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This article is written by Abby Fox and Peter Voskamp. It was published in The Block Island Times, Digital Edition on October 8, 2005. Reproduced by permission.

Moped companies allowed to rent
By Abby Fox and Peter Voskamp

For now, island moped rental companies don’t have to comply with the state’s new interpretation of state law that moped riders are required to have motorcycle licenses.

Last week, the companies disagreed with the Department of Administration and the DMV’s new interpretation. They sued the state and they also sued the Town of New Shoreham for injunctive relief.

On Thursday, Sept. 29, Washington County Superior Court didn’t accept the moped companies’ request for a temporary restraining order on the enforcement of the new interpretation of state law.

But then the following day, the moped companies went to court again, and the court decided to rule in the companies’ favor and restrain the town. The order was: “the town is restrained and enjoined from taking any action to interfere with the leasing by Plaintiffs of their existing fleets to persons without motorcycle licenses.”

The ruling pertains to people renting mopeds, but it doesn’t pertain to other people who own mopeds privately; they are still subject to the state’s new interpretation.

Then on Wednesday, Oct. 5, the town sent a 9-page objection to the company’s request for injunctive relief. “The enforcement of the law which protects the public from unlicensed people driving is a far more important concern than the damages complained of” Town Solicitor Merlyn O’Keefe wrote.

Town Manager Nancy Dodge said at Wednesday’s Town Council meeting that the town doesn’t understand why a restraining order was put against the town. After all, she said, when Police Chief Vin Carlone wrote a letter to moped rental companies last week asking them not to rent to riders who don’t have motorcycle licenses, he was only doing it in order to follow the state.

Dennis Riordan asked from the audience, “Does this represent an opportunity to get rid of mopeds?”

“I don’t think so,” First Warden Jack Savoie replied.

Riordan asked if the town has formed a policy on the subject and Councilor Bob Smith replied that he didn’t think it would be wise to discuss pending litigation. Savoie added, “I don’t know that the town has a position, really,” about whether mopeds should be cut back.

Carlone confirmed on Oct. 5 that the town remained enjoined until the Superior Court rules on the matter. A hearing set for this Thursday morning was continued to a later date.

The dispute remains over what constitutes a moped and what constitutes a motor scooter. According to the state’s most recent interpretation of the existing law, the motor scooters currently being rented on Block Island as mopeds should require motorcycle licenses to operate.

The moped rental businesses have countered that the vehicles are in fact mopeds, and they have the registrations from the state that say as much. But now “the registry says one thing” and the businesses say another, said Carlone. “It’s up to the judge whether it’s a moped or motor scooter,” he said.

Carlone thinks that it might be a good idea for private motor scooter owners to cease riding them until the matter is resolved, primarily from an insurance standpoint. “I wouldn’t ride one right now,” said Carlone. He said in any accident scenario an insurance company could claim that the operator was unlicensed, and any coverage might be nullified.

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