By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tania deLuzuriaga’s illegal smile

I’d be interested to know from Media Nation readers whether Boston Globe reporter Tania deLuzuriaga was violating the state’s motor-vehicle laws in her test drive of a Vespa.

Let’s start by asking whether a Vespa is a scooter or a motorcycle. If it’s a scooter, then she was definitely violating the law. It’s illegal to drive a scooter fast than 20 mph, and the operator must stay to the right-hand side at all times.

DeLuzuriaga makes it clear that she was prepared to go as fast as 35, the Vespa’s top speed. Also, the photo of her on the front of City & Region — not online, for some reason — shows her on the left side of the right-hand lane, nearly on the dividing line, with a motorcyclist to her right.

But that’s just throat-clearing. For legal purposes, the Vespa is probably considered a motorcycle. And here’s what she writes in her lede:

It was an all-too-familiar situation: Ahead, a red light glared, and bumper-to-bumper traffic stretched as far as the eye could see. Taxis honked. Drivers sighed. Nobody was happy — except the reporter on the white Vespa who slipped into the space between the lanes and nimbly passed among the cars. Pedestrians stopped to watch, and drivers’ eyes gleamed with irritation and envy as the reporter made her way to the front of the line, turned right, and zipped off on her way.

As I understand it, it’s illegal for the operator of any motor vehicle, most definitely including motorcycles, to wiggle between lanes of traffic. I think this is the relevant law, although it doesn’t seem quite to get at it:

When any way has been divided into lanes, the driver of a vehicle shall so drive that the vehicle shall be entirely within a single lane, and he shall not move from the lane in which he is driving until he has first ascertained if such movement can be made with safety. The operators of motorcycles shall not ride abreast of more than one other motorcycle, shall ride single file when passing, and shall not pass any other motor vehicle within the same lane, except another motorcycle.

In addition, the state Registry of Motor Vehicles advises motorcyclists, “Never weave between lanes.” The RMV’s advice tends to be the law.

Finally, Media Nation’s Grammar and Style Police have ruled that when writing a first-person story, you should use “I” instead of referring to yourself in the third person. Unless you’re Wade Boggs. Which deLuzuriaga is not.

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  1. Anonymous

    You’re probably right. But doesn’t Massachusetts have lots of rules on the books that are not enforced?According to Boston Magazine….Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 272, Section 36, which makes it illegal to “reproach Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost,” and which, for good measure, we had done in front of a church. Then City of Boston Ordinance 16-12.15, which makes it a crime to “play ball . . . in the street,” which we broke with the aid of a Nerf football in Downtown Crossing. Then there was MGL, C.264, 9, which makes it illegal to sing only a portion of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in a public place, and ordinance 16-12.5, which forbids sprinkling cigarette “ashes . . . in the street.”

  2. Anonymous

    The article is so idiotic I think I had stumbled onto the Weekly Dig website by accident.

  3. Dan H

    AFAIK, it’s the cc’s not the brand name that determines whether we’re talking scooter or motorcycle. Clues in her somewhat fluffy piece include that it’s 50 ccs, she calls it a scooter, and brags on requiring no license.Vespa makes models these days which can tackle superhigways. Sort of. If I may post a link, my son and I will be riding across the US this fall for charity, he on his 200 cc Vespa (which requires a full motorcycle license) and I in the support truck. H

  4. Eoin

    Dan, that’s WAY off!Here’s the relevant info from the RMV: crucial difference is not “scooter vs. motorcycle” but engine capacity and top speed. If it’s under 50 cubic centimeters and can’t go faster than 30 mph, then it counts as a motorized bicycle. If it’s over, then it counts as a motorcycle. If it’s a motorized bicycle, then you can ride in the lane with traffic, or you can pass cars on the right. It’s up to you. The law says you can’t exceed 25 mph on a motorized bicycle.The problem – and there’s a story here – is that just about every 50 cc scooter sold in Massachusetts breaks the law, because they are sold as motorized bicycles and yet they all have top speeds of 40-50 mph (unless the dealer has added an easily-removed restrictor plate.)So yeah, the reporter is in violation of the law by operating an improperly registered vehicle. So is everyone else who rides a 50cc scooter without plates. And, yes, the reporter was also speeding. Not to toot my own blog horn, but I’m a journalist who rides a scooter to work every day. I wrote about my experiences here:

  5. Rick in Duxbury

    “The Vespa’s wasp-like 50-ccs were powerful enough to get her moving with traffic, but not strong enough to require a motorcycle license, insurance, or a registration.”Where to begin. Her vehicle would be considered a “motorized bicycle” with a 25 mph max allowable speed. it tops out at 35 (rather than 30), or has a motor exceeding 50cc, it’s a motorcycle. It would have been SO simple to just read the RMV webpage prior to writing the obligatory “trend” piece that is riddled with errors. To recap, she DOES need a license, registration and insurance.(Hell, in this state I need a registration on my canoe because it has a 2 HP electric trolling motor!) Now we get to see the correction on pg.2 in a day or two. If they are going to hire out-of-town blow-ins with no knowledge of Boston, can they at least give them laptops with internet access? They’re not even trying any more.

  6. Anonymous

    I hope you’re being sarcastic. Who cares if she was violating traffic laws.DRogers, Somerville

  7. Anonymous

    A few corrections:Vespa does not make what is classified as a “scooter”. The sub-50cc bikes are classified as “mopeds”The max speed allowed on a moped is 25 mph (with 30 being the top speed a scooter should be capable of, read: you can go up to 30).Mopeds are not required to stay to the right side of the lane. Mopeds may use any roadways except for limited-access highways.Mopeds may pass vehicles in the travel lane one the right. This means while cars are stopped at a red light…mopeds can pass the stopped cars on the right and cut to the front.Mopeds get a special 2-year sticker registration.

  8. Ron Newman

    If she was violating the law, the law should be changed to make her operation legal. These vehicles are a great way to reduce fossil fuel usage and the accompanying pollution.

  9. Dan Kennedy

    Ron: I’m guessing she would be OK if she’d just stop weaving between lanes of traffic, which is really an unsafe thing to do.

  10. Larz

    DeLuzuriaga never answered her own question — if saving a few bucks on gas is worth risking life and limb.While she did mention some of the dangers, she fluffed them off, never mentioning the greatest problems with motor scooters: vulnerability and visibility. A broadside hit is much worse than it would be in a car, since your legs are on the outside. Furthermore, a scooter presents a small visual target and can actually disappear behind a windshield post. The problem isn’t that car drivers hate scooters, but that they don’t expect and often can’t see them.When a car and a scooter collide, the scooter rider always loses.The worst aspect of publishing such an article is that it would encourage others to ride a scooter, placing themselves in great danger.— Larz

  11. 'Whalehead' King

    Any scooterist will tell you it is safer to blend into traffic if possible. When traffic is going faster than you, you pull over to the right. If it is going slower than than you, you procede on the right with caution. If you are all going the same speed, you stay in the middle of the lane so as not to endanger yourself or anyone else. It is common sense.Lane splitting is legal in Massachusetts if done cautiously and without reckless abandon. Motorcycles, scooters and bicycles are all allowed to do it at police discretion. It frees up a car length of traffic and anyone who wants to complain is a person who loves gridlock. As more two-wheeled vehicles become more common, enforcement may change, but for now this is a non-issue.I was more concerned about the reporter’s lack of protective gear. You never know when you will be cut off and take a spill. The Vespa is an unwieldy machine. I have cut up knees from riding one. I would recommend a Honda Metropolitan which is closer to the ground, easier to handle, gets better gas mileage, and runs like you would expect a Honda to run: i.e. no maintenance. I suspect that after a month our reporter in her shirtsleeves will be cut off, tip the bike and have hamburger for skin on one arm and a thigh. If the engine is less than 50cc it is a bicycle. Thank goodness there is one type of motorized vehicle that has thus far escaped state mandates. It is only a matter of time.

  12. Rebecca

    Whalehead: Lane splitting is most definitely ILLEGAL in MA for motorcycles. There is a bill somewhere in Boston to make it legal, along with removing the mandatory helmet laws.A “scooter” can also be a motorcycle. Scooter just means an automatic, or twist-n-go, transmission (no shifting).50cc scooters can and should be registered, plated, and fully insured. Possibly with a different type of ‘class’ then a larger displacement engine.If the globe writer was riding against traffic, without a helmet, or any other stupid move, she should be called out. So many people fail to understand all the ramifications of riding a scooter &/or motorcycle and this article isn’t helping.Good luck to all the future small engine scooter riders. Wear your helmets!

  13. Ari Herzog

    I’m more concerned when I spot cars weaving through traffic.

  14. Aaron Read

    Ron: I’m guessing she would be OK if she’d just stop weaving between lanes of traffic, which is really an unsafe thing to do.Christ, people…DRIVING in Boston is a really unsafe thing to do, period. Doesn’t matter what you’re doing it with.Take a look at the statistics about how many “accidents” have been caused by weaving between lanes by a Vespa or similar vehicle. I haven’t myself, but I’d be flabbergasted if they were more than one-tenth the rate for “road rage” that happens every day in full-size vehicles…and that’s even if you adjust the numbers to account for fewer Vespas on the road than fullsize cars.And frankly, Dan…if all the car drivers out there switched to scooters, maybe they’d all drive a little more safely – knowing that they didn’t have two tons of SUV steel to hide behind in their road rage.

  15. Eoin

    Larz, statistically scooters are less safe than cars, but not as much as you may think. From the Wall Street Journal:”In 2005, the latest year with complete data, the death rate for scooter riders was 129 per million scooters registered, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a research group funded by the insurance industry. That compares with a rate of 78 for cars and light trucks. The rate is significantly higher for motorcycles, however: 645.”source:

  16. Anonymous

    I know Luzuriaga… she is from Mass, not a “blow-in.” I don’t understand what the purpose of the article was though.

  17. Chris Devers

    As any number of articles (or, yes, citations of state law) over the past few years has pointed out, a scooter with an engine of 49cc or less is classified in Massachusetts as a bicycle (with caveats, see below), and therefore is broadly held to the same regulations that bikes are held version: bikes have to obey the same laws that cars do, including honoring signage, staying in the lane, etc. On the other hand, they’re also allowed to pass, merge, take the whole lane, etc if that seems like the safest thing to do under the circumstances. (And yes, as another commenter noted, most scooters sold as such are capable of 40mph or so, which is technically a violation of the way the law is phrased, but in practice it seems like as long as it gets properly registered and is operated safely, people aren’t generally being given a hard time about this detail. As yet another commenter noted, the law should probably be updated to match reality, and to further encourage more commuters to switch down to smaller, more efficient means of transportation like this.)

  18. Rick in Duxbury

    “Thank goodness there is one type of motorized vehicle that has thus far escaped state mandates.” Unless I am mistaken, MGL c.90, s.1cited above pretty much tells the story.( MA, if it moves, (and sometimes if it doesn’t), tax it.Anon 9:12: I stand corrected. I forgot that MA natives are exempt from learning or observing RMV regulations! Our reputation precedes us.

  19. Peter Porcupine

    DK – Good news!Law-breaking Idiot Girl is the reporter the Globe has explaining Gov. Patrick’s new education initiative! I know it makes ME feel more certain I’ll get a straight story!

  20. Anonymous

    Maybe we should ask the new registrar, Rachel Kaprelian. Fifty bucks says she has no idea, as she has virtually no experience to warrant becoming the registrar. But her husband might know. I hear he’s riding a moped these days.

  21. Markus Diersbock

    “…As I understand it, it’s illegal for the operator of any motor vehicle, most definitely including motorcycles, to wiggle between lanes of traffic…”I’m assuming in her sentence “…slipped into the space between the lanes and nimbly passed among the cars…” the she is actually talking about being between the lane and the shoulder lane — not lane-splitting.

  22. Dr. Leader

    My biggest concern with moped registered motorbikes is that they are not insurable in Massachusetts. Every Moped in Mass is an uninsured vehicle. The sales staff usually does not understand this fact. They will push that you do not need insurance. The purchaser may not realize the problem until they try to insure their bike.

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