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Bill puts brakes on speeders

James Franzolino, 24, center, and Wac, 28, left, hang out at the Quaker Steak and Lube in Pinellas Park on Wednesday night. “I like my license. I like my life. You can’t outrun a radio,” said Franzolino.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

James Franzolino, 24, center, and Wac, 28, left, hang out at the Quaker Steak and Lube in Pinellas Park on Wednesday night. “I like my license. I like my life. You can’t outrun a radio,” said Franzolino.

Excessive speeding. Stunt riding. A disappearing license plate.

If you're a motorcyclist caught doing any of that in the near future, get ready to open your wallet. The same is true for automobile drivers caught speeding more than 50 mph over the speed limit.

Under a little-noticed bill (HB 137) overwhelmingly approved by the Legislature and headed to Gov. Charlie Crist for approval, excessive speeders would pay $1,000 for a first offense, starting Oct. 1. The penalty used to be a $250.

The legislation is the brainchild of state Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, who said he was inspired while riding with the Florida Highway Patrol.

He saw groups of bikes cruising at speeds as high as 136 mph. He saw a motorcyclist pull a wheelie while speeding through a SunPass lane. Another time, a speeding motorcyclist flipped up his license plate anticipating a chase after noticing that the Highway Patrol was following him.

Then Lopez-Cantera read a story about a motorcyclist who lost his life. His legislation targets not just speeders, but also requires that moped riders and motorcyclists keep both wheels on the ground at all times and requires bike owners to affix their license tags horizontally, not vertically as has become popular on some custom bikes.

"The problem is, a car that can perform at these speeds costs six figures, yet a motorcycle that costs $10,000 can do 200 mph," Lopez-Cantera said.

Under the bill, second-time speeding offenders could lose their license for one year and get a $2,500 fine. Third-time offenders would risk losing their license for 10 years and their vehicle would be confiscated.

Initially, Lopez-Cantera's bill targeted only speeding motorcyclists, drawing ire from the American Motorcyclist Association as discriminatory.

But even with the change to include speeding drivers of all types, Imer Szauter, who works for the association in Ohio, has questions: "Will the bill work as the sponsor intended it? I am not sure it will do that."

Area riders who joined a weekly gathering of 3,000 motorcyclists in Clearwater recently agreed.

Sitting outside the Quaker Steak and Lube on 49th Street N, Jeff Nuce, a former motorcycle police officer, lamented the law would require him to change his license tag. Nuce, 39, rode to the restaurant on the "Dark Knight," a $78,000 Batman-themed chopper with Batman logo mirrors, custom paint and Batman logo rims. It also has a sideways license plate — an infraction that would be worth a $1,000 fine in October.

"On a custom bike, it takes away from the aesthetic appeal of the bike," Nuce said. "I don't want to break the law, but when I take that off of there, it changes the whole look of the motorcycle."

Tim Hellijas, 38, rode in on a Kawasaki ZX-10, a sport bike with a top speed of 185 mph.

"It's justifiable to a certain extent," Hellijas said about the stringent changes aimed at speeders. "This thing does twice the speed limit in first gear." But he wondered if it might just provoke some riders.

Jeff Hieber, general manager of Barney's Motorcycle & Marine in St. Petersburg, one of the area's largest retailers, agrees with Hellijas' assessment.

"It is not set up around rehabilitation, it is set up on punishment," Hieber said. "Especially with a kid who just got his license. They are going to believe that running is the answer."

Jared Leone can be reached at jleone

@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5314.

Bill puts brakes on speeders 05/16/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 22, 2008 8:31am]
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