. Speaking from my own personal experience, of all the tickets I have written during my career I have probably issued less than 5% to motorcyclists.

While I cannot disagree that all three of Gary’s reasons may be true, I believe there is a more logical explanation for the apparent disproportionate enforcement. I didn’t want to do it, but Gary has forced my had. Here come the statistics.

In 1998, the CHP issued 2,206,933 citations; only 24,698 (just over 1%) were issued to motorcyclists. In 2002, the CHP issued 2,202,827 citations; 15,609 (just under 1%) were issued to motorcyclists. While this does make it seem like Gary is on to something, let’s consider some additional statistics.

In 2001, there were 25,472,630 motor vehicles registered in California. Less than 2% (495,271) of those were motorcycles. Of the 21,977,700 licensed drivers in California, just over 4% (906,144) had motorcycle endorsements. And let’s not forget the large number of those licensed to ride who only take their bikes out of the garage from June to September.

Beginning in 1999, motorcyclist crash victims began to increase over the alltime low experienced in 1998. In 2001 there were 3,517 fatal collisions in California. Motorcyclists were involved in 298 (just over 4%) of those collisions. The motorcyclists were at fault in 215 (72%) of the fatal collisions. In 2001 there were 201,478 injury collisions in California. Motorcyclists were involved in 8,014 (just under 4%) of those collisions. The motorcyclists were at fault in 4,266 (53%) of the collisions. The 2002 numbers show a continued increase in motorcycle-involved fatalities, injuries, and motorcyclist-at-fault collisions.

One of the objectives of the California Highway Patrol is to target ‘Primary Collision Factors.’ That means officers are tasked with the responsibility of knowing what type of driving causes collisions in their particular beats. Once the cause is determined, the officers will pay particular attention to that violation. As a result, increased collisions and injuries will result in increased enforcement.

I would love to think motorcyclists are the safest drivers on the road, but the numbers are beginning to lean in the other direction. Only through education, training, and personal responsibility can we, as riders, reverse this deadly trend.

For those of you who can’t get enough of the numbers, or you would just like to check up on old Officer Burch, visit our website at and click on the link to the SWITRS annual report. The Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System produces an annual report that breaks down traffic collisions by almost every category such as the age of the driver, the time of day, the types of vehicles, and the laws violated. Also, look for the link to the Motorcycle Safety Program’s website (or visit for information about basic and experienced motorcycle training.

 What to Do If You’re Stopped By The Police
by Jim Thurber (published in City Bike about 1997) <>

As motorcyclists, our dealings with the police are primarily adversarial. We just want to drive our bikes in a manner in which we see fit, whilethey want our money, our time, and occasionally our driver’s licenses. I know. I used to be a member of the ‘other side’ - the ‘thin blue line’ - not for long, only about a year. That was enough.

At the end of my first 6 months on the force, I came to the shocking realization that one of the smartest people ever to get press in America was the illustrious Nancy Reagan with ‘Just Say No’.

When a driver (or anyone else for that matter) finds themselves a temporary guest of the police, that phrase is the only thing one has to remember. The other phrase that works fairly well is ‘Admit Nothing. Deny Everything. Make Counter Accusations’. (It’s the inside motto of the Central Intelligence Agency.) In most situations, from a routine traffic stop to a felony drug bust, people willingly confessed to the act (to wit: crime) they were suspected of committing. I guess confession must be good for the soul; it sure doesn’t work for the pocketbook or for personal freedom.

During my time on the force, I made approximately 30 drug busts. In every case, I was able to make a successful arrest only because the person willingly gave up their Constitutional rights by consenting to a search of their person or vehicle. Even lacking a warrant (or probable cause), a search is still legal if permission has been given. I grew wise in the ways of tricking people into giving me permission to search their vehicles, their purses, or themselves. Subsequent questioning following an arrest revealed the suspect’s ignorance of Constitutional doctrine. The only people who always knew their Constitutional rights (and therefore never gave permission for anything) were lawyers and ex cons. Are you starting to get the picture?

How does this apply to a motorcycle (or car) driver when stopped by police for a simple infraction, for instance, a traffic violation, usually speeding?

Simply this. If I, as the police officer, can trick you into admitting that you were committing a violation, I am not required to prove that you were violating the law. I will merely note the suspect’s freely given ‘confession’ on the back of my copy of the citation and make sure I have it with me should it be subsequently challenged in court. The notes on the ticket serve the same function in court as a police report.

I used to patrol residential areas a lot. Notoriously bad at spotting traffic violators, I would wait near an intersection until someone appeared to be traveling too fast. Pulling them over, I would approach the car and ask (in my sternest voice: ‘Do you know why I pulled you over?’

‘ I was going too fast?’ was usually the sheepish, occasionally fearful, reply.

‘Yes, and do you know how fast you were go

‘About 45, I think. Sorry officer.’

I may have had no idea how fast that person was going, but I would write the ticket for speeding anyway and note on the back of my copy of the citation:

‘Defendant admitted to traveling 45 m.p.h. In a 25 m.p.h one.’ Case closed. Miranda warnings? Not required.

Whenever I pulled over a lawyer (rarely or an ex-con (much more frequently in my patrol area) the response was drastically different. The driver’s expression would be one of quiet exasperation and complete denial.

‘Do you know why I pulled you over?’
‘No, sir.’ followed by absolute silence.
‘You were driving too fast.’
‘No sir.’ (more silence) ‘I was traveling at the speed limit, 25 m.p.h.’

Essentially, the driver was calling my bluff, but legally I could not write a citation unless I had clocked his speed using a method approved by the courts, i.e., over a measured distance, trailing him for a specific time, or using radar in an approved ‘radar zone.’ San Jose P.D. really frowned on issuing tickets ‘in error, ‘ so I never did. City liability for false ‘arrest’ is substantial and the revenue from one traffic ticket isn’t worth it.

A little known fact is that it is generally legal to lie to police. You may have been aware that you were traveling 75 m.p.h. on Skyline (50 m.p.h. zone) but you are not obligated to inform the police of that fact. There are exceptions: You must correctly identify yourself to a sworn police officer when asked (the legal requirement to show and I.D. card is limited to activities requiring an I.D., such as driving a vehicle). You can not lie to a police officer who is investigating a crime where you are not a suspect - that is considered interfering with a police officer in the performance of their duties. But if you’re a suspect (and a solo motorcycle driver in a traffic stop probably is), say what you like.

Although it doesn’t seem fair, the police can, and do, lie to you. We were taught this in the police academy and frequently used it on the street, especially when attempting to ‘squeeze’ a confession out of someone. It just helps to make a game of cops and robbers a little more interesting.

I find it astonishing that almost 90 percent of all major crimes in this country are willingly confessed to by the perpetrator, as if coming clean would make things easier. Sometimes this tactic works with the police, but much depends on the officer making the stop. Officers who are specialists in traffic, generally motorcycle officers and the California Highway Patrol, usually write the citation unless an extraordinary excuse is given. These guys are really good - to get a final certification as a traffic officer, the applicant must be able to ‘guess’ the speed of approaching traffic within 3.5 miles and hour. A radar gun is used to verify the estimate.

My personal feeling as an officer was that enforcement was strictly a safety issue. If I stopped a vehicle going 90 m.p.h. on a deserted road and the car was safely equipped to go that fast, I didn’t write the ticket. Likewise, if a car was equipped with bald tires, leaky exhaust, etc., I was likely to write multiple violations.

In Germany, safety is pretty much the paramount issue, but here we have reached the lunacy of photo radar and the use of cameras to record ‘red light runners’. This is generally not an issue for motorcycle riders, but a few points bear notice.

First off, photo radar is generally used solely to generate revenue, not to change driver’s behavior. The violations do not go on your driving record and the DMV cannot withhold registration for failing to pay fines. Photo traffic enforcement does not constitute ‘service of summons.’ When you are issued a citation by an officer, they physically hand you the citation. This constitutes proper service and you, by signing the ticket, agree that you will answer the summons. No plea is implied. In the case of photo citations, the ticket is simply mailed to you. This does not constitute proper service and legally no action is required. You can simply deny that you ever received the citation. If a ticket was sent via registered mail, return receipt, I refuse to sign, thereby forcing the company issuing these tickets to hire a process server (at substantial expense).

The simplest solution to avoid photo radar and red-light tickets is for automobile drivers to simply remove their front license plate. Although that in and of itself is against the law, it is a minor fix-it ticket (although it does give police full time probable cause to stop you). Motorcycle riders don’t generally get caught by photo radar because there is no identifying symbol on the front of the bike (watch out for those leathers with your name on them though).

So what do you do if you just get caught ‘red-handed’? Well, never admit that you were doing it but smile, be pleasant, and don’t ever hesitate to ask for a break. And there is one additional bit of advice for those who consider the speed limit in open spaces ‘merely a guide’.

When I find myself exceeding the speed limit (by, perhaps, 40 or 50 m.p.h.) and see the CHP coming the other way, do I slam on my brakes, downshift drastically in a heart stopping attempt to slow down? Never. I stay on the throttle and give the cop a big wave, followed by a salute. I have done this more than a dozen times, then watched (in my rear-view mirror) the brake lights come on momentarily, then off as the car accelerates and disappears. I can tell what’s going through the officer’s mind.

‘Hmm, he didn’t even begin to slow down - he’s gotta know he’s really speeding. Why did he wave and salute? I’ll bet he’s a cop...Well, it’s time for a break anyway...’ Off he goes. One of these days, it’s not going to work. But so far, it’s had a 100% success rate.

If you’re unlucky enough to find yourself on the other side of the law, remember to ‘Just say No’.