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Mo-peds, scooters need more rules than are on books

May 14, 2011

We seldom look favorably on new regulations, but two recent tragedies — including one fatality — involving motorbikes leave us little choice but to suggest that the state needs to treat these modes of transportation with a heavier hand.

Mo-peds or motor scooters are often the transportation of last resort for those who cannot afford cars or motorcycles, and the ever more-expensive vehicle registrations and tags that they require. We understand that for some, these motorbikes are the only way to get to a job or to the store.

A driver's license or an operator's permit are about all that is necessary in Maryland to legally ride the machines. Mo-peds and motor scooters cannot legally exceed 30 mph or be ridden on roads with a speed limit greater than 50 mph. Riders are not required to wear helmets.

Unlike bicyclists and motorcyclists, riders of these motorbikes seem to have escaped, or be disinterested in, any heightened awareness of public safety.

Individual taste seems to dictate whether the machine is ridden on the shoulder, in the middle of the road or, occasionally, facing oncoming traffic.

Legally, these motorbikes are supposed to stay on the shoulder, unless turning left. But motorists have no doubt noticed their propensity to dart in and out of traffic and to chart creative courses that are not permitted to more traditional forms of transportation. And, for motorists, these machines are harder to see than motorcycles and generally approach faster than bicycles, which raises obvious safety concerns.

To begin with, we believe events have demonstrated the need for riders of these motorbikes to wear helmets. We also believe, either through the state or through public awareness campaigns, greater care should be taken to be sure that these machines adhere to the rules of the road, and that motorists are at the same time aware of a mo-ped's or motor scooter's right to the road.

We urge this for the health of the riders who risk injury or death, as well as for the benefit of motorists who can be emotionally traumatized when involved in a collision with one of these machines.

We would not want to see these motorized bikes burdened with so many rules and permits that their operation becomes cost-prohibitive for those who need bare-bones transportation. But recent events show that these machines are in need of more structure than is on the books.

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