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Rules aim for scooter riders’ safety

Moped driver and passenger deaths are on the rise.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013 - 10:53 am

Sometimes it seems like they're everywhere. Zipping around town, serving as a fuel efficient way to get to work or to cruise around, but they're often slowing down traffic and creating a possible hazard.

Many Hoosier cities, as well as communities around the country, have a seeming abundance of scooters on city streets.

And like many cities, a local ordinance has been enacted in Terre Haute to regulate the types of scooters permitted.

What is it?

A scooter is actually a motorized, two-wheeled vehicle with a floor pad for the driver's feet and a pass-through chassis.

The scooters often have the unkind nickname of “DUI bike” because of the popular belief that a majority of people riding them have lost their driver's license due to drunken driving. And indeed, mopeds and scooters have become a popular mode of transportation for those without a valid license, for whatever reason.

Easy rider

John Rhoades has never had a driver's license and depends on his Honda Elite to get around the city, while avoiding the main streets.

“I take the back way everywhere I go,” Rhoades said. “I don't get on the highway unless I have to.”

His Honda meets the city's ordinance — its engine capacity is less than 50cc with a top speed of 25 miles per hour — and the 33-year-old Terre Haute man has registered his vehicle with the city police department. He also has a valid state-issued identification card.

Rhoades said that he purchased the scooter about a year ago from Thompson's Motorsports, because two other, cheaper vehicles he had purchased “were junk.”

It’s a pain

Not all scooter riders are as considerate of traffic as Rhoades, however.

Sgt. Steve Lewis of the Traffic Division at the Terre Haute Police Department said people often complain of reckless scooter drivers, but it's hard for police to track them down.

“They're just a pain in the butt,” Lewis said of the scooter community.

The local ordinance came about in part due to the number of scooters and mopeds that were reported stolen in the city, he said. Since the vehicles are not plated through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and many people do not register their Vehicle Identification Numbers, it can be hard to determine who is the real owner of a moped or scooter.

The abundance of scooters interfering with regular traffic flow was also a problem, Lewis said. Not to mention that local criminals often used the scooters as throw-away vehicles because an abandoned scooter could not be traced to an owner, and it is relatively easy to steal another scooter.

While acknowledging that some people do follow the local ordinance and are safe motorists, Lewis said that too many cause problems in traffic. The Terre Haute City Council passed its scooter ordinance in June 2011, and it went into effect in October 2011.

Enforced by the THPD, which also issues registration stickers, the ordinance is seen by some as a benefit, and by others as just more bureaucracy.

The ordinance states that in addition to traveling less than 25 miles per hour, all drivers in the city are required to:

•Be age 15 or older, and have in their possession a valid form of identification issued by the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles. That can be either an identification card or a driver's license.

•Wear a helmet if age 15, 16 or 17.

•Not carry passengers.

•Follow all traffic laws and obey all stop signs and traffic signals.

•Have operable tail and brake lights, a head lamp and brakes.

When the ordinance went into effect, many people quickly complied by paying their initial $25 registration fee and getting an inspection at THPD.

“We registered about 700 scooters last year,” said Kelli Kennedy, secretary in the Traffic Division. “This year, only 472 are registered.”

Fatalities add up

According to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, which tracks statistics submitted by law enforcement agencies, the number of moped driver and passenger fatalities has been increasing.

In 2008, Indiana had only 16 fatalities reported. By 2011, that number had grown to 22, and in 2012, there were 24 fatalities reported. From 2008 to 2012, Indiana had 88 total fatalities among moped drivers and their passengers. The majority of those were in the age range of 40 to 59. There was no statistical breakdown available on whether alcohol consumption was a contributing factor in the crashes.

The number of incapacitating injuries has also been growing. An incapacitating injury has been defined as any injury other than fatal that prevents the injured person from walking, driving or normally continuing the activities the person was capable of performing before the injury occurred.