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December 15, 2018

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Next year may be a bumpy ride for Nevadans on 2 wheels

2014 Las Vegas Scooter Rally

Steve Marcus

A scooter enthusiast passes by a parking lot full of scooters behind the Plaza Hotel during the High Rollers Weekend Las Vegas Scooter Rally Sunday, March 2, 2014.

No.2 in the nation for motorcycle theft

Las Vegas ranks behind only New York City, which has four times the population.

What happens if scooter specs are suspect?

The Sunday’s investigation showed that power ratings on the Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin (MCO) don’t always match those listed by dealerships or the NHTSA database. So a person who brings in an MCO indicating that the bike is within state limits gets a moped plate, while another who doesn’t have the paperwork may be told his identical machine is technically a “motorcycle.” The DMV concedes this could be happening but doesn’t track such data.

There are no official numbers, but anecdotal reports suggest a new law could have serious consequences for some commuters on Nevada roads.

The law requires all mopeds (often called scooters) to be registered. While it won’t take effect until Jan. 1, the Department of Motor Vehicles began the inspection and registration process Nov. 1 to give riders plenty of time to adjust (and Metro won’t enforce the new rules until February). As of Dec. 4, 298 mopeds had been registered statewide, 218 of them in Clark County. But how many others will fail the DMV’s new test for moped classification?

According to DMV spokesman Kevin Malone, several inspectors have reported that about half of the vehicles brought in so far haven’t met the specs. He said the agency wasn’t tracking rejections and called the apparent rate merely “noticeable,” but if unofficial reports indicate a larger trend, a significant number of scooter riders may have to find a new way to get around or else register their vehicles as motorcycles.

That would add considerable expense. Registration fees for cars and motorcycles are on a sliding scale based on particular models and insurance scenarios. Moped owners typically pay about $60, including the $33 registration fee, government services taxes (GST) based on the value of the vehicle and fees ranging from the inspection to the license plate.

“Since most mopeds have an MSRP under $1,000, they will be charged the minimum GST. Add in everything else, and the total will be slightly under $60. The total could be less if the owner applies a tax exemption or has a credit from another registration,” Malone said. “The total could be more for a newer, high-end moped.”

While any moped is registered only once, motorcycles must be insured and registered yearly, and riders must wear helmets and have a motorcycle endorsement on their licenses, which requires proof of proficiency. That means written and road tests through the DMV or a state-certified training outlet such as the College of Southern Nevada, whose three-day basic rider course costs $150.

The new registration framework is intended to curb rampant scooter theft in Nevada. But it also could pull the wheels out from under many riders.

Take John Melnichuk, who pulled his Honda motor scooter into the DMV inspection station on East Sahara Avenue on a recent morning. While waiting for the technician to inspect it, Melnichuk happily extolled the virtues of the compact vehicles, which can cost less than $1,000 and get upward of 110 miles per gallon.

“It’s hard to believe how economical they are,” Melnichuk said.

He didn’t have the manufacturer’s paperwork for the scooter (he bought it used), so the technician checked its vehicle identification number on a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration database. While it met the engine size requirement for a moped in Nevada, its horsepower rating was more than twice the limit.

Melnichuk doesn’t own a car, and he wasn’t happy about the prospect of paying higher registration fees and an insurance premium.

Proponents of the legislation say that one reason for classifying motorcycles and mopeds differently is to keep the more affordable option open for those who need it. But it remains to be seen how many owners are denied, and how many might not know about the new law — or even the old one — and end up with a handful of citations come next spring.

Click to enlarge photo

The DMV’s inspection is pretty basic: If a rider brings in manufacturer paperwork showing that the specs are within state limits, the vehicle passes as a moped. If there is no paperwork, technicians check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration database. A number of factors could lead to an error message, in which case the DMV allows the owner to register the vehicle as a moped upon completing an affidavit swearing it conforms to all Nevada regulations.

Stopping the stealing

Whatever the wrinkles, the new law is an effort to help curb Las Vegas’ theft problem, DMV spokesman Kevin Malone said.

Although 2015 numbers from the National Insurance Crime Bureau don’t specify how many stolen motorcycles are actually mopeds, the brand breakdown is telling. Thefts of machines from major motorcycle makers like Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Harley-Davidson increased by less than 10 percent last year, while thefts of vehicles made by China’s TaoTao group — one of the largest importers of scooters to the U.S. — skyrocketed.

“The numbers are just crazy,” the bureau’s Frank Scafidi said. “They’re off the charts. You have a 60 percent increase in one year over the next just from that import group that manufactures a good number of scooters.”

Scafidi believes Nevada’s new registration requirement will make a difference, in part because it will deter thieves. “They’re gonna think twice about it, because now there’s a way for someone to trace this back.”

Chuck Callaway, Metro Police director of intergovernmental services, helped shepherd the law through the Legislature. He believes it will act as a deterrent and help police nab thieves: Officers will have a reason to stop any moped without a plate, and those with plates can be run through a patrol car’s computer.

Callaway said that while he was surprised the rejection rate for moped registration might be as high as 50 percent, he knew many vehicles wouldn’t qualify. “The reality is, they’re motorcycles but they’re operating under the guise of being a moped. Registering them will help in that regard with public safety.”

Riders of motorcycles masquerading as mopeds can be fined for operating an unregistered motorcycle (it’s up to a judge’s discretion, but the max fine for failing to register a vehicle in Nevada is $1,000), often with additional citations for no helmet, no insurance, no plate and no motorcycle endorsement on the license.

One Metro patrol officer said he routinely cited moped riders for unlicensed motorcycles after clocking them at more than 30 mph. Many don’t realize there’s a problem, he said, until they’re stopped by a cop.

“You’d have to ask the courts what they’re going to do, but there has been a procedure for many years where, if a police officer tickets someone for doing more than 30 mph on a moped, they have to come in and register it as a motorcycle,” Malone said.

That scenario is likely to continue after the law goes into effect. However, Callaway says if the registration process appears to unfairly affect those who don’t have factory paperwork, or is causing other unforeseen problems, the 2017 Legislature could tweak the law as early as February.

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