January 11, 2006

Retardcapades, or, the DMV tries to interpret its own law

I'm bemused and grateful to Schwarzenegger for exposing an interesting loophole in California licensing laws, after his recent "Getting In An Accident While Driving A Motorcycle He Was Not In Fact Licensed To Operate And Which Was Transporting His 12 Year Old Son And Then Not Getting Cited For It At All" adventure.

I'm sure that late-night television has probably taken care of saying pretty much everything that needs to be said about this. However, since I do not have television, I feel the need to point out that a particular element of this sets a precedent for unlicensed vehicle operation which spells fun, fun FUN!

From The Chronicle's article today explaining why Schwarzenegger wasn't cited, when he had a standard car license but no motorcycle license:

A standard license for driving a car cannot be used to operate a motorcycle, but according to DMV spokesman Mike Miller the relevant sections of state law makes no mention of a motorcycle with a sidecar. Miller said that means Schwarzenegger was operating within the law when he crashed.

You see what's great about this? Schwarzenegger had no motorcycle license. He was riding a motorcycle. Ah, but he was riding a motorcycle plus a sidecar, which is evidently not still fundamentally a motorcycle. No violation.

The Thing You Are Prohibited From Operating
+ Some Other Element
No Problem.

I've been just giddy trying to think of combinations of things this might work with.

I do have a driver's license, but let's say I didn't. If I were driving a car which was pulling a boxcar carring a dirigible, would that be okay?

For that matter, I've been assuming that the Mitigating Element (ME) would need to be another vehicular component, or at least something related by type to the original unlicensed object. But what if I, who do not have a pilot's license, flew a plane whose ME was not, for example, a helicopter towed at the end of a rope, but a pyramid of circus elephants glued to the wing? I highly doubt that there is a statute on the books that expressly prohibits unlicensed persons from flying commercial airliners carrying circus elephants in formation.

Or, or, I don't have a license to own, carry, or use a gun, nor do I want one. But what if I get a gun and affix a bicycle horn to the trigger? This is fun.

Posted by katie at January 11, 2006 09:46 PM | TrackBack

What if I want to operate a business, but don't have a business license? If I operate the business out of my house, can I argue that the house is attached to the business and therefore makes it a different entity entirely? Or do I need to also tie some streamers to the top of the house just to cover my (or its) ass?

Posted by: Dianna at January 12, 2006 01:32 PM

My reading of the loophole is that the ME has to be physically stuck to the primary unlicensed object. So if your house is the location which is serving as your business, I think you're screwed, but if you've got streamers covering your ass, then I think you're OK.

Also: what if your house/business has a lean-to built on the side? Then I think you might be OK, too.

Posted by: katie at January 12, 2006 02:54 PM

would jack in the box antenna balls count? or a rearview mirror air freshener?

Posted by: michele at January 12, 2006 02:58 PM

Or a bumper sticker reading I'm Not Licensed To Operate This?

Posted by: Dianna at January 12, 2006 05:18 PM

The Black Eyed Peas would have changed the title of this post to "It startcapades".

Posted by: sean at January 12, 2006 06:56 PM

I can't help but wonder if the affixed ME in question here made the Governator's illegal operation of a motorcyle legal because the sidecar made it a 3-wheeled vehicle as opposed to the less-stable and more-dangerous-to-drive 2-wheeled motorcycle. If the reason behind the separate licensing requirement for motorcycles is that they're fundamentally different and more difficult to drive than vehicles with more wheels, then perhaps having more wheels negates the need for a separate license. However, I'd contend that even if the above were the case, if the sidecar can be easily removed (which I assume it can be), the sidecar shouldn't be an ME and the governor should still be considered to have been driving a motorcycle without the appropriate license... and riding a minor around at the same time. I wonder if California cops know that he doesn't really have any privileges and he's not really an indestructible cyborg.

Posted by: Kristina at January 12, 2006 08:10 PM

From the California DMV Motorcycle handbook:

"A motorcycle: Has a seat or saddle for the rider; is designed to travel on not more than three wheels; and weighs less than 1,500 pounds. A farm tractor is not a motorcycle. Exception : A motorcycle with a two-wheeled sidecar weighing less than 1,500 pounds is also considered a motorcycle." (Emphasis in original)

Considering that the DMV explictly states that a motorcycle with a sidecar is a motorcycle, it seems like it would take a lot of work to read that as saying "A motorcycle with a sidecar is not a motorcycle."

Schwarzenneger would have been fine, though, if he had been riding in a tractor. I like the emphasis they put on that part; it has an air of frustration. "A tractor is not a motorcycle, damnit! Stop asking!"

Posted by: Zach S. at January 12, 2006 08:26 PM

I tried to do some research on sidecars, but it seems that most true sidecars only have one wheel, while "sidecars" towed behind motorcycles have two wheels? Are these the two-wheel sidecars mentioned by the CA DMV? I think so because the DMV also says of license requirements: "Class C â You may operate a motorcycle with a sidecar attached, a three-wheel motor-cycle, or a motorized scooter." Class C is the standard license that everyone has, so I guess he really was legal after all. Unlike California, Washington now requires special licensing for motorcycles with one-wheeled sidecars.

Posted by: Kristina at January 12, 2006 09:27 PM

I think you're right. Looking at the Vehicle Code, it appears that the legislature said pretty specifically "Here are the requirements for a car drivers license, and 2-wheeled motorcycles need a special license." Subsequently, they define a motorcycle to include three-wheel motorcycles and two-wheel motorcycles with sidecars.

So this leaves a gap in the legislation: A two-wheeled motorcycle needs a special license, a two-wheeled motorcylce with a sidecar is considered a motorcycles, but the law doesn't say explicitly that a two-wheeled motorcycle with a sidecar needs a special license. The DMV apparently decided that the failure to mention sidecars in the legislation implies that the legislature did not intend to require a special license for two-wheeled cycles with sidecars.

In the DMVs defense, it IS their job to interpret authorizing laws like these, particularly when the law leaves gaps. Further, it seems as though this was a pre-existing policy, not some ad hoc explanation thrown together to justify not citing Schwarzenegger.

Posted by: Zach S. at January 12, 2006 09:49 PM

Wow, I actually hadn't gotten nearly as far as looking up the real DMV rules. OK, maybe the more wheels = more stability thing makes sense.

I think the definitions of what is and is not a motorcycle (thanks to Zach) are really interesting. So if a motorcycle is something designed not to be driven on more than 3 wheels, then a 2-wheeled motorcycle + a 2-wheeled sidecar = 4 wheels = essentially, a car. I kind of get that, logically, although I still think in common sense terms it's silly to pretend it's not a motorcycle which might need its own training/licensing, especially since this is the vehicle we're talking about him running into a car with.

I'm momentarily distracted by the DMV's impulse to let us know in italics that a farm tractor is not a motorcycle. I never would have thought such a clarification was necessary, but imagine the legions of 16-year-old farm boys all excited that Dad said they could get a motorcycle, only to run outside on Xmas morning to find... a tractor, and a lot of corn to be planted.

Posted by: katie at January 12, 2006 11:51 PM

What if I surgically attach my BF* to my person, like with glue or stitches. With the ME thus attached, could we then get legally married?

*Yeah, I know. I'm just preparing for all possible events (who thought A.S. would end up governor anyway?).

Posted by: Delightful House at January 14, 2006 12:01 AM

Ah, I see what you're going for here, Delightful House. But I think if we follow the complex legalese through, we see that you have to attach your theoretical BF not to you, but to something else that will make him fair game for you to, er, operate with your license. In other words: the problem with the motorcycle was that the governor was licensed not to drive a motorcycle but a car, and only "got away with it" due to the presence of an ME that made the motorcycle (a) not a motorcycle, and (b) therefore, apparently, a car.

Analogously, the problem with the theoretical BF (TBF) is that you can't/won't/don't have a license to marry a man, so we have to find an ME that will make him (a) not a man, and (b) therefore, apparently, a woman. I'm sure I wouldn't like to weigh in on whether having you stitched to him would make your TBF more or less of a man, especially in the interest of household tranquility, so I suggest a more neutral ME, like weaving a hornet's nest into his hair, or, more provocatively, gluing a football to his hand. Because I think according to the Motorcycle Logic, we could argue that a man + a football = not a man, which, remember = therefore a woman.

Posted by: katie at January 15, 2006 09:33 PM

Unlike the rationale for requiring a separate motorcycle license (e.g., it's inherently more difficult and dangerous to operate than a 3 or 4-wheeled vehicle) there's no good reason that people shouldn't be able to marry whomever they wish... other than the fact that the concept is foreign to a lot of people and thus scares the crap out of them. I'm of the opinion that such grafting shouldn't be necessary for one to exercise such a fundamental human right.

Posted by: Kristina at January 16, 2006 09:59 AM

Absolutely, Kristina. And oh, trust me, I concur. But since that's not happening in California any time too soon, it's nice to find a loophole that might allow me to marry a woman with a strap-on.

Posted by: katie at January 17, 2006 02:00 PM

Hmmm. It kinda is a loophole that allows the strap-on at all, eh?

Posted by: Delightful HouseMATE at January 19, 2006 10:26 AM