New Maryland law to require insurance on scooters, mopeds

September 09, 2012|By DAN DEARTH |
  • Cory Kline rides a 49cc Wildfire down Berner Avenue in Hagerstown on a Thursday afternoon in August. Although not yet mandatory, a law that goes into effect Oct. 1 will require operators of mopeds and motor scooters to obtain titles for the vehicles, show proof of insurance, and wear helmets and eye protection.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

Hagerstown resident David Benton started riding a scooter four months ago when his motorcycle broke down.

He said he doesn’t have insurance for the scooter, but supports a new Maryland law that will make having it a requirement after Oct. 1.

“I believe there should be insurance,” Benton said. “Where’s the liability if someone runs into somebody ... Who’s going to pay for my hospital bills?”

The law was passed by the Maryland General Assembly during the legislative session earlier this year. It will take effect Oct. 1, and require the operators of mopeds and motor scooters to obtain titles for the vehicles, show proof of insurance, and wear a helmet and eye protection.

“These new requirements are in addition to the existing law that requires all motor scooter and moped operators to possess a valid driver’s license or a moped operator’s permit,” said Buel Young, spokesman for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. “A title sticker must also be affixed to the rear of the motor scooter.”

The cost of the sticker is $5, Young said. People who already own a moped or motor scooter before the law takes effect will only have to pay the sticker fee. But those who purchase one of the vehicles after Oct. 1 will have to pay for the sticker, a $20 titling fee and an excise tax.

Young said the excise tax will be a minimum of 6 percent of $320, or at least $19.20.

He said people who already own a moped or motor scooter and put it in storage until next year should get the $5 sticker before Oct. 1, 2013. If they wait past that date, they’ll not only have to pay for the sticker, Young said, but the cost of the titling fee and the excise tax.

State Sen. Chris Shank, R-Washington, helped spearhead the bill in the General Assembly.

He said that before the bill passed, he heard complaints from constituents who said moped and motor scooter operators should be insured just like everyone else.

“I had constituents telling me, ‘I just don’t think this is fair,’” Shank said. “They said they should be treated the same ... Even if you were involved in an accident and the other person was at fault, you wouldn’t be covered. The only recourse was to sue someone.”

Shank said the legislation stalled in Annapolis for several years because some politicians believed previous proposals carried costly mandates, such as making operators register their vehicles once a year. He said legislators eventually settled on a one-time-only registration fee and made other compromises.

The new law “lays it all out and clears it all up,” he said.

In addition to the insurance requirement, Shank said he supported the law because of the helmet and titling requirements.

He said he recently sent a letter to the Motor Vehicle Administration to encourage a public-education blitz.

“I’m trying to look out for my constituents to make sure they’re notified,” Shank said.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office started its public relations drive in August.

Sheriff Douglas Mullendore said he supports the law for several reasons.

“We’ve had a number of serious accidents involving mopeds that involve brain damage and other serious injuries,” he said in support of the helmet requirement.

Mullendore said the insurance requirement would protect other drivers from having to pay for costly repairs after an accident, and the titling requirement will help law enforcement agencies trace stolen vehicles.

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith agreed, saying the current system makes it nearly impossible for authorities to identify stolen mopeds and scooters.

“There’ no registration. When we recover them, there’s no way we can identify them” Smith said. “We end up with a bunch of them in our impound yard. ... (The law) will be safer and I think it will cut down on thefts.”

Smith praised Shank for helping to pass the legislation.

“He’s the one who carried the water on this,” Smith said of Shank’s involvement in seeing the law to fruition.

Smith said the Hagerstown Police Department plans to enforce the law as soon as it takes effect.

“If we don’t start enforcing it, a lot of people are going to ignore it,” he said.

The cost to insure a moped or motor scooter depends on the operator, said Crystal Eby, an agent with Larry Michaels State Farm Insurance in Halfway.

An 18-year-old male, for example, can expect to pay about $550 a year to insure a new scooter, Eby said. A man in his early 50s would pay about $170.

She said the annual expense to insure a moped or scooter is far less than insuring a car or truck.

“Compared to auto insurance, it’s very cheap,” Eby said.

She said her agency has “a decent amount” of scooter riders who already are insured, and anticipated that amount would increase when the law takes effect.

“They won’t be able to drive on the road without insurance,” she said.

Frank Shrewsbury, sales manager at Twigg Cycles near Hagerstown, said he was fairly impartial about the new law because he always recommends that his customers wear a helmet and title their vehicles. He also said he understands the necessity of an insurance provision in the new law.

“I haven’t seen a lot of push back from the public,” Shrewsbury said of his customers’ reaction to the law.

Safety tips

Here are some moped 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 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 the vehicle 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 vehicle.
  • Be especially conscious of traffic from behind.
  • 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

Defining moped, motor scooter

The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration defines a moped 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.”

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