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The article is reproduced from http://www.projo.com/news/content/projo_20060408_scooter8.1383834f.html

New law sends motorcycle-license flap scooting

Slow-moving mopeds and scooters don't require a special license for their operators under the measure.

01:41 PM EDT on Saturday, April 8, 2006

BY KATE BRAMSON Projo.com Staff Writer

Scooters and mopeds that don't go faster than 30 miles per hour are free to be ridden without a special license on the state's roads, now that new legislation modeled after Massachusetts law is in effect in Rhode Island, according to Brian P. Peterson, associate director of the Department of Administration.

The change in state law, which went into effect March 30, seems to put to rest a controversy that flared last summer when the state Department of Motor Vehicles was sued over its interpretation of state law. Interact

Thousands of people who own such scooters, Peterson said, have been in limbo ever since, wondering: "Am I allowed to use it? Do I need a motorcycle license?"

Yes, you can use the scooter, and no, you don't need a motorcycle license, is the message Anderson and legislators who backed the bill now want to get out. The Department of Administration oversees the DMV.

"This is good news for scooter and moped riders, good news for those who sell or rent them, good news for tourism and good news for the environment in Rhode Island," House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox, D-Providence, said in a statement issued this week.

The scooters affected by the change are those with engines less than 50 cubic centimeters that do not exceed 30 miles per hour. Operators of such scooters must still have a valid driver's license, Peterson said.

Operators of motor scooters that go more than 30 miles per hour still must get a motorcycle license, Peterson added.

The big issue swirled around what it takes to get a motorcycle license, Peterson said. People are required to take a course and a test on a motorcycle with a standard transmission, he said.

Trouble was, people seeking to ride motor scooters, such as the many tourists who rent them for a day or two from a number of Block Island rental agencies, didn't want to ride actual motorcycles, Peterson explained.

This change in law means they do not need to take that course on a full-size motorcycle.

"We're very happy with it," Peterson said of the new legislation.

The DMV wrote to all police departments in the state this week, clarifying the new legislation and explaining that the department worked closely with the primary sponsors of both the Senate and House bills "to work out language that was acceptable to all sides and that closely mirrors Massachusetts law," Peterson said.

House Majority Leader Fox and state Sen. Stephen Alves, D-West Warwick, were the primary sponsors of the bills.

Last summer, a statement about the scooter issue that the DMV issued to all Rhode Island police departments sent a very different message. The DMV had interpreted state law to mean that riders of such vehicles needed motorcycle licenses.

Scooter dealers on Block Island and Providence then sued the state Department of Administration, which oversees the DMV, and the Town of New Shoreham.

The scooters have been popular for years on Block Island, a small, rural tourist mecca.

"All of a sudden they were faced with the possibility that the rental business would be in trouble because most people don't have motorcycle licenses," Peterson said.

In December, Washington County Superior Court Judge Allen P. Rubine agreed with the DMV interpretation of the law. However, Rubine urged the General Assembly to rework state law to keep up with "modern technology relating to two-wheeled vehicles operating on the highways of the state."

The new law passed the House in late January and the Senate early last month. Sent to the governor's office on March 22, it went into effect on March 30 without the governor's signature.

Not everyone agrees with the new law. A couple of Block Island residents have written letters to the editor disagreeing with the idea that someone not licensed to drive such a vehicle can be on the roads, posing a health and safety hazard.



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