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Senate panel backs regulating scooters

March 24, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — State lawmakers on Thursday took a step toward regulating mopeds and motor scooters and requiring their operators to have licenses and insurance.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee passed a scooter bill, despite the protest of one senator who called the proposal "ridiculous."

Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, a committee member, voted for the bill.

Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier, D-Baltimore County, the sponsor, filed the same bill in 2009, but it didn't advance.

The bill approved Thursday calls for a $35 annual registration fee for mopeds and motor scooters, plus a $13.50 annual surcharge.

Operators must be insured, have a license and wear a helmet and eye protection.

The bill now will go to the full Senate for consideration.

A moped is defined as a bicycle "designed to be operated by human power with the assistance of a motor" and equipped with pedals and two or three wheels.

A motor scooter is defined as a nonpedal vehicle with a seat, two wheels, a "step-through chassis" and an automatic transmission.

For both, the engine has a piston displacement of no more than 50 cubic centimeters.

Motor scooters can't be operated at more than 30 mph and can't be on a road with a maximum speed limit of more than 50 mph.

During a phone interview on Thursday, Mike Twigg of Twigg Cycles Inc. in Hagerstown, which sells scooters, said the bill is puzzling.

"What are the legislators trying to accomplish with this bill?," he asked.

He said the bill would keep people from having motor scooters if they can't afford the new requirements and fees.

Twigg said scooters can get up to 118 miles per gallon, and many average about 80 mpg, making them popular as gas prices rise.

Twigg said he personally favors helmet use, but operators should be able to choose for themselves.

In the committee, Sen. James Brochin, D-Baltimore County, spoke against the bill and the mandated protective equipment.

"Where is the need to do this?," he said.

Brochin called the registration requirement "ridiculous" and tried to have it removed from the bill, but his amendment was defeated.

He urged a more libertarian approach for scooter riders, some of whom can't afford a car.

"Just leave them alone," he said.

But Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, D-Montgomery, said a trauma association considers this a major bill this year.

Shank said theft of the vehicles is a problem in Hagerstown, and titling, as a way to track them, would help.

Someone who rides a scooter should have insurance to cover potential damage, he said.

"I personally like this bill," Shank said.

Brochin, an insurance broker, urged the committee to adopt a provision that insurers wouldn't be forced to offer coverage, but Shank said the insurance already is widely available. The amendment failed.

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