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Last summer's skyrocketing gasoline prices helped fuel a surge in sales of motor scooters in this country. That's hardly surprising given that a scooter can get 95 miles per gallon, hybrid versions of the bikes claim to produce twice that result, and electric ones allow you to skip the service station entirely.
But the rise of the scooter and its cousin, the moped or motor-assisted bicycle, are raising concerns about safety. Some scooters look and perform like motorcycles and are regulated as such. Riders must wear helmets to protect them from serious injury.
Yet scooters with engines of 50 cubic centimeters or less are not considered motorcycles at all. Under Maryland law, a rider must have a driver's license (not a specific license for motorcycles), but need not register the vehicle, have insurance or wear a helmet.
Javin Edward Hunter, a former Ravens draft pick, ran his Chrysler sedan into a scooter in Joppa killing the 53-year-old rider in an apparent hit-and-run accident in 2007. He was sentenced to six months in jail last year. An 8-year-old Elkridge boy was killed last month when he drove a scooter into a mini-van.
While Maryland does not distinguish between scooters and motorcycles in its accident records, the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems does track moped collisions of which there were 347 in 2006-2007. MIEMSS reports that most resulted in incapacitating injuries to the moped operators.
Scooters ought not be discouraged. They can be a practical option for some commuters and the savings in fuel and the accompanying reduction in greenhouse gases is helpful to everyone. But they need to be regulated in a responsible way beginning with a requirement that riders under age 21 wear a helmet.