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Scooter Scofflaws : Teens Lacking Valid License Face Tickets, 'Impound Nightmare'

November 17, 1987|MICHAEL GRANBERRY | Times Staff Writer

Dana Schrider cruised into the parking lot at 11:35 a.m. She and her Honda Elite--a mauve-colored motor scooter--had whipped the system once again.

Schrider, 18, a senior at San Dieguito High School, wore a mauve shade of lipstick and a look of cool contempt about "the law" that has San Dieguito students fighting what one of her classmates calls "the impound nightmare."

"I don't have the Class IV permit," said Schrider, referring to the type of license required to ride a motorcycle in California.

Students at San Dieguito this school year are being stopped--their word is "harassed"--by sheriff's deputies cracking down on high school students riding motorcycles without the proper Class IV license, which is obtained after successfully completing a driving test on a motorcycle.

"I don't think it's fair," Schrider said. "I suppose it's our responsibility to get the license, but the sheriff's office has the greater responsibility of communicating that need to us. They haven't done that. They haven't done their job."

Since the start of the school year two months ago, sheriff's deputies working out of the Encinitas substation have impounded about 55 motorcycles or motor scooters belonging to students at San Dieguito High.

Gary Steadman, a deputy sheriff in the traffic division, said students fail to realize that a Class IV license is mandatory--not for a moped, which many students ride, but for cycles and scooters, such as the Honda Elite, which vaguely resemble a moped but fall into a different class altogether.

"The mopeds have pedals," Steadman said. "The others don't. That's the difference."

Mike McNutt, a 15 1/2-year-old sophomore, said it's all part of the mixed blessing of being a new city. (McNutt's age of 15 1/2 is the earliest at which a student can qualify for the Class IV license--which he has done.)

McNutt's parents and many others championed Encinitas being incorporated as a city. That took effect July 1, at which time the San Diego County Sheriff's Department took over area traffic enforcement from the California Highway Patrol.

According to Steadman, the CHP didn't spend a lot of time worrying about teen-agers riding motorcycles without Class IV permits. The Sheriff's Department takes a whole different approach.

Steadman said "crackdown" is a fair word. Crackdown, in McNutt's words, is "hardly a fun thing" for a motorcycle-riding high school kid thrilled with the sense of adventure "that only a two-wheeler can bring."

"The problem lies in the fact that most of the kids that get on these things don't obey traffic laws," Steadman said. "They're running stop signs, not staying in lanes of traffic, not using turn indicators. And many, many of them have registration violations.

"These vehicles were made to seat one person. A lot of these kids ride around with two or three people on these things.

"I know that the word is out--about us stopping them--and I'm glad. It's high time. The school newspaper is writing an article on the subject, so the kids have gotten the word."

Right to Impound

If a student breaks a law, such as running a stop sign, and doesn't have the Class IV license, Steadman said the vehicle is usually impounded. He is authorized to do that, he said, under Rule 22651-P of the state vehicle code. Once impounded, the vehicle stays at San Dieguito Towing, a private firm under contract with the Sheriff's Department. Depending on the size of the bike, and the distance it has to be towed, students are obligated to pay storage and transportation costs as part of an impound fee.

"What these kids don't realize," Steadman said, "is that without that license they wouldn't be protected by insurance. Say they get into an accident, say it's their fault. Without that license, the insurance is worthless. Their parents could be on the hook for a lot of money."

"I think it's all pretty funny," said Bob Barnhill, a 16-year-old junior. "I guess I'll get it soon. I guess I need it. I guess I'm breakin' the law. OK, a lot of my friends have been busted. They've busted most of 'em for runnin' stop signs. My folks want me to get one (the Class IV license), but I just haven't bothered. It seems like such a hassle."

'Really Bummed Out'

Paul Mellon, a 17-year-old senior, said he has a Class IV license but he didn't have it with him.

"You know, maybe I lost it," he said with a laugh. "They pulled me over once. Something about a broken taillight. I got pretty mad, but mostly, this gets me really bummed out."

McNutt, who has the license, said he resents seeing the lights of a squad car in his rear-view mirror "just because I look young. I don't think that's fair. I think it's discriminatory."

Dana Schrider echoed McNutt's sentiments. She does have plans to get the license but said "too many other important things--like my life--keep interfering."

Schrider said she loves riding a motorcycle for "the freedom" and that worries about safety--the vulnerability of being alone atop "a little-bitty frame"--have never been great enough to cause her to think twice about scooting down the highway.

She said her parents don't worry much about "the safety issue," or the Class IV license controversy, and think "it's just great" that she rides a scooter that matches her shade of lipstick.

"After all," she said with a sly grin, "they bought it for me."

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