Hawaii lawmakers considering tighter regulation of mopeds
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
Norman and Jennifer Shishido, of Kaimukī, readily acknowledge that mopeds are a convenient, relatively inexpensive means of transportation for many people.
But they've also seen, heard, even dodged enough of the high-pitched, two-wheeled vehicles to believe that something needs to be done to ensure that moped operators avoid injury and respect the safety — and sanity — of those around them.
"From a pedestrian's point of view, some of them don't obey (traffic laws), and they'll nearly run you over if you aren't looking," said Jennifer Shishido, an avid walker. "The mix of walkers and mopeds isn't safe if they don't have respect for walkers. Around (the University of Hawai'i), they'll drive on the sidewalks and malls."
Perennial concerns over excessive noise, unsafe riding, illegal modifications and lack of sufficient regulation have once again prompted the introduction of a host of legislative measures, including separate House and Senate proposals to establish a task force to investigate the various problems surrounding moped use in Hawai'i.
State Rep. Corinne Ching, (R-27th, Nu'uanu, Liliha, 'Alewa Heights), introduced House Bill 2952 which would convene a task force to explore the feasibility of treating mopeds like motorcycles in certain instances.
The bill notes that mopeds, which by legal definition are not supposed to operate at speeds over 30 mph, are sometimes modified so that they are "more powerful and much noisier than design or legal limits, posing a safety threat to the operator and pedestrians as well as increasing noise pollution in residential neighborhoods."
HB 2952 also states that while mopeds are treated like bicycles for purposes of many fees and registration, in terms of safety and specifications, they are "more akin to motorcycles, and some users attempt to blur the difference, especially through modifications of power and noise."
Mopeds can be inexpensively modified to operate at upwards of 45 or 50 mph.
The bill passed through the House Transportation Committee and second reading, and is awaiting a hearing in the Finance Committee.
That's welcome news to Norman Shishido, who agrees that mopeds need to be legally reclassified.
"I don't like the fact that they act like cars, but if they're in an accident, they're considered the same as pedestrians," Shishido said.
Meanwhile, the Senate has adopted Senate Resolution 32/Senate Concurrent Resolution 76, introduced by Sen. J. Kalani English (D-6th, E. Maui, Moloka'i, Lāna'i), requesting that the state Department of Transportation and individual county transportation departments conduct a study to recommend statutory changes that would define or clarify regulations on the operation of mopeds, two-seat mopeds, bicycles, Segways, hybrid bicycles and "powerful mopeds."
SAFETY A CONCERN
The measures reflect a concern over mopeds heightened by two recent moped accidents.
On Feb. 13, 17-year-old Gerald Baltazar of Kalihi was killed when his speeding moped ran a stop sign and collided with a station wagon at the intersection of Lowrey and O'ahu avenues and Mānoa Road.
The next Saturday, a man in his 20s was critically injured when he apparently lost control of his moped and crashed on Kalihi Street.
The state DOT made moped safety a point of emphasis in its Strategic Highway Safety Plan 2007-2012 after six people died in moped-related crashes in 2005.
However, after zero moped-related fatalities in 2006, there were two the next year, three in 2008 and five in 2009.
Several other moped-related bills introduced this session have stalled, including measures that would establish maximum noise levels for motorcycles, scooters and mopeds, require safety checks for mopeds, and set penalties for having an unregistered bicycle or moped. A House measure to require moped riders to wear helmets has been referred to committee.
Jennifer Shishido said she is disappointed that lawmakers seem to lack the will to follow through on moped-related legislation.
"It's frustrating because it takes forever to get these bills passed," Shishido said. "They're gutless. They want to please everybody and nothing gets done."
To Mike Bub, 34, of Salt Lake, the interest in increasing regulation of mopeds is unnecessarily burdensome on the majority of riders he says operate their vehicles responsibly.
"The group they want to target are those guys who pop wheelies down Wai'alae Avenue, but they're not going to stop just because the law says they have to," he said. "The ones who are going to pay the most are the ones who are just going about their business and maybe forget to wear their helmet when they go down the block to fill up with gas.
"I'm sick and tired of government trying to make people behave by issuing more tickets," he said. "They're trying to balance the budget by fining people more and it's getting to the point where we can't afford it anymore."
Bub, who once got a ticket because his moped was making too much noise due to a broken muffler, said he thinks moped operators are sometimes subject to selective enforcement.
"If (the police) really want to crack down on noise, they should park themselves on Pu'uloa Road right next to the Harley Davidson (dealership)," he said, laughing.