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ON ISLE ROADS
Altered mo-peds grow
If he pushed it, 17-year-old Mikey Hands' souped-up mo-ped could hit 90 miles an hour.
He's got friends whose mo-peds have clocked 100-plus with the right parts and a long, empty road.
In a state where it's illegal for mo-peds to top 35 miles per hour -- and where mo-peds are put in the same class as bicycles -- more young people, like Hands, are speeding up their mo-peds, sometimes with deadly results.
On July 11, Thomas Aldosa, 15, died after his speeding mo-ped lost control along Hakimo Road and crashed into a wooden utility pole. The Nanakuli boy was the sixth mo-ped fatality of 2005, compared with just one in each of the previous two years.
Police say the popularity of so-called "modified mo-peds" is likely related to the surge in mo-ped deaths this year.
The link, though, can't be made definitively. Police reports don't include information on whether a mo-ped has been modified and investigators can often only estimate a mo-ped's speed before a crash.
Still, "a speeding mo-ped, obviously, is a problem," said Sgt. Alan Vegas, of the Honolulu Police Department's traffic division. "It is illegal."
But the law hasn't stopped owners of a growing number of souped-up mo-peds.
And it hasn't deterred some stores from offering to install or remove certain parts to increase a mo-ped's speed, which is also illegal in the islands.
Four Honolulu mo-ped stores visited by a Star-Bulletin reporter last week offered to remove a mo-ped's restrictor -- which keeps it under the legal speed limit -- for free or fees ranging from $60 to $100. One shop owner said his mo-peds were imported and sold without a restrictor.
The reporter did not identify herself when she visited the stores.
Eddie Cardoza, co-owner of University Cycle & Sport on University Avenue, had no qualms saying he's been souping-up mo-peds for sale. Most of the mo-peds in his shop would not pass the law's speed limit requirement.
"A lot of the kids do come in. Their parents don't know what they're getting into," Cardoza said, adding that he oftentimes calls a teen's parents to tell them how fast his mo-peds can go -- just in case they don't know.
Usually, he said, parents are OK with the purchase.
Cardoza, whose personal mo-ped can reach 80 miles an hour, is part of a low-key club of modified mo-ped riders who plan occasional circle-island rides or early-morning races. He admits they've raced on Honolulu surface streets. The youngest member of the club is 15, he said.
"We try not to race and stuff on the streets, but sometimes we get carried away," he said with a laugh.
"They're cheaper than a motorcycle," he said. "And they're fun."
When modified for higher speeds, they're also dangerous.
Shop owners and mo-ped riders said a speeding mo-ped can wobble and is hard to control. "They are not made to go that fast," said 23-year-old Sione Tamale, a Waimanalo resident who sold a mo-ped that could do 60 miles an hour about a year ago and is now in the market for another one.
"The faster you go, the harder it is to control ... especially keeping your front wheel on the ground because it's not made to handle all of those extra parts and speed."
OFFICIALS SAY it's hard to police the sale of modified mo-peds and the installation of parts designed to up a mo-ped's speed. Under Hawaii law, anyone -- shop and mo-ped owners alike -- who modifies a mo-ped for speed can get slapped with a $500 fine.
But selling parts to speed up a mo-ped isn't illegal in the islands, something lawmakers are poised to address in the upcoming legislative session.
"We need to prohibit the mo-ped shops from selling" these parts, said Rep. Scott Nishimoto (D, Kaimuki-Waikiki).
In the just-completed legislative session, Nishimoto introduced a bill that would have toughened mo-ped laws, partly by requiring mo-peds to undergo annual inspections to check for added parts or the lack of a restrictor.
House Bill 1090 never even got to committee.
But Nishimoto, who wrote the legislation after his constituents complained about mo-peds speeding along side streets in Kapahulu, is hopeful the bill will be revived in the coming session, along with a provision or companion bill that calls for a stop to the sale of mo-ped modifying parts.
Currently, mo-peds are treated similarly to bicycles under Hawaii law. Operators have to be at least 15 and have a driver's license, but aren't required to have insurance. They also don't need a special license, as motorcycle drivers do. Mo-peds manufactured before 1998 are allowed to have a maximum speed limit of 35 miles an hour, while newer mopeds must go 30 miles an hour or less.
Some store owners balk at calls for mo-ped crackdowns, saying the majority of mo-ped riders on the streets are law-abiding.
They also say banning the sale of parts that speed up mo-peds is too restrictive and would be unfairly picking on their industry, which has been enjoying a boom in sales recently with rising gas prices.
Jennifer Purcell, business manager at the Moped Company, agreed, suggesting the rise in mo-ped fatalities this year could simply be a product of more mo-peds on the road and inexperienced riders driving them.
"A lot of people do modify them," said Fernando Galvan, general sales manager at South Seas Motorcycles on Nimitz Highway. "But we don't recommend it and we don't do any modifications here."
The Moped Company and South Seas Motorcycles were not among the shops visited by the Star-Bulletin.
Purcell said souping up mo-peds has become "a social thing" -- often influenced by peer pressure.
"It's a teenage thing," she said. "It's whose bike can go faster, look sharper."
HOW MO-PEDS ARE MODIFIEDHere are some of the steps taken:
» Horsepower increased: Mo-ped engines in Hawaii can have only two horsepower or less under the law. But special kits are sold at many mo-ped shops to increase horsepower.
SPECIFICS ON MO-PED LAWSHere's what current law says about mo-peds.
» Mo-peds built after 1998 can't go above 30 miles an hour. Older mo-peds can travel at a maximum speed of 35 miles an hour.
» Mo-peds sold in the islands must have a restrictor, which keeps them at or below the speed limit. Their engines must be no more powerful than two horsepower.
» Mo-ped drivers must be at least 15 years old and must have a driver's license.
» Installing parts aimed at increasing a mo-ped's speed is illegal, although selling the parts is not. Those who modify mo-peds can face fines of up to $500.
» Mo-peds are not allowed on the highway.
Source: Hawaii Revised Statutes