Headlight Modulator Ticket
I thought it would be useful to repeat a story I told on the Chromeheads.org site in 2003 ago (this is a compilation of several forum messages):
Lauren and I decided to take a ride for Mothers' day. We got out early so we could get back before the afternoon thunderstorms. We met up with another local rider and headed north.
It was a nice ride, starting in NJ, and going through Bear Mountain, up to Storm Mountain.
On the way back, I saw the flashing lights of a patrol car. We were on 9W, just north of the Bear Mountain bridge... in Highland Falls, right at the entrance to the Palisades Parkway.
We were surprised when the officer explained to me that I wasn't allowed to have a "flashing headlamp" (that's how the ticket reads.)
I gently explained to the officer that it is a headlight modulator, and it is allowed by Federal law. His reply was "not in New York State". I (in my most respectful and calm tone) explained that state law cannot supersede Federal law, and he proceeded to take my license and registration back to his patrol car. It took a long time before he returned, because he checked with his station... and the office there, who has been working with motorcycles for 20 years, has never heard of such a thing.
I explained that this is not something that NY can allow or not, it's permissible via federal law and a state cannot override that.
For those of you who want to see the statute click here, or here for relationship to other laws: (Title 49 USC 30103 (b1).)
The officer said that only law enforcement vehicles are allowed to have white flashing lights. This is of course incorrect... as far as it applies to motorcycles (he is correct about automobiles).
I mentioned excerpts from the statutes... 240 cycles per minute, spending 50-70% of the time at full power, and requiring a sensor (that I showed him) so that it only works during daylight hours.
He said that I can submit any supporting materials with my reply to the court. I did that, and also forwarded a copy of the material directly to the police department, so that they might learn of the device and the legality of the system.
I know I should have carried a copy of the statute in my saddlebags, but I'm not sure that it would have done any good in this case. He's never seen one before, and the "not in New York State" was the line he was sticking to.
I appreciate that he took the time to check with his station, but wasn't surprised that I got the ticket anyway. When we parted, we shook hands as I offered to send him a copy of the statute for his own information/education and that he could share it with the other officers.
When I think about it, the modulator did its job... it made my bike more conspicuous while riding. Generally this is a good thing. So now I have another story to tell my grandchildren one day...
The interesting thing is that the officer didn't take my word for it. That he checked with his station was impressive, at least there was some doubt in his mind, or I had a certain air of credibility in my statements.
On the other hand, he did issue the ticket, with the understanding that I could submit paperwork that would prove my innocence. Obviously he could have let me go, and done a little more research, but this was not to be the case.
The officer was polite, and understanding, it was actually a very nice exchange and an almost pleasant experience. I got to chat with my wife and the other rider when the officer was in his patrol car... watching him chat on the radio with his station. None of us were surprised when he issued the ticket though.
I realize that headlamp modulators are not in wide use, and I've been happy by the reaction I've gotten from motorists in the past. One bus driver who was about to make a left turn in front of me stopped... started opening and closing his hand at me (simulating a flashing light) was surprised that my response was a simple thumbs up. I don't care if he understood about the headlight modulator... I do care that he stopped and didn't make the turn in front of me.
I sent in the ticket with a not guilty plea, with a letter to the court explaining the situation and also included printouts of the two pages of the NTHSA DOT regulation that has the specification for headlight modulators. I also mentioned the make and model of the modulator, and cited the statute that forbids states from prohibiting devices allowed by Federal statutes.
I requested that the citation be rescinded and that the letter be circulated to the police so they can become familiar with the device.
A copy of the letter was also sent directly to the police department. I offered to visit the police station if their officers would like to see the modulator up close.
As expected, I simply got assigned a court trial date. I thought it was unlikely that the ticket would be overturned without going to court. So, it looks like I have to plead the case in person.
Logic would suggest that the ticket will be dismissed, but we're not on Vulcan < s >
I wound up going to court on a Wednesday evening, about an hour drive from my home.
I waited and listened to about 30 minutes worth of people pleading guilty to no-point violations (bargained down from speeding tickets.)
Then a couple of cases got dismissed because the officer that cited me was not present (no officer, no prosecution).
When I got to the bench, the judge asked me what this was about (instead of an immediate dismissal.)
I explained the situation, and he asked me if the headlights really never turned off, and I said that was correct.
I mentioned that I go out of my way to be as safe as possible... lighting, protective gear, etc. The judge said he'd never heard of a headlight modulator... and that he'd been riding a motorcycle for years.
He looked at the documentation I provided, and he was nodding. As a little added proof, I gave him a document from New York State DOT that confirmed the use of modulators.
So, in a single word "Dismissed", it was a done deal.
I asked if there was another way this could have been handled so as not to have made a mandatory court appearance, and he said "sometimes things just work out that way", and asked me if I had a nice drive up, and he assumed (correctly) that I didn't ride up because of the rainy weather.
The judge was quite nice in the way he handled all the people brought before him, and it was an interesting (albeit a time wasting) experience.
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