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Iowa City moped restrictions should be tightened

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | AUGUST 22, 2011 7:20 AM

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Moped users under the age of 18 should be required to have driver’s licenses and moped permits before operating in Iowa City.

With increasingly high gas prices, it comes as no surprise we are beginning to see an increasing number of mopeds around Iowa City, a metropolitan area with both heavy urban and highway traffic.

Unfortunately, with an increase in use, we are prone to seeing a jump in accidents and injuries.

Seventeen-year-old Caroline Found of Iowa City was found dead at the scene of a crash on Mormon Trek Boulevard two weeks ago, after she apparently lost control of her moped in Coralville.

According to a news release, the West High student misjudged a curve; she struck a curb and was flung into a tree in the median. Found was unfortunately not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.

Such a tragic occurrence should not be used as a political tool. Rather, it must remind us of the fragility of human life and the need to protect it at all costs.

While mopeds are certainly a fun and efficient mode of transportation to get from Point A to Point B, their inherent danger should not be taken lightly — they are motorized vehicles and have the capability of causing fatalities. We feel that moped users under the age of 18 must have both moped permits and valid driver’s licenses in Iowa City (not the entire state — most every other city in the state has safer driving conditions). In addition, we feel these users should complete the training already in place for moped permits in order to ensure legitimate road experience.

The current moped licensing laws for the state of Iowa do not require a valid driver’s license, nor do they require that a person be of the legal driving age.

Instead, they allow persons as young as 14 and 15 to operate mopeds after being issued moped permits upon completion of moped-rider education courses approved by the Department of Transportation. Furthermore, the standard operator’s knowledge examination and vision screening are required. The same rules are applied to those 14 and above as well, with some variations, according to the Iowa driver’s manual.

This ultimately allows anyone to operate a moped in Iowa City without a valid driver’s license as long as he or she has taken one of the aforementioned tests. In addition, it’s legal to operate a moped with something as simple as an intermediate license under the current moped-licensing laws.

Fourteen- and 15-year-olds should not operate motor vehicles in Iowa City, especially those with a fatality rate much higher than that of automobiles. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds, still largely inexperienced drivers, should be required to complete the training required to obtain moped permits if they plan to drive in the hectic traffic of Iowa City.

According to the Institute of Advanced Motorists’ report in 2009, roughly 3,500 teenage moped riders encountered crashes between 2000 and 2006. Researchers attributed the large number to the inexperience and limited practical knowledge of a typical teenage rider. The report labeled 16 as the most dangerous age for moped riders, making us skeptical that the legal age to operate should be as low as 14.

Corinne Peek-Asa, a UI professor of occupational and environmental health and the director of the UI Injury Prevention Research Center, is an expert on motorcycle and moped crash data and policy.

She said she believes it is very important for moped users to have safety courses that cover the handling and operating of vehicles as well as safety.

She said licensing and regulations are a good tool to increase road safety.
“But policies need to be evidence-based,” she wrote in an email. “Most crashes on mopeds involve young people at least in part because they drive them the most.”

Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton could not make any specific comments on the current moped licensing laws, but admitted “with age comes maturity.”

While the DI Editorial Board would like to keep 14- and 15-year-olds from operating mopeds in Iowa City, Brotherton said the police don’t necessarily encounter a lot of problems with this age group — it’s mainly high-school and college-age persons that they see using them frequently.

Brotherton said she’s seen an increase in the number of moped incidents during her time on the force. She accounts the increase in accidents to the increase in popularity.

“In general terms, yeah they’ve probably increased, because they’ve increased on the road,” she said. “It’s a nice alternative to a car.”

While we understand the overall convenience and popularity of mopeds in recent years, our position is that moped-licensing laws need to be tightened in Iowa City.

If even one life is saved, the legislation would be invaluable.


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