New Ruling: Sidewalk bike riders must use lights while riding at night to prevent an illegal traffic stop
According to the Arizona Court of Appeals, once the sun goes down bicycle headlights are not just required equipment for riding in the street, but required period. While the appeals court usually does not rule on bicycle law, they were forced to in order to settle the question of whether Phoenix police had the right to stop, question, and search Brian Baggett.
Baggett admitted there while no working front light on his two-wheeler he had taped-on a flashlight, but that at the time he was stopped it was not turned on.
His attorney argued that did not matter because his client was riding on the sidewalk.
Appellate Judge Andrew Gould did not agree, saying that the law requiring a headlight at night does not mention where the bike is being ridden. He ruled the traffic stop by Phoenix police was perfectly legal.
Additionally the judge said Baggett was violating a Phoenix city ordinance that makes it illegal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk. If police didn’t stop Baggett riding without a headlight they could have stopped and cited him anyway for riding on the sidewalk.
The Citation for the Illegal Traffic Stop is Not What Baggett is Fighting
Allegedly police were on an early morning patrol in the area, which is known for having a high level of crime. Because state law says any bicycle ridden at night “shall have a lamp on the front that emits a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet,” police had a legal reason to stop Baggett.
Officers patted Baggett down for weapons as well as removed his backpack, placing it on the hood of the patrol car. One officer alleges he smelled marijuana.
At that point the officers searched further and found several baggies of marijuana as well as a digital scale. Baggett was arrested at that point.
Baggett is arguing that because the stop was illegal - due to the light requirement only being applicable while riding on roads - what police found is legally unusable in court.
Gould said, “The plain language of a statute is the most reliable indicator of the statute’s meaning.” And there is nothing in the wording of the law that limits the need for a headline to bikes on roadways, Gould wrote for a unanimous court. Gould additionally wrote, “Accepting Baggett’s interpretation would defeat the purpose of the lighting requirement which is to prevent collisions between cars, bicycles and pedestrians due to poor lighting.”
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