Recent crashes and thefts cause concern for moped safety
Mopeds are a popular choice of vehicle for young drivers, especially on Michigan State's campus. Though there has only been one fatal moped crash on campus since 2016, there have been seven crashes involving a moped since the beginning of the 2019-20 school year — numbers that worry Lyman Briggs sophomore Erika Buhk.
“On a campus with 55,000 other students, cars, buses, bikes, motorized scooters, skateboards, and everything in between, student safety has to be viewed as a priority or it will quickly be forgotten,” Buhk said in an email.
Stolen mopeds near campus totaled 29 since Aug. 1, according to East Lansing Police Department records and Michigan State University Police Department Captain Doug Monette.
Nine mopeds were reported stolen during the two weeks prior to Oct. 21 alone, according to ELPD Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez.
Reports of stolen Mopeds tend to spike as students return for the Fall semester at MSU. This can be attributed to the influx of new moped owners who are still getting used to securing their vehicle, which makes them vulnerable to theft, Gonzalez said.
"The other thing with mopeds is we generally see small groups of individuals responsible for a bulk of the thefts," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said from past experience mopeds are usually stolen by juveniles and sold for less than a few hundred dollars per moped or ridden around for fun. Once officers are able to identify the group, reports of stolen mopeds decrease for two to three weeks.
"We have arrested a few individuals for moped thefts," Gonzalez said. "Sometimes they're collateral charges that we end up actually getting to stick."
With juvenile groups, Gonzalez said ELPD is able to make these charges by entering individuals into the system for a curfew violation. "A curfew violation won't stick with them for the rest of their life like a moped charge would," Gonzalez said. This allows the individual to appear in front of a juvenile court judge, which may help them by allowing the judge to take a look into their life and get them the assistance they need, if any.
As for preventing stolen moped incidents, securing the moped is a top priority. On campus, moped parking spaces have anchors to aid in security, Monette said.
"We encourage people to utilize the anchors," Monette said. "And if they come across a moped parking spot that does not have an anchor, please let us know we'll make sure we get one in there."
There have been 11 reported moped thefts on campus in October alone. Moped thefts tend to spike at the beginning of the school year and in early spring, due to the increase in mopeds on the roads, East Lansing Police Department Chief Steve Gonzalez said.
“What the patterns that we see tell us about moped thefts is that they are largely a crime of opportunity,” Gonzalez said. “So anything that a moped owner can do to make their moped less attractive to steal than something else is going to be beneficial to them.”
Because mopeds can be started easily, Gonzalez advises riders to park their mopeds in well-lit, designated moped parking areas and to lock their tires with an anchor or bike lock.
Mopeds are smaller vehicles, so there is a greater risk of injury to a rider in the case of a crash. The risk is increased when riders are not wearing a helmet.
Even though Michigan law requires moped operators under the age of 19 to wear helmets, Buhk does not believe students obey the law as they should.
“Driven on the street beside buses with incredible blindspots and cars driven by sleepy commuters, moped operators are at risk simply because their size cannot be compared to these other large vehicles,” Buhk said. “Regardless of the capability of the driver of a moped, if an accident were to occur, they would still be left without protection. What can be more important than protecting the brains of those who choose to ride mopeds?”
Environmental factors, such as time of day and weather, also increase the risk for collision with another vehicle.
“Mopeds are small vehicles,” Gonzalez said. “The lights on them are certainly not as big what you find on a car or pick-up truck or even a motorcycle for that case ... The visibility profile of a person on a moped is significantly reduced from other vehicles.”
Comparative cultures in politics senior Sabrina Brogniart believes moped crashes can be avoided by being more aware while riding and by using common sense.
“I make sure that I look, always, first before crossing an intersection, just being aware of my surroundings,” Brogniart said. “And taking a couple seconds when the light turns green to just make sure no cars are turning in last minute or there’s no bikers or pedestrians that are crossing the road last minute.”
Ultimately, remembering that mopeds are motor vehicles and treating them as such will reduce the chances for collisions and thefts, according to MSUPD Captain Doug Monette.
“If you are a moped operator, you must follow the same traffic rules as any other motor vehicle operators. A moped is a motor vehicle." Monette said, "They need to drive on the roadway. They are not allowed to drive on the sidewalks or grass, and when they are driving in the roadway, they need to follow the rules of the road.”