Many unclear about mo-ped laws of the road

Vadim Lavrusik

Whether drivers are carrying a passenger or not wearing eye protection, students are getting pulled over by police for violations they were not aware of.

Students who have received citations for various fines regarding their mo-peds express frustration with the state laws being too vague and police being selective in whom they cite.

University police say they welcome a growing popularity of mo-peds, but said students riding mo-peds need to be educated so they abide by the law.

Rules of the road

Although they’re fast and convenient around campus, many students riding mo-peds are not aware of the laws in place.

University Police Chief Greg Hestness said mo-peds, defined as a motorized bicycle that can’t exceed 30 mph or engine displacement of 50 cubic centimeters, are just like any other motorized vehicle.

“Mo-ped drivers have no exception to the rules of the road,” he said.

Hestness said it is possible that more citations are being given out, but not because they are targeting mo-ped drivers. He said it more likely is because mo-peds are more prevalent this year.

Lt. Troy Buhta said the specific laws in place for mo-peds are for the riders’ safety and police serve to enforce these laws.

Buhta said the state statute says drivers must wear eye protection, be at least 15 years old and wear a helmet if younger than 18. They also must have liability insurance, a valid driver’s license or a mo-ped permit and in most cases cannot have a passenger or ride on sidewalks or other bike trails.

Riding between lanes while traffic is stopped or moving is also illegal.

According to the Hennepin County Violations Bureau, fines for mo-ped violations range from $35 to $142, depending on the offense. A citation for driving without eye protection is $142.

A driver can have a passenger only if the mo-ped has a passenger seat and foot pegs and the passenger is the legal guardian of the driver or vice versa, Buhta said.

That means it’s illegal for friends to share a ride back to their residence hall after class.

“Many students are not aware that you can’t have passengers on their mo-peds,” he said. “It is more of a safety concern because when you have a passenger on your mo-ped it greatly reduces your maneuverability because of the extra weight.”

Economics junior Kelly Colbert said she didn’t know it was against the law to have passengers on her mo-ped until she got pulled over last spring.

“I didn’t know it was an actual rule, I figured it was a small mo-ped and you’re not supposed (to have passengers), but I can fit two people on it, so why not?” she said.

Colbert said the officer notified her that the mo-ped is not equipped to hold two people but made no mention that the person had to be a legal guardian.

She said the officer made her friend get off and didn’t issue a citation for the offense.

“They said if they saw me again with a passenger, I would get a ticket,” Colbert said. “The officer said they are cracking down on mo-ped safety laws.”

Buhta said police are not targeting mo-ped riders but instead are focusing on traffic safety on campus in general.

“We’re not enforcing the rules to make people mad at us, we’re doing it for their safety,” he said.

Sidewalks and registration

State law says riding on sidewalks is not permitted “except where it would be necessary for a short distance to get from a driveway, alley or building to an adjacent roadway.”

Riders can use the sidewalk to get to a bike rack and only for a really short distance. This does not mean rolling around through campus, Buhta said.

“If it is for a long distance, then turn your mo-ped off and walk it,” he said.

Economics first year student Ben Flattum said he feels the police pick and choose whom to give citations to when it comes to mo-ped violations.

Flattum, who received a citation for parking his mo-ped next to a bike rack, said he parked next to another mo-ped and although he received a parking ticket, the other didn’t.

“I have no idea why I would have gotten a ticket when the other guy didn’t,” he said.

Flattum said he ended up paying the $35 ticket and continues to park at bike racks.

But Buhta said the only way anyone gets a citation for parking near a bike rack is if it obstructs a sidewalk and that the same policy goes for bicycles.

Pat Hahn, a communications officer at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said that in some cases people might get a citation for being parked on the sidewalk because their engine displacement is greater than 50cc and considered a motorcycle.

“If the vehicle exceeds any of these it moves into the category of being a motorcycle and needs to be registered that way, as well as the driver then having to get a motorcycle permit or license,” he said.

Another type of motorized bike, not typically seen on campus, is the scooter, which is capable of no more than 15 mph and has wheels 10 inches in diameter or less and are usually driven standing up, Hahn said.

Many people are not aware of these laws and so it is the dealerships’ responsibility to notify and educate the buyers so they are able to properly register their vehicles, Hahn said.

However, some argue that the laws are outdated.

Stephen Heller, service manager at Scooterville, a mo-ped and scooter dealership near campus, said the law is vague in describing the specific rules for mo-ped drivers.

“We have had students come in who have been pulled over for having a passenger on their mo-ped, and the law there is really vague,” Heller said.

He said he thinks technology has surpassed the relevancy of passenger rules.

“The law is really outdated because it is talking about mo-peds with foot pedals on them, even though there hasn’t been one that has sold for 15 (to) 20 years,” Heller said.

He said most of Scooterville’s mo-peds are equipped to carry passengers and the law isn’t fair in allowing only legal guardians to ride along with the driver.

“I don’t want to get in trouble with the police, but it just seems like they are scaring the people by pulling them over because they themselves don’t know if the mo-ped is capable of holding two people,” he said. “If you can show the cop the mo-ped has foot pegs that should be enough.”