News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

March 12, 2014

New rules may keep moped riders on road

INDIANAPOLIS — Rep. Dave Wolkins could oppose moped regulations for only so long, as more bikes zipped along the roads and were involved in an increasing number of accidents.

So Wolkins — who spent five years fighting to keep Indiana among the few states that don’t require a license, registration or insurance to operate the bikes — has led the push for regulation.

But the Republican from the small town of Winona Lake in northern Indiana set a condition: Limits on the vehicles and their riders couldn’t keep those most dependent on mopeds off the road.

That includes the developmentally disabled who can’t get a regular driver’s license, Wolkins said. It also includes a constituency for which he has taken much grief — Hoosiers who’ve lost their privilege to drive a car, many for drunken driving.

“People joke I represent the DMRA — the Drunk Moped Riders of America,” said Wolkins. “They think that’s who I sponsored this bill for.”

There is no such association, of course. But the regulatory legislation that Wolkins carried at the Statehouse was influenced by those he’s met who lost their licenses and ability to get insurance. In his rural home county, there are few alternate modes of transportation.

“I know these are people who’ve made bad decisions,” Wolkins said. “But I’d rather have them get on a moped than behind the wheel of a car.”

Wolkins’ bill, passed by the House and Senate, creates two classifications of motor-driven cycle. Anything with a cylinder capacity exceeding 50 cubic centimeters is considered a Class A cycle. Drivers must obtain a valid license, proof of insurance and a plate issued by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to affix to their back of their bike.

Rules for Class B mopeds — those with engines of 50 cubic centimeters or less — aren’t as strict. Riders won’t need a driver’s license but will be required to have a valid state ID, issued by the BMV after the rider passes a written test on road rules. Their bikes will be required to carry a BMV-issued license plate, but riders won’t be required to carry insurance. Cost for registering either kind of bike with the BMV will be less than $30.

The number of mopeds is hard to come by, because they haven’t yet been regulated. But Wolkins said the vast majority of an estimated 100,000 mopeds on the road fit into the Class B category.

That worries some critics of his legislation, who cite a rising number of moped-related accidents. In 2013, State Police reported 1,271 people injured in moped accidents on state highways — up from 728 four years earlier. That doesn’t include moped-related accidents on local roads.

But Wolkins points to the demand for mopeds: More than 550,000 Hoosiers cannot legally drive a car because their licenses are suspended for a range of traffic and non-traffic offenses, according to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

To help make his case to colleagues in the General Assembly, Wolkins visited his local community corrections program, which houses ex-offenders on work release. They’re incarcerated at night but allowed to work — if they have a way to get there — during the day. He snapped a photo of a line of mopeds outside the facility, then had the image blown up to poster size to show to other legislators.

“These are people who need their mopeds,” he said. “They have no other way to get to work. And if they don’t get to work, they lose their jobs. … Is that what we want for people trying to get their lives back on track?”

Bill Watson, head of Vigo County Community Corrections, said he sees the same need. On a recent morning, he counted 18 mopeds in his facility’s bike racks. Ex-offenders in his work-release program often share their mopeds, he said. Those leaving the program trade or sell the vehicles to new people arriving.

Watson said some in the program drive their mopeds up to 30 miles, round-trip, to work.

“We know the state needs to get a handle on these mopeds because they’re everywhere,” he said. “But there are guys here who if they have to give up their mopeds, they’d have to give up their jobs.”

Wolkins’ legislation will take effect July 1, if the governor signs it into law. But he suspects the Legislature may reassess the rules next year. One issue lawmakers may address, he said, is regulating moped dealers to ensure buyers know the class of bike they are purchasing.

“There is a group of people who simply don’t like regulations, and I’m one of them,” he said. “That’s why it’s so ironic that I’m the guy putting these regulations on mopeds. But the train was leaving the station, and I couldn’t stop it this year. So I was going make sure I was going to have some input.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for CNHI, the Tribune-Star’s parent company. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indiana Follow her on Twitter @MaureenHayden.

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