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Quick and Dirty

Not Road Ready

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 2/15/2006

A bill that would force pocket-rocket riders and scooter denizens to get license plates and driver’s licenses took a beating in Annapolis Feb. 7 in a hearing before the Maryland House Environmental Matters Committee.

The offending bikes—scaled-down replicas of racing motorcycles powered by weed-whacker motors—“wreak havoc” on Baltimore’s streets according to Del. Catherine Pugh, D-40th District, the former Baltimore City councilwoman and the bill’s primary sponsor in the House. Baltimore County police lauded the bill, saying that license plates would make it easier for cops to catch reckless riders and keep 13-year-olds off the roadways. A lobbyist for motorcycle dealers, predictably, decried the bill, in part because it would lump mod Vespa-type scooters and inoffensive mopeds into the same category as the reviled minibikes, which are sold as toys for about $500 and are not legal to ride on the street.

“This bill loads onto these vehicles a lot of equipment not required,” Bruce Bereano, lobbyist for the motorcycle dealers, said of mopeds and scooters. He said the bill would also for the first time “legalize” not only the pocket rockets, but also motorized skateboards and other funky modes of transport now exclusive to outlaws.

Then Lawrence Wescott II testified, saying that the bill’s licensure requirement would pose problems for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA). Wescott, an associate administrator at the MVA, suggested that the state allow each county to pass local ordinances to control various types of unregistered motor bikes and scooters. He also cited an advisory from the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators that says states should not allow pocket-rocket registration, because the vehicles do not meet federal safety standards. Wescott also worried that the bill would wipe out years of existing moped/scooter road rules that relegate the slow-moving bikes to the right side of the road. If they’re made full-fledged motor vehicles, that rule goes out the window, he told the committee. He said insuring them would become difficult, and dealers of the little bikes would suddenly have to submit to criminal background checks and other regulations now exclusive to car and motorcycle dealerships.

“I would urge caution whenever the committee decides to change the definition of motor vehicle,” Wescott concluded. Jack Andryszak, a lobbyist for the insurance industry, said he would present an amended version of the bill to the committee but did not have the draft handy.

Pugh says the problem includes unregistered, full-sized dirt bikes as well. Minibikes are outlawed in the city already, but police won’t chase them because it’s too dangerous to do so, Pugh says. She says requiring the tags would allow identification by red-light cameras and let police seize bikes when they’re parked, “so if you see one on the street, or at a gas station, [police] should be able to confiscate them.”

Pugh says the bill will be amended with an eye toward making it palatable to the MVA and insurance industry.

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