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Bikers rush to dodge new law requiring safety classes

Ann Skinner came up with a great way of saving money: Drive her 28-mile daily commute on a scooter that gets 70 miles per gallon.

She saved even more money by passing her motorcycle tests on Friday, just days before a new law takes effect requiring new motorcyclists to take a safety class that costs $200 to $300.

"I'm happy to save $200," said Skinner, a graphic artist who lives in St. Petersburg. "That was the whole idea, to save money."

The law, which takes effect Tuesday, is meant to keep new motorcyclists alive by putting them in classes tailor-made to teach them how to safely maneuver on roads filled with other drivers who often aren't looking for them. Many motorcyclists say these classes can be great — even some who showed up at the Pinellas Park driver's license office Friday in hopes of avoiding them.

"You can always learn something," said Susan MacPherson, 48, of St. Petersburg.

But the new law comes at a time when many people are turning to two-wheelers to save money. MacPherson said she looked into a course that cost $300 and decided to try to take the test earlier.

"The money is a tremendously big thing," said Joe Penrose, 40, who works in maintenance and got his motorcycle endorsement Friday. Penrose, of St. Pete Beach, was so happy about getting his new Harley-Davidson recently that he had its image tattooed on his arm.

A total of 14,714 people have received motorcycle endorsements from the state this month, more than twice the 6,354 who received them last June.

Some driver's license offices will be open today and a few will take the unusual step of opening Sunday to accommodate the number of people trying to take the written and driving portions of the motorcycle test. That's partly to make up for several appointments canceled in recent days because of rain, said Ann Nucatola, spokeswoman for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

The law already required people under 21 to take the classes in order to get a state motorcycle endorsement. Now the classes are required for everyone getting the motorcycle endorsement.

The state has selected several groups around Florida to provide the classes, which last from a weekend to five days. In the class, participants take the written and driving tests previously only offered at the license offices.

Florida Highway Patrol Capt. Mark Welch said the courses can be a big benefit to new motorcyclists, teaching them where in the lane to drive, stopping distances and other topics.

David Hendricks, program manager for Harley-Davidson-affiliated safety classes in Brandon, Tampa and New Port Richey, said: "There's so many people out there that ride motorcycles currently that know the idea of how to ride but they don't know all the principles of how to ride."

These driver's license offices are open at 8 a.m. for the motorcycle tests today:

• 6855 62nd Ave. N, Pinellas Park.

• 11319 Ponce de Leon, Brooksville.

• 4100 W M.L. King Jr. Blvd., Tampa.

Bikers rush to dodge new law requiring safety classes 06/27/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 2, 2008 9:48pm]
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