The death of Hannah Malany lozzo, a 20-year-old woman from West Brookfield on the Island for a family vacation, has once again stoked the desire to ban mopeds.
In 2017, the issue was at the forefront of Island debate as town after town went to the polls and supported a nonbinding referendum that would ban mopeds on the Island. We supported it then, and we support it now. The idea of mopeds on the Island is just not good — the roads are too narrow, the shoulders are often sandy, and drivers are often inexperienced.
We’ve seen what happened to Iozzo and her friend too many times before.
In 2016, 19-year-old Noelle Lambert and her friend, Kelly Moran, 19, were on a rented moped on Barnes Road when Lambert reportedly lost control of the moped after riding onto the shoulder and overcorrecting. She struck the side of a dump truck and lost her leg. Her passenger was also seriously injured.
It was a horrific accident. There have been others before it and others since, but it was that crash, involving Lambert and Moran, two visitors to the Island, that was fresh in the minds of Islanders as those ballots were cast in 2017.
One year later, both Oak Bluffs and Tisbury tightened regulations on moped rentals — requiring test tracks and other safety measures before a customer is allowed to rent the vehicles. Voters at an Oak Bluffs town meeting also approved a home-rule petition seeking an outright ban on moped rentals in that town. Oak Bluffs is the center of the Island’s moped rental business, with three companies under one ownership. There is also one rental outlet in Tisbury.
The home-rule petition made it to a hearing at the State House, but died in committee, as so many pieces of legislation do on Beacon Hill.
The general public was unaware of that until a few days after Iozzo’s horrific death in Chilmark. She and the driver of the moped were thrown from the moped after striking a Lexus SUV on South Road. So many lives changed in an instant. We don’t know the names of the driver of the Lexus or the passenger, both from Edgartown, but suffice it to say they’ve been traumatized by what they experienced. Speaking with a still-in-shock Ben Robinson, who was a witness to the crash, it was clear the scene will have a haunting impact on him, as well. “I immediately stopped my car and jumped out,” Robinson told The Times. “You could tell the moped driver was conscious, moving, and then the other wasn’t. So I rushed to try to aid her.”
And let’s not forget the first responders. They’ve signed up for this, but they are human, and are undoubtedly scarred by what they experienced.
When we started asking questions about what happened with the home-rule petition to ban mopeds, state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, told us it had lapsed because Oak Bluffs town meeting did not vote to refile the legislation.
Oak Bluffs select board member Brian Packish told us town leaders didn’t bring it back to town meeting because it seemed futile — the transportation lobby too powerful to overcome.
Members of the group Mopeds Are Dangerous Action Committee (MADAC), the engine behind the original push for a ban, expressed frustration and disappointment. They blame Fernandes, and state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, for not doing enough to push and promote the home-rule petition.
When we asked Fernandes and Cyr, they pointed the finger back at Oak Bluffs, and said similar home-rule petitions can take years to get through the legislature. Cyr said other issues they’re working on for Islanders, including the housing bank bills and pandemic support, have dominated their time.
It’s time to stop pointing fingers, get together, and figure out how to make it happen. Islanders clearly want a ban, but short of that, they’d like to see an improvement in the state safety regulations.
As Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake told us, it’s unconscionable that you can rent a moped with only a driver’s license. Someone wanting to rent a motorcycle would at least have to have a learner’s permit, indicating that they have passed a written exam understanding the rules of the road for those vehicles. Others have suggested that having a regulation that prohibits a passenger on a moped is a step to explore.
Ultimately, our roads are too narrow, and the sandy shoulders make it treacherous for untrained riders. A ban is the best course of action, and we understand that it means putting an Island company out of business, so that needs to be part of the conversation. Oak Bluffs should pass a home-rule petition again at town meeting. Fernandes and Cyr should work harder to get it passed in the legislature. And the Island should muster strong advocates to submit testimony, lobby key legislators, and keep the pressure on.
Let’s not wait for the next tragedy to renew that push.