The 30-year-old woman killed in last Saturday's moped accident in Oak Bluffs loved to make furniture, especially chests and tables. Kate Dunnet Miller was president of her high school alumni association. "There was a charisma about her, a vibrancy. She was a real extrovert," said her mother-in-law, Dr. Caryn Miller of Washington, D.C.
This week, while family and friends grieved the loss of Mrs. Miller, most Island policymakers took a pragmatic view. They mourned the tragedy; they called for improved safety measures like more training for renters; but in the end; they accepted mopeds as a Vineyard fact of life.
"For us to think people will come off the boats and not rent mopeds is ludicrous," said Oak Bluffs selectman Todd Rebello.
"Several families have been devastated because of this accident," said fellow selectman Richard Combra. "I'm not interested in eliminating mopeds, but I am certainly concerned about public safety."
Oak Bluffs is home to seven of the Island's 10 moped dealers and more than three-quarters of the nearly 700 mopeds licensed to dealers. As the dominant player, the town has not done enough to improve moped safety, Mr. Combra said. He suggested better training and having someone other than the dealers decide whether a renter is qualified to rent a moped.
Other measures are also on the way to try to make renting a moped less risky. At a summit meeting held Tuesday, moped dealers sat down with police, town officials and members of the Mopeds are Dangerous organization. Dealers were warned they would be subject to spot-checks, unannounced and unidentified, to make sure they are holding up their part of a bargain struck just a few months ago.
This spring, members of the Mopeds are Dangerous committee agreed to back off proposed legislation that would require moped renters to have a motorcycle license. In exchange, dealers agreed to help pay for a training video, to beef up their own training, to require renters to sign a form that spells out the risks and to warn riders of dangerous curves, sandy shoulders and twisty, crowded roads in Chilmark and Aquinnah.
"When we told them people would be filtering through the different shops renting mopeds," said West Tisbury police Beth Toomey, "that got everybody's attention. But nobody complained about it, either."
Chief Toomey, along with state Rep. Eric Turkington, helped bring both sides of the debate to the table where the nine-point plan for improved safety was crafted. "Do I think this is going to solve all the problems?" asked the chief. "Well, it's a valiant effort to see how much things can change."
But in the wake of Saturday's fatality and yesterday's serious accident in Edgartown, the plan is coming under fire with anti-moped activists sounding the alarm that it's time to go back to the statehouse. Dan Larkosh, a Tisbury attorney and a former member of Mopeds are Dangerous, said yesterday he is planning a fundraising event in August to generate cash to hire a lobbyist.
Indeed, the state legislature does hold much of the power in the battle over mopeds. It was the state that sanctioned mopeds back in the 1970s, requiring nothing more than a learner's permit to drive one, said Tisbury police chief John McCarthy.
Now, most police will tell you the mopeds of those days are nothing like the models produced today. The engines may be the same size, but they are far more efficient, said one police officer. And while dealers say their mopeds travel at top speeds of 25 miles per hour, they have been clocked at 40.
"We're fighting a state law," said Chief Toomey. "And we feel this needs to be regulated on the state level."
On the local level, both Tisbury and Oak Bluffs have detailed bylaws governing mopeds in their towns, but the laws go largely unenforced. According to the books, dealers aren't supposed to rent a moped to someone wearing only sandals, slippers or thongs. But even Chief McCarthy admitted yesterday that he's not that familiar with the specifics of the moped bylaws.
Both towns are also supposed to require dealers to provide a supervised test track on the premises for training. The track is supposed to measure at least 50 by 25 feet. In Tisbury, Chief McCarthy said the dealers are exempt because the businesses all existed before the bylaw was passed.
In Oak Bluffs, Michael Dutton, chairman of the board of selectmen said he didn't even know about the bylaw. Neither did moped dealer Fran Alarie 3rd, who operates his business, Two Wheel Traveler, on Circuit avenue extension. Like other dealers in the jam-packed downtown of Oak Bluffs, his training track is the town streets - a ride around the block.
Oak Bluffs police could not be reached for comment on why this bylaw is not enforced, but some answers may come in two weeks, when Oak Bluffs selectmen have called a meeting of moped dealers and public safety officials.
"Up to today, Oak Bluffs has not been participating in moped safety the way it should," said Mr. Combra. "We need to take the lead here to make sure that everyone who rents a moped in this town is trained to operate one."
Mr. Dutton said he wants to know how far the town can go in making policy about mopeds. "The questions we don't really know yet are what kind of regulation we can set down," he said.