Motorcycles by another name
Liza Simpson’s Honda Metro has a 50-cubic-centimeter engine and cruises at a cool 30 miles per hour. It doesn’t look like a Harley Davidson. It doesn’t drive like a Harley Davidson. But according to Utah state law, it may as well be one.
"There has been an increasing problem with those scooters because of a vast misunderstanding of the law," said Wallace Wintle, bureau chief for Utah’s Department of Public Safety Driver License Division.
Wintle said that most consumers, dealers, and even some law enforcement officers, think that any motor vehicle with an engine smaller than 50 cubic centimeters doesn’t require a motorcycle endorsement on a valid state-issued driver’s license.
"Some do and some don’t," Wintle said.
The state code identifies several different kinds of motor vehicles, each with different, and in some cases contradictory, rules. Some of the vehicle classifications require a license and others don’t. They are motor vehicle, motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, motor-assisted scooter, moped and mini motorcycle ("Decrypting state code").
State code defines a motorcycle as any motor vehicle, other than a tractor, that has a seat or saddle for the rider and travels with no more than three wheels on the ground.
Lawmakers require people operating motorcycles to pass written and road tests before they are allowed to drive without restrictions.
A motor-assisted scooter, which does not require a license, must have an engine not exceeding 40 cc’s, according to the driving code.
Simpson’s scooter, not atypical among Summit County riders, exceeds the code by 10 cubic centimeters.
Similarly, state code says a moped can’t be capable of traveling faster than 30 miles per hour. Simpson’s Metro can go up to 38 miles per hour, according to Summit Honda dealer Rachael Young.
But it gets more complicated. Another addendum to the definition of a motor-assisted scooter claims that a rider must be able to propel the vehicle by human power alone.
That likely wouldn’t be doable for former City Council member Marianne Cone. She lives at the top of a steep incline on Prospect Avenue and her Honda Ruckus weighs 150 pounds.
A scooter’s speed, and whether it can be pushed by foot, varies with a rider’s weight and strength, consumers say.
"It’s no wonder people aren’t sure if they need a motorcycle endorsement," Wintle said. "It’s very confusing."
Part of the problem may be the state’s huge backlog of motorcyclists waiting to get certified to take their rides on the road. When Simpson bought her Metro in July 2007, she and her husband looked into getting a motorcycle endorsement.
Examiners were so backed up, Simpson said, that the couple would have had to wait two months before earning a spot to be tested.
"The industry kind of came out with scooters and law enforcement and the legislature has had to play catch-up," said Cpl. Mike Bergin of the Summit County Sheriff’s Department.
Bergin advised scooter and motorcycle riders to wear helmets, gloves, glasses, footwear and long pants. Helmets are required for scooter and motorcycle riders under 18, Bergin said.
"Each year the number [of people seeking endorsements] rises a little," Wintle said. "But because of gas prices the number of endorsements has shot up."
In 2005, Utah issued 31,000 motorcycle endorsements. Today, more than 35,000 people earn the privilege to drive a two-wheeled vehicle on residential streets, highways and rural roads, Wintle said.
He noted that in the last six months, as gas prices have increased, the driver license division has seen an influx motorcycle endorsements among Utah residents.
"Every summer it jumps," he said. This summer, Wintle said, the number of endorsements may skyrocket.
Retailers in Park City are seeing scooter sales increase. Summit Honda, where Simpson and Cone bought their scooters, has seen a 27 percent growth in scooter sales since 2005. That outpaces the increase motorcycle sales by 7 percent, according to the dealership’s general manager Steve Malone.
Riders must register scooters of any horsepower with the state, Wintle said.
Brandon Hicken, the general manager of Plaza Powersports in Heber City, said the motor vehicles at his dealership have attracted more attention in the last few weeks from people who have never ridden motorcycles.
Some of his scooter models, such as the C3, get more than 100 miles per gallon. "They have a lot of advantages over cars," he said, especially when driving short distances.
Simpson bought her Metro to get around town while campaigning for her city council seat. She said her scooter makes it easy to zip to the grocery store, post office and bank. "I only got to ride it July, August, September, October of last year," she said of her flashy red and white ride. "It’s fun. They’re ridiculously fun."
Simpson drives about 20 miles at a time on her Metro, which gets 100 miles to the gallon. "It saves tons of money," she said.
Cone, who served on City Council for four years, said driving a scooter saves her money and time parking. Cone and her husband sold their second car, a Subaru Outback, and bought the Honda Ruckus in the summer of 2006. "It’s really cheap," she said. "You have to think to remember to fill it up," said Cone, who has logged 450 miles on her scooter in the last year and a half.
Cone said motorcyclists often encourage her on the road and flash their secret hand-greeting of solidarity. "You’re kind of part of the family," she said, "part of the brotherhood that goes as far down as scooters."
Decrypting State Code
Department of Public Safety Driver License Division
Motorcycle (license required):
Means a motor vehicle, other than a tractor, having a seat or saddle for the use of the rider and designed to travel with not more than three wheels in contract with the ground.
Motor Driven Cycle (license needed for some)
Means every motorcycle (license needed), motor scooter (license needed), personal motorized mobility device (license not needed), moped (license not needed), electric assisted bicycle (license needed), motor assisted scooter (license not needed), and every motorized bicycle having:
an engine with less than 150 cubic centimeters of displacement; or
a motor which produces not more than five horsepower.
Motor Assisted Scooter (license not needed):
Means a self-propelled device with:
(a) at least two wheels in contact with the ground;
(b) a braking system capable of stopping the unit under typical operating conditions;
(c) a gas or electric motor not exceeding 40 cubic centimeters;
(i) a deck design for a person to stand while operating the device; or
(ii) a deck and seat designed for a person to sit, straddle, or stand while operating the device; and
(e) a design for the ability to be propelled by human power alone.
Moped (license not needed, except for motor assisted bicycle)
Means a motor-driven cycle having:
pedals to permit propulsion by human power; and
a motor which:
produces more than two brake horsepower; and
is not capable of propelling the cycle at a speed in excess of 30 miles per hour on level ground.
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