June 22, 2004 > Summertime and the Livin' is Noisy!
Summertime and the Livin' is Noisy!
The mercury in the thermometer is rising, windows are open and your neighbors are enjoying themselves, sometimes with little regard for anyone else in the immediate vicinity. While summer days and nights invite outdoor activities, the nuisance factor increases as what is perceived as harmless fun by some is agonizing for others who crave privacy and quiet surroundings.
When neighbors are able to compromise and agree on potential unsafe practices, violent confrontations can be averted. While some grit their teeth and bear the "silly season," hoping that the party will move somewhere else, a few, as a last resort, will risk confrontation and possible retaliation or increased questionable behavior.
Discussions with local police and neighborhood agencies stress the need to be reasonable and avoid confrontation when possible. Sometimes a polite discussion with the offender will curb the behavior, at least making neighborhood concerns known. However, when things get out-of-hand and self-centered behavior becomes intolerable, there are remedies. Check with your neighbors to see if there is consensus about the problem and ask if there is agreement on taking action. An individual or a group can file a complaint with the appropriate city police department. An officer will be dispatched when practical to visit the scene and speak directly with the offender. A written complaint, in effect a Citizen's Arrest, can be forwarded to the District Attorney for action.
While response time may vary depending upon police resources, dangerous and flagrant unlawful behavior will take priority. As an example, if underage drinking is involved, this is considered a high priority to the police. All departments emphasize that knowing your neighbors and creating a good relationship with them is the best defense against irritating behavior. Forming a Neighborhood Crime Watch unit can often provide group pressure to end or curtail unwanted conduct. Police Departments are eager to help since organized neighborhoods are an effective method to monitor unusual and potentially dangerous activity.
Each year, National Night Out encourages neighborhoods to get together and throw a block party so residents can gather in a fun, social atmosphere. Check with your local city offices or visit www.nationaltownwatch.org/nno or www.nationalnightout.org for more information about the next event, scheduled for Tuesday, August 3, 2004.
One of the newest issues to surface combines multiple problems for neighborhoods and law enforcement - "Pocket Bikes."
Mini motorcycles are making a rapid entrance into Tri-City neighborhoods as noisy curiosities featuring grown men riding miniature cycles up and down streets at speeds of 35 miles per hour and more. Often claimed by riders as "street legal," and marketed as "scooters," the new toys on the block exemplify behavior that is inane, dangerous and intrusive. Trips up and down a block at the highest speeds possible mimic "muscle cars" that often do the same at higher speeds. The problem for "pocket bikes" sharing public streets is their small profile and excessive noise.
According to published reports, the Department of Motor Vehicles does not register pocket bikes because the vast majority of them do not have Vehicle Identification Numbers, mirrors or standard headlights. In addition, riders of these miniature copies of larger motorcycles must have a motorcycle endorsement on their driver's license, license plates, insurance and a DOT (Department of Transportation) approved helmet. These little vehicles, weighing in at 40 pounds, are competing with 4,000-pound cars - this is no contest when the two meet.
Mini-motorcycles are not scooters. Scooters, defined in section 407.5 of the California Vehicle Code, are built with floorboards and a "post seat" and have their own set of regulations with the intent to provide low-emission transportation. The California Vehicle Code lists any vehicle with two or three wheels and weighing less than 1,500 pounds as a motorcycle with the designation "motor-driven cycle" reserved for vehicles with engines smaller than 150 cubic centimeters (cc). Most pocket cycles have engines a bit smaller than 50 cc. Motorcycles are defined in Section 400, motor-driven cycles in Section 405 or motorized bicycles or mopeds in Section 406. All, listed in section 21235 of the Health and Safety Code, are not considered motorized scooters.
Pocketbikes.com gives enthusiasts information and tips about the operation of the mini-cycles and says that these are not toys and not for street use. European manufactured, well crafted bikes are very costly and used for racing on private racetracks. According to the website, "Pocketbikes (a.k.a. minimotos) are really not 'minibikes' in the traditional sense - they are miniature GP Racing motorcycles."
The website goes on to emphasize that,
"Pocketbikes aren't a street motorcycle - they are highly specialized, miniature GP Racing motorcycles...very fast, very sophisticated 2-stroke racing machines - a virtual ground-based missile. Pocketbikes have hair-trigger acceleration, and can hurt you very easily if you lack the fine motor skills required for very precise throttle control. WEAR A HELMET AND FULL PROTECTIVE GEAR WHEN RIDING."
Unfortunately, the vast majority of bikes showing up in the Tri-City area are manufactured in China as cheap "knock-offs" of poor construction. These are shipped through customs as "Toys" and some even stamp a DOT (Department of Transportation) logo on the bike as a ploy to convince people to buy their product. Unscrupulous salespeople are hawking them as street legal "scooters" without need for license or registration. The low cost is a great selling point and soon, off goes another satisfied customer to play a dangerous and illegal game on city streets.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), California Highway Patrol (CHP) and City Police are aware of the problem and have been forming a coordinated response to this noisy invasion. Since pocket bikes do not meet federal safety standards and do not have proper VIN numbers, they cannot be licensed and must be used only on private property or closed courses. They are illegal to drive on public streets or sidewalks. The consequences of driving a mini-motorcycle illegally may include fines and confiscation.
A recent "Information Bulletin" issued by the CHP to allied agencies provides enforcement guidelines to "enhance public safety on all roadways and to obtain compliance with the California Vehicle Code (VC) through concerted enforcement efforts." Citations are advised under 24002(b) VC with fifteen referenced substantiation code sections. In addition, "riders should be cited for a violation of Section 12500(b) VC if they are unlicensed or licensed without the appropriate M1 or M2 endorsement." It goes on to state, "As appropriate, the vehicle may be stored pursuant to Section 22651(p) VC."
While some ignorant riders are vocal about their right to share the public roadway, the law says differently and police agree that for a belligerent few, the only way to convince them is as they wave goodbye to their purchase in the back of a tow truck. The cost of the "tow," storage and release is often much higher than the cost of the bike.
The CHP Information Bulletin concludes with advice that these actions do not preclude enforcement of other violations. Since these mini-cycles are motor vehicles, operators are subject to all rules of the road.
Retail sales are booming and little cycles can be found in food stores, furniture stores - just about anywhere - with little or no information about how to operate them or legal restrictions. Many retail outlets appear to have little regard for the consequences of these sales and continue to sell these inexpensive and dangerous machines to an unsuspecting public. Some outlets, such as Migo Motor Scooters in Fremont say they warn their customers that Pocket Bikes are not street legal although they admit that people are prone to disregard their advice. Recently, an investigator from the Department of Motor Vehicles visited a retailer in NewPark Mall based on citizen and law enforcement complaints.
A group of riders descended on the parking lot at NewPark Mall expecting to use the private area for races (without the permission of the owner). Their idea was that since the area was private, DMV rules did not apply. They were told by law enforcement personnel that a parking lot of an establishment open to the public sales, even if privately held, is subject to vehicle codes including the requirement of a proper driver's license and vehicle registration.
The loud moan from buyers of these little cycles is that of those who disregard the caveat, "Let the buyer beware."
TCV wishes to thank the following for their help compiling the information found in this article:
Lieutenant Erwin Loriaux, FPD
Lieutenant Mike Eads, FPD
Officer Brian Pegg, NPD
Lieutenant James Leal, NPD
Officer Daniel Hesser, CHP
Sergeant Ray Gedney, UCPD
Claudia Albano, Neighborhood Resources Manager, Fremont