CARSON CITY -- Bridget Westerman had been unemployed six months when her old car finally died.
She needed transportation she could afford that was more flexible than the bus.
"I knew if I went to a car lot, they would have me paying exorbitant monthly payments for a crappy car, or they would laugh me off the lot," said Westerman, 38, of Las Vegas.
She wound up using what little money she had to buy her first motorized scooter, a Honda Metropolitan.
About three years later, she is still using the scooter as her preferred transportation to and from her new job in a real estate office.
"I'm only spending maybe $15 to $20 per month on gas if I drive to work every day," Westerman said. "That is a big draw."
But if a bill in the Legislature becomes law, Westerman and perhaps thousands of other scooter drivers will be spending more money on the bikes they bought in large part to stretch transportation dollars.
REGISTRATION AND HELMETS
Assembly Bill 508 would require owners of small scooters to register the bikes with the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles and wear helmets while riding.
The bill, introduced by the Assembly Committee on Transportation, would mean additional insurance requirements and make it harder for people who buy scooters to avoid sales tax on the purchase.
Now, people with scooters, or mopeds as they're referred to in the bill, only have to register the machines with the DMV if the engine is 50 cubic centimeters or larger and the bike can go faster than 30 mph.
If the bill passes, all motorized scooters would need to register regardless of size and pay a proposed $33 fee, with the government services tax and other charges that come with registration.
Passage also would mean riders would need to wear helmets, as on motorcycles, and abide by state requirements for insurance.
"I've heard over and over again about the number of accidents they are in," said Troy Dillard, deputy director of the Nevada DMV, of uninsured scooter drivers. "People are getting hit by mopeds and they are the ones who have to fork out for the repair shop."
Because the small scooters aren't registered now, there isn't a good estimate of how many there are on Nevada roads.
The DMV admits its estimate of about 2,000 is just a hunch. Department officials figures if they're right, the registration fees would generate about $15,000 in revenue to the counties and another $3,000 annually to the state general fund.
Because the DMV collects sales tax on vehicles, a new law could mean more money from people who buy machines out of state and avoid that tax altogether.
SCOOTER ACCIDENTS APLENTY
Metropolitan Police Department officer Brian O'Callaghan said that in 2010, there were at least 112 accidents involving scooters.
The actual number is probably higher because officers arriving at an accident often find a scooter the owner thought was not required to be registered was actually powerful enough to qualify as a motorcycle.
The new registration requirement would prevent officers from having to guess whether a small scooter meets the specifications of a motorcycle.
"Times have changed, engines have changed," O'Callaghan said. "You can stay at 49 ccs, but they put out a lot more power."
Some scooter owners say they are fine with the helmet requirement but question the need for DMV registration.
"I'm against it. It just creates problems for people and doesn't solve any problems," said William Parsons, 57, of Las Vegas. "It serves no purpose."
Parsons, a school bus driver, said he wears a helmet and takes safety precautions and thinks other riders should do the same.
But he added he doesn't like the idea of heaping new bureaucratic demands and costs on low-income riders.
"I financially can afford to have a car but choose not to have one," he said. "For a lot of poor people who can't afford a car, a scooter is an affordable option."
The bill has until April 15 to get a committee hearing and advance in the Legislature.
Assembly Transportation Committee Chairwoman Marilyn Dondero Loop, D-Las Vegas, said she supports the bill in concept but isn't yet familiar with all the details and the proposed fees.
"We will definitely have a hearing on it," she said.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861.