Moped and Motor Scooter (50 cc or less) Safety: Issues and Countermeasures
Most states recognize motorcycle safety as an emphasis area in their strategic highway safety plan (SHSP). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) categorizes both mopeds and motor scooters as motorcycles, but individual states are free to define such vehicles in their own terms for the purposes of regulation. Therefore, despite presenting similar risks and roadway safety challenges, mopeds/scooters are very frequently not held to the same safety standards and considerations as motorcycles. In the U.S., the majority of states do not require more than a standard driver license to operate a moped or a motor scooter, and few states have universal scooter helmet legislation. This, in part, contributes to the public perception of mopeds/scooters as fundamentally different from motorcycles when it comes to safety precautions, such as the use of personal protective gear including helmets. Although motorcycles can travel at higher speeds, moped/scooter riders are equally susceptible to serious and fatal injuries in the case of a crash, given that both vehicle types provide limited protection and passengers are easily separated from the vehicle. Oftentimes, these crash victims are young adults or members of vulnerable populations, including the economically disadvantaged and minorities. NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) reported a total of 264 deaths on mopeds/motor scooters in 2018.
Research examining the relative crash rates of such vehicles in the U.S. is limited, but European and Australian studies have found that mopeds and scooters are just as likely to be involved in a crash as other types of motorcycles, perhaps even more so. Significantly, data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) indicate that between 2000 and 2004, the number of motor-scooter-related injuries treated in U.S. emergency rooms grew from 4,400 to approximately 10,000. Moped injuries also increased significantly between 2007 and 2015. These increases coincide with data from the Motorcycle Industry Council that show scooter sales in the U.S. doubled between 2000 and 2004; sales increased by an additional 50% between 2010 and 2011.
Moreover, moped/scooter definitions across states are frequently unclear and outdated, leading to further enforcement and education challenges. For instance, many states utilize the threshold of 50cc (50 cubic centimeters of engine displacement) with a maximum speed of 30 mph to distinguish scooters/mopeds from motorcycles. However, many modern scooters under 50cc can now exceed the top speed of 30 mph easily, which can complicate the interpretation of state laws as to what constitutes a moped or a scooter – and what does not.
With few notable exceptions, there are almost no contemporary studies examining the risk factors for moped crashes or their associated negative outcomes in the United States. In addition to representing a gap in the literature, the lack of research on this subject has contributed to an absence of suitable resources for state government and law enforcement officials, as well as for riders themselves, who are concerned with enacting, enforcing, and/or following appropriate safety guidelines specific to mopeds and scooters.
IV. RESEARCH OBJECTIVE
The objective of the proposed study is to investigate safety issues unique to moped and motor scooter riding, and to connect those findings with practical policy recommendations and educational programs. The research will also develop a web-based tool that can allow state safety offices or other stakeholders to create social media graphics, posters, and other visual content related to moped/motor scooter safety. At present, additional research is necessary to determine the nature and the extent of the risk factors associated with moped/scooter use, as well any relationships that they have with specific negative outcomes, in order to provide empirically-sound recommendations for risk management. In particular, this study would utilize national and state traffic crash databases to determine the types of crashes most associated with motor scooter and moped use, the types of areas in which those crashes are most likely to take place, and the types of injuries that most frequently occur as a result. Although not a comprehensive list, potential risk factors for crashes and severe injury such as alcohol and drug use, vehicle speed, time of day, gender, age, and helmet use would also be examined. Results would be compared and contrasted with those for other types of motor vehicles, and additionally, trends would be examined over time to see how and/or if increased scooter ownership has impacted any relevant observed outcomes.
The information obtained in this study would ultimately be used to develop an interactive web-based tool intended for both the general public and state officials. This tool would provide information regarding the risk factors associated with moped and scooter use; as well as pertinent legal guidelines, metrics, and safety recommendations. Since law enforcement and government officials currently lack any comprehensive resource focused on this subset of vehicles, it could prove informative to policy decisions, the allocation of capital, and targeted injury prevention actions. For moped and scooter riders, this tool would provide research-based recommendations for safe riding, with the option to enter demographic information in order to receive personally tailored results and feedback.
V. URGENCY AND POTENTIAL BENEFITS
This research is urgently needed. There are exceedingly few contemporary studies focused on the risk factors and the negative outcomes associated with moped and scooter use in the U.S. There is also a lack of suitable resources available for officials tasked with enacting and enforcing relevant safety policies. This is especially disconcerting since the number of scooter riders in the U.S., as well as the number of crash injuries that they experience, is trending upwards. There is an opportunity to proactively assess and develop strategies to deal with an emerging problem before it increases in severity; this research proposes a first step of action that would immediately inform safety interventions, educate the general public and government officials, and compile a wealth of data and information that could be used to track the success of any policy changes or safety measures that are sanctioned. The tools developed would also promote the reduction of serious roadway injuries and contribute to the success of state-level Vision Zero/Toward Zero Deaths programs.