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Moped changes gaining traction

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Moped drivers in Johnson County don’t have to take driver’s tests or register their bikes with the state.

But that could change soon. State lawmakers are considering requiring moped drivers across Indiana to take written driving tests and get license plates for their small motorized bikes starting in 2015.

Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, who co-authored the proposal, hopes the law will make moped drivers and other motorists safer by ensuring moped drivers know basic traffic laws, he said.

He’s been arguing for tighter moped restrictions ever since he noticed an acquaintance driving a moped after losing his license after a drunken driving conviction.

Smith said he thinks it is wrong for a person who broke traffic laws to drive on the streets.

His research has shown the bikes to be dangerous, with increasing accident rates. Last year, a 15-year-old Greenwood boy died after a motorist didn’t spot him on his moped and turned in front of him. The boy didn’t have a driver’s license and by state law wasn’t required to have one to drive his moped.

The proposed law would be better if it prohibited residents without driver’s licenses from driving mopeds and didn’t let mopeds on state highways, such as U.S. 31, Johnson County Sheriff Doug Cox said. He doesn’t expect to see lawmakers approve restrictions that strict, he said.

“I think Milo’s taken the right steps. I don’t think they’re going quite far enough, but anything’s better than nothing,”

Cox said. “Any kind of testing helps out and makes them more responsible.”

The changes he is pushing for this year still allow people without driver’s licenses to drive mopeds but would regulate the use of the motorbikes more, Smith said.

Other legislators haven’t supported requiring driver’s licenses or insurance for moped drivers, he said.

Smith and Cox have talked for several years about ways to make mopeds safer, and he consults Cox every time he authors a proposal about mopeds, Smith said.

They agree that the small bikes are dangerous and should be regulated more closely.

If Cox comes across a moped accident, he’ll often email the accident report to Smith to keep him informed.

The law changes would require all motorized bikes with engines smaller than 50 cubic centimeters to be registered and have license plates. Drivers also would have to take a written test to prove they know traffic laws, Smith said.

Smith said he wants the law to protect moped drivers from getting injured or killed, as well as car drivers from hitting a moped.

The number of people killed or injured while driving mopeds has increased statewide between 2008 and 2012, according to data from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute. In 2008, 16 moped drivers were killed and 547 were injured in accidents. Statewide in 2012, 23 moped drivers were killed and 888 were injured.

Mopeds are smaller than motorcycles, and if they collide with a car, the injuries tend to be severe or fatal, Cox said. State law already requires driving tests for motorcyclists, as well as registration and license plates.

Registering and getting license plates for the mopeds also will make them easier to find if one of the small bikes is stolen, Smith said. Currently, missing mopeds are hard to track because they aren’t registered and don’t have license plates, he said.

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