Tribune-Star Statehouse Bureau
Efforts to regulate the growing number of mopeds on Indiana roads have stalled in past years, but increased concerns about safety may fuel some Statehouse action.
A legislative study committee is slated to take up the issue of mopeds, scooters, and motorized bikes this summer, and will consider whether the two-wheel vehicles should be subject to some of same rules as cars and motorcycles.
Law enforcement is pushing for more rules for what’s been a largely unregulated class of vehicles, but legislators so far have been split as to what direction to take.
State Rep. Milo Smith is a Republican from Columbus who’s been trying to get a moped bill through the Indiana General Assembly for the last three years. He said the biggest pushback has been from unlicensed riders who turn to the vehicles after they’ve lost their driving privileges due to drunk-driving or other traffic-related convictions.
“I want to be compassionate about this,” Smith said, “but we need to do what’s best for public safety.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports the number of fatalities involving mopeds doubled between 2005 and 2009, from 48 to 96. The number of fatalities involving mopeds dropped in Indiana from 2009 to 2010.
But according to the Indiana State Police, the number of crashes on state highways involving mopeds went from 630 in 2009 to 790 in 2010. The number of non-fatal injuries in those crashes went from 558 in 2009 to 676 in 2010. Those numbers don’t include moped-related accidents on county roads or city streets.
Some Indiana communities aren’t waiting for the legislature to act. Terre Haute just passed its own local ordinance regulating mopeds and moped-like vehicles. Neil Garrison, the first-term councilman who pushed for the ordinance, said the number one complaint he heard from constituents involved mopeds and other motorized bikes.
“We decided we couldn’t wait for the legislature to act,” Garrison said.
Due in part to a reported increase in thefts, the Terre Haute ordinance requires owners of mopeds and moped-like vehicles to register those vehicles with the city police department, to better track and recover them when stolen. It also creates some incentives to get riders to take safe-driving classes, and requires riders be at least 15. “We were seeing 9- and 10-year-old kids on these bikes,” Garrison said.
In Richmond, a local ordinance covers similar ground and includes this language to discourage dare-devils: “All wheels of all mopeds must be on the surface being ridden upon at all times such moped is in operation.”
Part of the problem is the proliferation of two-wheel motorized vehicles that look like the modest mopeds of the past but are super-charged to go faster than their predecessors, said Jay Jackson, executive director of ABATE of Indiana, a non-profit motorcycle-safety advocacy group.
There are questions about whether current Indiana law covers the new generation of motorized bikes. “The current laws are vague,” Jackson said. But changing them has proved “fairly controversial,” he said.
Smith concurs with that. A bill backed by Smith during the last legislative session would have clarified the current definition of what a moped is, and would have required mopeds and other like vehicles to be titled and registered with the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
It would also have required drivers to carry an identification card or a driver’s license, report when they’ve been in an accident, and carry liability insurance. Detractors of the bill said moped riders who’ve had their driver’s license revoked likely wouldn’t be able to get insurance, and without insurance, wouldn’t be able to get their motorized bikes registered with the BMV.
Smith couldn’t get enough support for the bill but he did get fellow lawmakers to agree to let the Joint Study Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Assessment Solutions take a look at the issue this summer.
The same committee has also been assigned a multitude of other tasks; it’s also supposed to look at “the condition of Indiana’s transportation infrastructure” and determine the role that state, county, and local governments should play in meeting the transportation demands of the future.
Still, Smith is hopeful. He said getting mopeds onto the agenda of a summer study committee is the most progress he’s made in three years working on the issue.
“It’s a fairness issue,” Smith said. “We make motorcycle riders — including our motorcycle-riding governor — follow the rules of the road. Why should somebody with a smaller bike get away with anything less?”
Maureen Hayden is Statehouse bureau chief for CNHI Indiana newspapers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.