According to new statistics released this week by Martha's Vineyard Hospital, the number of people injured in moped accidents during the first seven months of the year dropped sharply for the second year in a row.
Moped accident victims numbered 22 between Jan. 1 and July 31 of this year, down from 30 emergency room visits for the same period in 2001, and 37 by midsummer 2000.
Dr. Alan Hirshberg, the director of hospital emergency services who has kept tabs on moped accidents for the last three years, told the Gazette that it's hard to interpret these figures until he completes his tally for the entire year.
"There's still the whole month of August," he said. "And last year, we still had moped accident victims here in October."
Dr. Hirshberg also collected data on other two-wheeled modes of transportation.
Motorcycle accidents sent considerably more riders to the ER this year compared to the first seven months of last year, when just two people ended up in the hospital. This year, that number reached 12 by the end of July, beating last year's total of eight motorcycle victims and already matching the count for all of 2000.
Bicycle accidents were also up from last year. By midsummer, 75 bike accident victims had been treated in the ER, nearly double the 43 who crashed bicycles in the same period last year.
But the trend in moped-related injuries is definitely on the decline. Last year's total was 43, down from 66 the year before.
Still, while the summer of 2001 may have produced fewer injuries, it was by no means a banner year for moped safety on the Island. Two of the accidents were tragic: A 30-year-old Virginia woman was killed in an accident on Beach Road in Oak Bluffs, and a 59-year-old man from Florida was left with permanent brain damage after the moped he was riding was sideswiped on Edgartown-West Tisbury Road in Edgartown.
Both victims had rented mopeds in Oak Bluffs, home to six of the seven rental outlets on the Island.
That simple fact helped galvanize Oak Bluffs selectmen this past year to clamp down on moped dealerships. They promised to step up enforcement of town moped bylaws and cap the numbers of mopeds rented in their town.
Selectmen also agreed to cut special deals with moped dealers if it meant fewer mopeds for rent. In one case, they granted a liquor license and approved a sewer permit for a new restaurant that moped dealer Mark Wallace wanted to open on the harbor.
In exchange, Mr. Wallace offered to cancel the lease on the space he was renting to another moped dealership. Mr. Wallace still operates the town's biggest rental operation, licensed for 120 mopeds.
Selectmen also agreed to allowed two other moped dealers to rent cars in addition to the mopeds. The logic was simple - rent cars instead of mopeds.
Tourists coming off the ferries and cruise ships over the summer could choose between renting a moped which might cost between $45 and $65 for the day or a car that would cost $100 or more for the day.
It's unclear exactly what might account for fewer moped accidents for the first half of the summer.
"People know how dangerous mopeds are, and they're not renting them," suggested Oak Bluffs selectman Roger Wey. "They're not renting them, and accidents are down."
More tourists could be opting to ride Vineyard Transit Authority buses. "It wouldn't be too far a stretch to realize that the bus is a more comfortable option," said VTA planner Andrew Grant.
Another factor could be that moped dealers enforced a new height requirement of four feet, eight inches, for their customers and finally began to heed the old town bylaw that required moped operators to wear closed-toe shoes and not sandals. Many moped dealers this summer routinely sold so-called water shoes to customers who showed up wearing sandals.
Island moped dealers won't say how many mopeds they rent, but Don Gregory Sr., co-owner of Sun 'n' Fun, acknowledged rentals were down in July, reflecting the economic downturn experienced over much of Vineyard in that month.
"We were down in July," he said. "But for everybody, everything was down."
That fact alone could account for fewer mopeds and accidents through July. But Mr. Gregory said that he and his son, who manages the business, tried to steer customers into a car if they were elderly or looked shaky riding a moped.
"We lost money by doing that, but we had a pretty safe summer," he said. "Why would you - at 58 years old - want to get on a moped?"
Mr. Gregory claimed that he also turned away groups of young men because he suspected that they would be unsafe operators.
In the spring of 2001, moped dealers met with anti-moped activists and agreed to try encourage the vehicles' safe use. Dealers paid to produce a safety video and required moped renters to view it. They also agreed to advise would-be renters that riding a moped on the Island was dangerous and potentially fatal.
"We stayed with the program," said Mr. Gregory. "And we used another tactic, telling people to take the bus from West Tisbury if they wanted to go to Aquinnah or Menemsha."
Despite the efforts for more moped safety, there is still plenty of room for concern. Rick Brew, president of the Martha's Vineyard Association of EMTs, said the Island can put inexperienced riders into a hazardous setting.
"The problem is renting [a moped] to some poor sucker who comes off the boat, slapping him on the back and going through some pseudo-training exercise and then sending him into the crowded traffic conditions we have on the Island," he said. "It's a prescription for having accidents."