Weighting for Clarity in the Courtroom – The Balancing Act of Defining Low-Speed Gas Bicycles

In personal injury cases and the legal field in general, it is crucial to look for and understand the relevant definitions. This is because the precise meaning of words and phrases can greatly impact the interpretation of laws, statutes, and court decisions. By thoroughly examining and understanding the definitions, the Chicago personal injury attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer  can make more accurate and persuasive arguments to support our clients’ claims.  For example, not long ago, the Illinois Supreme Court had to face the issue whether the definition of  “low speed gas bicycle” is constitutionally vague and whether a bicycle that does not meet the definition as in fact not a bicycle.

The case arose when State of Illinois charged a bicyclists with driving a motor vehicle with a revoked license.  The defendant, John Plank was driving a gas bicycle and he argued that his bicycle was not a motor vehicle. A police officer  observed John Plank riding a motorized bicycle down a Douglas County road at a speed of 26 miles per hour. According to the officer’s testimony, motorized bikes were allowed to travel up to 19 miles per hour, and upon reaching 20 miles per hour, they require a valid driver’s license, insurance, and registration. The officer described Plank’s bicycle as powered by “a weed-eater motor” and noted that it was not registered in Illinois. Although the bicycle had pedals in addition to its gasoline motor, the officer testified that he did not see Plank pedaling.  The police officer signaled for Plank to stop, and Plank admitted that his license was revoked.

The Illinois Vehicle Code prohibits anyone with a revoked driver’s license from driving a “motor vehicle.” 625 ILCS 5/6-303(a)   The code defines “low-speed gas bicycle” as a “2 or 3-wheeled device with fully operable pedals and a gasoline motor of less than one horsepower, whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 miles per hour.” Id. § 1-140.15.

The State charged Plank with violating section 6-303(a) of the Vehicle Code, typically a Class A misdemeanor. However, due to Plank’s previous DUI conviction and three subsequent convictions for driving without a valid license, the State increased the charge to a Class 4 felony, requiring at least 180 days’ incarceration.  Plank claimed that the statute failed to provide persons of ordinary intelligence with a reasonable opportunity to understand what is prohibited and that the definition encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.   He argued that the Illinois Vehicle Code’s definition of a “low-speed gas bicycle” was unconstitutionally vague, violating the due process clauses of the United States and Illinois Constitutions. The circuit court sided with Plank, but the State appealed, resulting in the higher court reversing the decision.

Plank argued that the statute in question was unconstitutionally vague, as it required police officers to make arbitrary determinations when enforcing it. According to him, officers would need to estimate the strength of a bicycle’s motor by considering factors such as the driver’s weight, the vehicle’s speed on a paved, level surface, and the proper functioning of the pedals. Mr. Planks contended that officers could not accurately make these determinations during a traffic stop.  Although officers can use radar guns to estimate a driver’s speed, Plank claimed that they could not determine to what extent that speed resulted from the gasoline engine, the driver’s pedaling, or an inclined path.

The circuit court had agreed with Plank that the definition of “low-speed gas bicycle” was unconstitutionally vague and violated the due process clauses of the United States and Illinois Constitutions. A statutory provision can be too vague to satisfy the requirements of due process of law in two ways: first, the statute does not provide individuals of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to understand what conduct the law prohibits, or second, the statute does not provide law enforcement with reasonable standards to avoid arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement.  However, the Illinois Supreme Court found that the circuit court erred when it found the definition unconstitutional. The statute both provides sufficient notice of what it prohibits to individuals of ordinary intelligence and supplies law enforcement officers with reasonable standards to prevent arbitrary enforcement.

The higher court’s decision clarifies the legal landscape for individuals with revoked licenses in Illinois. While the statute does not grant unrestricted driving privileges to those with a revoked license, it does allow for the operation of a “low-speed gas bicycle” without violating the law. This gives people with revoked licenses an option for transportation that is within the bounds of the law, while still ensuring that they are not endangering the public by operating a motor vehicle.

The case of Mr.Plank emphasizes the importance of understanding the nuances of the law, particularly when it comes to vehicle regulations. The higher court’s analysis showed that the statute provides sufficient notice and reasonable standards, upholding the constitutionality of the statute and providing a clear understanding of the rights and limitations of individuals with revoked licenses. As a result, revoked license holders in Illinois have a clear understanding of their transportation options within the bounds of the law.

If the gas-powered bicycle can speed over the statutory limit, and is therefore a motor vehicle, the question is whether the owner must maintain liability insurance.  There is no requirement for a mandatory liability insurance for bicycles, but in this case, this bicycle was considered a motor vehicle.  People injured in an accident with such a bicycle/vehicle will face a web of rules.  If you were injured in an accident with a bicycle or a vehicle, contact our Chicago bicycle injury attorneys for a free consultation.

Contact Information