Marylanders who drive scooters or mopeds will be required to jump through new legal hoops before hitting the road next month.
Starting Oct. 1, owners will be required to title and insure their mopeds and scooters with the Motor Vehicle Administration. Drivers also must wear helmets and eye protection.
Retailers who have been selling mopeds and scooters as cheaper and greener alternatives to four-wheeled vehicles have balked at the changes in the law, particularly the title and insurance requirements, questioning how they will affect the vehicles’ growing popularity.
But officials say the changes will help police identify owners of scooters and mopeds that are recovered or involved in infractions.
“It’s a tricky situation,” said Jo Reyes, co-owner of the Green Commuter in Takoma Park, which sells bikes with electric motors.
Reyes said most of the e-bikes sold in his shop would be subject to the new provisions.
Under the law, a moped is a bicycle that is designed to be operated by human power with the assistance of a motor rated 1.5 brake horsepower or less — or, if a combustion engine, 50 cc or less — that is equipped with pedals that can drive the rear wheel or wheels, and has two or three wheels, one of which is more than 14 inches in diameter, Greg Shipley, spokesman for the Maryland State Police said, reading the law.
“The definition I just read doesn’t not say it has got to be a combustion engine,” Shipley said. “Even if it is an electric motor, I would argue that it does qualify.”
Reyes said he wouldn’t know how the MVA would title an e-bike, as they generally are not assigned vehicle identification numbers.
Scooters, however, have VINs, said Brad Medley, co-owner of Charm City Scooters in Halethorpe.
No VIN? No problem, MVA spokesman Buel Young said.
Although VINs are the primary number MVA uses to title vehicles, any moped or scooter without a VIN will be assigned a number by the MVA so that it, too, can be tracked, Young said.
For Marylanders who own a moped or scooter before the changes take effect Oct. 1, the $20 fee to title their vehicle will be waived if they do so before Oct. 1, 2013, Young said.
The only price they will pay for a title will be the $5 fee for the title sticker. Those who buy a moped or scooter after Oct. 1 will be subject to the full fee.
Although the law requires titles, Young noted it does not require a registration, which is effectively the license plate.
Police will start looking for title stickers in October, as well as for helmet and eye protection, Shipley said.
The stickers must be displayed on the back of the moped or scooter in plain sight.
Drivers who violate the law can be stopped, because not having a title sticker, not wearing a helmet, or not wearing eye protection are primary violations, Shipley said.
Those stopped can expect to receive a traffic citation or warning.
Maryland already requires drivers of mopeds and scooters to have a valid driver’s license or a moped operator’s permit.
Now police also will check that the driver has proof of insurance, which must be carried while operating the vehicle, Shipley said.
How much it could cost to insure a moped or scooter depends on such factors as eligible discounts, driving history and the vehicle being insured, said Amy Preddy, spokeswoman for State Farm Insurance.
She noted State Farm supported the changes in Maryland because of the safety requirements.
Although helmets and eye protection also are new under the law, the need to obtain a title and insurance could deter some people from turning to scooters or mopeds as alternative vehicles, Medley said.
Since Medley’s business began selling scooters six years ago, sales of the vehicles have increased about tenfold, he said.
However, much of that business comes from customers who cannot afford an automobile and its costs of ownership, including title and insurance, or from those looking for a vehicle for short trips, he said.
But, given the title will be the proof of ownership of the vehicle, it also could be the silver lining to the law, Medley said.
It is often difficult to connect mopeds or scooters involved in incidents with their owners, said Del. Pamela Beidle (D-Dist. 32) of Linthicum.
One of the sponsors of the legislation, Beidle said she received compliants about motor scooters that should not be on the road, and scooters running down the street or through yards, causing damage.
She said her intent was to establish a means to identify the owners. Other provisions such as those for insurance, helmets and eye protection were added by other lawmakers.
Montgomery Count Police average about 10 seized or abandoned mopeds and scooters a month in the department’s impound lot, many which never are claimed and subsequently sold at auction, spokesman Capt. Paul Starks said in an email.
As of last Friday, 10 scooters and two mopeds were on the lot.
Police think the new law will help reunite owners with their seized or abandoned vehicle, as, without proof of ownership, police cannot release a scooter or moped from impound, he said.
Despite their intent, legislators should have consulted more with retailers and manufacturers before crafting the new regulations, Reyes said.
“I understand the position of law enforcement, where they have to try and get a handle on this, but I think they need to consult with industry people as to how they are going to regulate these things ... because it is really an important part of the whole transportation mix,” he said.