Those headlights for bicycles? They’re not just for riding in the street, according to the Arizona Court of Appeals.
The judges on Thursday took the unusual foray into the area of bicycle law to settle the question of whether police had the right to stop and question Brian Baggett.
He admitted there was no working front light on his two-wheeler, just a taped-on flashlight that wasn’t turned on. But his attorney argued that didn’t matter, as his client was riding on the sidewalk.
Not true, said appellate Judge Andrew Gould.
The judge said that lighting requirement makes no mention of where the bike is being ridden. And that, Gould said, made the traffic stop by Phoenix police perfectly legal.
Anyway, the judge said, Baggett was at the very least violating a Phoenix city ordinance, similar to many other communities, which makes it illegal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk. So if police didn’t stop Baggett for the lack of a headlight, they could have stopped and cited him anyway.
The fight is over more than that citation.
According to court records, police were on an early morning patrol of an area known for high crime activity. The officers say Baggett was riding a bicycle without a light.
State law spells out that 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.” That gave them a legal reason to stop Baggett.
Officers then patted Baggett down for weapons, including removing his backpack and placing it on the hood of the patrol car. One officer said he smelled marijuana, leading to a search that revealed several baggies of the drug and a digital scale — and to Baggett’s arrest.
Baggett argued the stop was illegal, making what was found legally unusable in court. He argued that lighting requirement applies only on roadways.
“The plain language of a statute is the most reliable indicator of the statute’s meaning,” the judge wrote for the unanimous court. And in this case, Gould said, there is nothing in the wording of the law that limits the need for a headlight for bikes on roadways.
By contrast, the judge said, the Legislature has applied other bicycle laws solely to streets. For example, one law limits the speed of bicyclists, but only “on a roadway.”
Anyway, Gould 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.
“It is unlikely this purpose would be served by allowing bicyclists to ride on public sidewalks at night without a light,” he wrote.