In Iowa City moped landscape, many ‘outlaws’ are unknowingly so


Of the approximately 40 mopeds outside Hillcrest Tuesday afternoon, only two of them had a flashy orange flag affixed to the rear.

One of the flagless vehicles was Julia Kost’s off-white vehicle. She said her ride tops out in the 45 mph range, and she sometimes carries a passenger.

“It’s an easy way to get around without a car,” she said, and she uses the two-wheeler to get from her dorm to class and back.

But she — along with many of her moped-driving peers — was unaware she’s breaking state laws that could end up costing her hundreds in fines. Not having a flag, carrying a passenger, and driving more than 30 mph without a special license are all violations that carry sizable fines.

“I hope I don’t get pulled over now,” Kost said before driving away into the afternoon wind.

As the weather warms up, local law-enforcement officials said they expect to see an increase in the number of moped violations.

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“It’s a seasonal problem,” Iowa City police Sgt. Troy Kelsay said. “With warm weather, there is an increase in mopeds, motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrian traffic.”

Most commonly, moped drivers are pulled over for not having a safety flag attached to the back of the vehicle or for carrying passengers, both of which are outlawed in Iowa.

Rather than issuing numerous citations, though, Kelsay said, officers often aim to educate moped violators.

“When an officer sees a violation, the action might just be education,” he said. “It might just be to stop the person and say, ‘Here are the rules in Iowa.’ ”

But if the officer isn’t so lenient, not having a flag on the back of a moped will end up costing the driver about $69. A passenger violation totals around $83.

The biggest fine, though, comes if a cop catches a moped buzzing along faster than 30 mph, regardless of the speed limit. Under Iowa law, two-wheeled vehicles that can travel in excess of 30 mph are legally referred to as motorcycles, and they require motorcycle licenses.

“The majority of what people refer to as mopeds or scooters can be driven well in excess of 30 mph,” Kelsay said. “They can even go up to highway speeds many times.”

Failure to have a motorcycle license carries a $182 price tag and could result in a court appearance, said Dave Stutz, an executive officer at the Iowa Department of Transportation. Obtaining that license requires a written and skills test, he said.

If Kost were to be pulled over and an officer warned her about the violations, she said, she would probably get a flag and stop carrying passengers. But, she said, she’s not too worried because she generally drives in a safe manner.

“It’s not like you’re flying at 45 mph,” the UI freshman said. “We’re going like 15 [mph]. I think the fastest I’ve ever gone is 20 [mph].”

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