Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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April 20, 2012

High court ruling in mo-ped case could drive new law

INDIANAPOLIS — State law prohibits motorists with suspended driving privileges from getting back on the road, but an Indiana man is arguing that the mo-ped he rode down a state highway at 42 miles an hour isn’t covered by the law.

His argument, disputed by police and prosecutors, is the basis for a case that the Indiana Supreme Court is scheduled to take up Friday.

The court’s decision either way is likely to impact the thousands of Hoosiers who drive mo-peds, scooters and other motor bikes that fall into a murky area of the law. And it will likely trigger some kind of legislative action to ramp up regulations on a largely unregulated form of transportation.

The case, Michael Lock vs. State of Indiana, dates back to 2009 when an Indiana State Trooper pulled Lock over as the Huntington man was riding his Yamaha Zuma mo-ped on a state highway.

Lock was arrested and later convicted on a Class D felony charge of operating a vehicle while his driver’s license was suspended. As punishment, he had his driving privileges taken away for life.

But Lock appealed his case. He argued the small-engined, low horse-powered vehicle he was riding on was a “motorized bicycle” that Indiana law exempts from some of the traffic laws that cover motorcycles and cars.

The Indiana Court of Appeals overturned Lock’s conviction, and in doing so, raised questions about how Indiana law defines what a mo-ped really is.

Under current Indiana law, people who ride mo-peds and scooters don’t need a driver’s license to do so. But the law is only supposed to apply to small-engine, low horse-power vehicles with design speeds no greater than 25 miles an hour.

Lock’s mo-ped fit the first two criteria, but he was clocked driving 42 miles an hour. As police and prosecutors argue: What Lock was riding can’t possibly be exempt from the law.

Among those watching the case closely is David Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council.

“The problem for police and prosecutors is that under the current law we don’t know what these vehicles are,” said Powell. “It puts law enforcement in a tough spot.”

The Indiana Supreme Court is going on the road to hear the case. As part of its “Oral Traveling Arguments” program, the justices will hold court at Martin University on Friday in a session open to the public.

Among those who plan to attend is state Rep. Milo Smith, a Republican from Columbus who’s been pushing his legislative colleagues for the past four years to make mo-peds and scooters subject to many of the same rules as cars and motorcycles. Currently, the law doesn’t require those vehicles to carry license plates, be registered with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, or be operated by a licensed and insured driver.

He said Indiana law has failed to keep up with the rise in the  number of mo-peds and scooters on Indiana roads. “If gas climbs to $5 a gallon, we’ll see a lot more of them,” Smith said.

Smith said public safety is at stake. “There shouldn’t be anyone on our public roads who don’t know our traffic safety laws,” he said.

The number of crashes on state highways involving mo-peds and scooters went from 630 in 2009 to 790 in 2010, according to Indiana State Police records. The number of non-fatal injuries in those crashes went from 558 in 2009 to 676 in 2010. Those numbers don’t include accidents on county roads or city streets.

Maureen Hayden can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com

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