WASHINGTON COUNTY — Two top Washington County law enforcement officers and several area lawmakers say they would support tougher safety laws for mo-peds and motor scooters.
Their comments follow two area accidents, one in which a rider was killed and another in which the rider was critically injured, over a 10-day period.
Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore and Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said they would back stricter laws that at the very least would require riders to wear helmets to increase their chances of survival.
“It amazes me we’ve had as few fatalities as we’ve had with these scooters and mo-peds,” Smith said. “I hate to say it, but it comes down to common sense. There’s no law to enforce people to use common sense.”
Maryland law does not require mo-ped or motor-scooter riders to wear helmets or carry insurance.
Wearing helmets could minimize injuries, Mullendore said, noting that motorized vehicles such as scooters are “designed to go up to 40 mph. That’s a pretty significant speed to have no significant protection whatsoever.”
A motor-scooter operator died a day after a May 6 accident at the intersection of Locust and Washington streets in Hagerstown. On May 11, a man was critically injured when his motor scooter collided with a minivan on U.S. 11. Authorities said neither man was wearing a helmet.
A bill requiring the riders of mo-peds and motor scooters to wear helmets was approved by Maryland’s Senate during the General Assembly session that ended in April, but failed in the House of Delegates.
In addition to making helmets mandatory, the Senate bill would have required mo-ped and motor-scooter riders to obtain titles, registrations and insurance for their vehicles.
Currently, “there’s no insurance requirement,” said Mullendore, which means “other vehicle (drivers) that get hit have to pay the cost.”
Mullendore said an insurance requirement would protect motorists who currently have to pay for their own vehicle repairs if their vehicle is involved in an accident with an uninsured mo-ped or motor scooter.
State Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, voted in favor of the Senate bill this year.
He said the recent accidents in Washington County offer proof that the law needs to be changed — not only to protect riders, but to make them follow the same guidelines as motorists by making mo-ped and motor-scooter operators obtain title, registration and insurance.
“These are not bicycles; they are motorized vehicles that can go up to 40 miles per hour,” Shank said. “It is not fair to other motorists who have to recoup the cost of an accident only by suing the rider .... They should be held to the same standards as car and motorcycle operators.”
Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, said he believes that minors, at least, should be required to wear helmets, and all riders should carry insurance.
“I think they should have some type of liability insurance,” Myers said.
Myers said he has talked to local dealers of mo-peds and motor scooters to educate himself on the issue.
Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, said he believes the law is inconsistent because it requires minors to wear helmets when they ride bicycles, while the riders of mo-peds and motor scooters don’t have to wear head protection.
He said he would support making minors wear helmets when they operate mo-peds or motor scooters, but requiring the same for adults would require more research. Serafini said he would back an insurance requirement.
“I think it needs to be resolved,” he said. “Something needs to be done.”
Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said he would endorse the comprehensive Senate bill.
The son of a doctor, Donoghue said his father took him to see a patient whose kidneys were crushed during a motorcycle accident. The experience deterred him from riding motor bikes, he said.
Defining mo-ped, motor scooter
The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration defines a mo-ped as a vehicle that is “designed to be operated by human power with the assistance of a motor ... is equipped with pedals that mechanically drive the rear wheel or wheels ... has two or three wheels, of which one is more than 14 inches in diameter ... and has a motor with a rating of 1.5 brake horsepower or less and, if the motor is an internal combustion engine, a capacity of 50 cubic centimeters piston displacement or less.”
A motor scooter is defined as a nonpedal vehicle that “has a seat for the operator ... has two wheels, of which one is 10 inches or more in diameter ... has a step-through chassis ... has a motor with a rating of 2.7 brake horsepower or less or if the motor is an internal combustion engine, with a capacity of 50 cubic centimeters piston displacement or less ... (and) equipped with an automatic transmission.”
Here are some mo-ped and motor-scooter safety tips:
• Wear bright or reflective clothing.
• Wear a U.S. Department of Transportation-certified helmet, even though it is not required by law.
• Don't ride in another motorist’s blind spot.
• Obey the speed limits and never travel faster than your skill level or conditions allow.
• Use your turn signals along with hand signals when making turns or changing lanes.
• Use extra caution at intersections, parking-lot entrances and exits, and driveways.
• Keep both hands on the handlebars and both feet on the floorboards while riding.
• Never leave your mo-ped unattended with the engine running.
• Avoid hitting road hazards, such as sharp bumps and holes in the road surface, to avoid loss of control or damage to your mo-ped.
• Be especially conscious of traffic from behind due to the likely speed difference between other traffic and your mo-ped.
• Know where your blind spots are and check them frequently because mirrors only allow a partial view behind you.
• Do not carry a passenger, unless the vehicle is designed to carry two people.
• Make sure that all required safety equipment (headlights, brake lights, brakes, mirrors, etc.) are in proper working condition.
• Maintain a good distance between you and the cars around you.
• Do not drink and drive.
Source: Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration