Make it happen

10

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.

10 COMMENTS

  1. I kind of wonder how the moped rental folks can sleep at night, and why they don’t look for other businesses to run. I realize that’s way too simplistic, but myself, I’d have trouble walking around knowing that I’d rented a vehicle to an inexperienced driver/passenger who had died, or been seriously injured.

  2. can we get a donor to buy the moped companies and close them?
    Paul…i see your point mandating behavior but the part I am sure you are aware of, is the people renting the mopeds do not have any knowledge about just how unsafe the situation is they are putting themselves in. Renting a gun to a child would be an example…
    The renters also do not have knowledge of the local roads or conditions of how a moped handles on sand or how to react to terrain changes. There is just way to many variables that point to an accident that effects a lot of people, as Susan stated.
    Mopeds are cheaper to rent than cars, but not by enough to take that as a chance. We could work with local car rental businesses to make some changes possibly.
    normally, I would say this is above my pay grade, but it really seems like a no brainer.

  3. A good start would be to have a one person per moped limit. A passenger even on a motorcycle makes most maneuvers more difficult if the passenger fights the lean of the driver. It’s a first step in the right direction. It would be more expensive also so maybe then renting a car will be more economical.

  4. Brian, I had thought about that possibility, but the bottom line is that there is NOTHING that prevents them (or anyone else) from applying for a new license. First things first: there should be clarification in the written law that we are now talking about SCOOTERS. There is a different motor vehicle law on the state books that distinguishes between a scooter and a moped. The law states that ONLY ONE PASSENGER is permitted on a scooter. There. One issue handled. Only things are not as simple as they seem. So many things on this island (and in life and politics) are bogged down by red tape. Believe me when I tell you that this is a complicated issue: I should know as the instigator of the formation of MADAC, the 2016 version of the Mopeds Are Dangerous group that has been attempting to ban these rentals (and we are only talking about RENTALS) from the island for decades. Yes, it is unfathomable how the rental company owners can sleep at night or still keep their businesses open knowing that so many people (many we don’t hear of) are injured or killed on our roads. Why not turn in the licenses for car rental licenses? That seems like a no-brainer. As it is, they already have a separate electric bicycle rental business at the harbor, and scooters cannot be as profitable as the plethora of moped rentals used to be. But electric bicycles and electric skateboards and those other scooters? Ouch (that’s me smacking my head).

  5. If you can keep people from renting mopeds you can keep them from renting cars.
    Think of all the car accidents due to people not being familiar with our roads.

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