State lawmakers respond to Indiana's moped loophole

Rep. Phil Hinkle (R-Indianapolis)
Published: .
Updated: .

Sandra Chapman/13 Investigates

Note: This is the second part of a two-part series. Read part one here.

Indianapolis - New road safety numbers show moped crashes in Indiana are on the rise.

13 Investigates has found a loophole in the law allowing suspended drunk drivers back at the controls, some impaired. Now we're hearing Statehouse reaction, and proposed changes on the table.

Indiana State Representative Phil Hinkle is used to fast-paced wheeling and dealing, but he's become unnerved by the growing danger of mopeds on Indiana roads after a near miss with one in his own neighborhood.

"I started to turn left, and lo and behold he gunned it and ran the stop; didn't even bother to stop," said Hinkle, a Republican who represents Wayne and Pike Townships in Indianapolis.

"Next thing you know they're under the truck. It is, in my opinion, a matter of life and death," he told 13 Investigates, describing what could have happened if he had not stopped in time.

New reports from The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show moped deaths nationwide doubled in 2009.

More troubling, Indiana reported 21 motorized bicycle crashes the same year higher than any other state. (See a list of crashes by county.)

Rep. Hinkle himself has had three close calls, mostly with teens riding them and disobeying traffic controls.

Hinkle's experiences were enough to prompt him and fellow Republican Rep. Milo Smith of Columbus to introduce bills designed to strengthen a weak, outdated motorized bicycle law.

For starters, Smith wants to call it what it is.

"In state statute, there is nothing called a moped," Smith explained. Indiana still calls them motorized bicycles, a term decades old.

There's also no requirement of a driver's license, registration, insurance or training for mopeds under 50cc.

Oregon is one of the states that has a driver's license requirement (no suspensions) for a moped.

With speeds topping out at 25 mph, anyone 15 years of age or older with a State ID can hop on and go. Right now, the only place off limits to mopeds is the interstate.

"My bill will address all of those issues," insisted Smith.

13 Investigates found the bill doesn't specifically address everything. It calls for insurance, registration and plates and banning mopeds from state highways. But neither proposal tackles troubling licensing issues uncovered by 13 Investigates. Specifically convicted drunk drivers, some with lifetime license suspensions, are finding their way back onto Indiana roads on mopeds. Police tell 13 Investigates that some of them are still driving drunk.

Michael Tockey owns Speed City, one of Indiana's largest moped dealers. Tockey, a certified motorcycle driving expert, says the state should require a license and training for drivers.

"You don't want to ride these impaired. After you've been drinking, one of the first things to go is going to be your balance," he said.

Randy Bunton of Muncie doesn't deny drinking before crashing his moped back in October, and admits his Blood Alcohol Content measured at .265 percent, more than three times the legal limit drunk.

"How is that a good thing?" questioned Sgt. Bruce Qualls, an Accident Reconstruction and Traffic Enforcement Supervisor with the Muncie Police Department.

13 Investigates asked Bunton about his drunk driving history that earned him 18 months in a State Prison and a lifetime driver's license suspension.

"You were bound to crash?" 13 Investigates asked.

"Yes," Bunton replied, "It was inevitability," he said acknowledging his lack of restraint.

"You take their license away and instead of letting them have a four-wheel vehicle to drive, you give them a two-wheel and you say, it's okay?" added Sgt. Qualls.

13 Investigates posed our own questions to State Reps. Hinkle and Smith about the gaping loophole that allows people with lifetime suspensions, admittedly driving drunk on mopeds.

"Much to my chagrin, those who use a moped as means of transportation to and from work because they've lost their license will be affected adversely by this. But where do you draw the line?" Hinkle said, considering the possible repercussions.

Right now, Smith and Hinkle say their proposals are a first step in addressing a growing road hazard Indiana has ignored far too long.

"No one should be able to operate a motorized bike on our public streets when they're under the influence of alcohol or drugs," said Rep. Smith, who wants to give offenders serious about change a second chance - but not those who are abusing the system.

"I'm open minded. If someone wants to make it better, I'm all for that," Smith said of his bill that's already passed out of a House Transportation Committee.

Representative Hinkle's bill has yet to get an initial hearing.

"I really fear that if we don't do something about regulating mopeds on the street, somebody's going to die before we act," he told 13 Investigates.

Rep. Smith's bill could generate $78,000 in extra registration fees for the state. It is gaining bi-partisan support with two House Democrats joining on as co-sponsors.

Update: On February 15, 2011, the Indiana House of Representatives passed the moped bill with a vote of 54-41.

Further reading

Moped laws on agenda as fatalities continue to climb