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Baltimore City's Dirt Bike Culture is Thriving but Dangerous

I write because I'm curious and love learning something new. This is a subject that sparked my curiosity and I wanted to know more about.

baltimore-citys-dirt-bike-culture-is-thriving-but-dangerous

History

baltimore-citys-dirt-bike-culture-is-thriving-but-dangerous

Motorized bikes arrived in the United States from Europe in the 1970s. Fuel that with Evel Knievel's audience performance stunts which started in 1965, and there you have the start of the dirt bike culture, not only in Baltimore but around the country.

Because these bikes are best ridden on dirt trails and tracks, dirt bike riders were often found riding on public property like state parks.

Farmers, state administrators, and park officials were opposed to these lands being used in this manner, and eventually, by the 1980s, it became illegal to ride on most public state property. That's when the dirt bike riders began riding on the city streets.

Safety Issues

baltimore-citys-dirt-bike-culture-is-thriving-but-dangerous

From the very beginning of the arrival of motorized bikes, safety issues were plentiful with reports of collisions and deaths in Baltimore. Motor vehicle and dirt bike collisions, dirt bike and pedestrian collisions, and dirt bike and dirt bike collisions are all the norm on the streets of Baltimore City.

And, because these riders do not wear helmets or other protective gear, the injuries are much more serious, sometimes ending in fatalities. All-terrain Vehicles (ATVs) have become part of the problem as well.

Two men were killed, in the year 2000, when the dirt bike they were riding slammed into the back of a 10,000-pound delivery truck. The riders were not wearing helmets.

In the summer of 2009, a resident of Towsen sat in his car at a stoplight and watched as a dirt bike rider sped across the intersection and slammed into the front of his car. The rider picked up his bike and rode away, never to be seen again. The Towsen resident was left with a $700 bill to fix his bumper.

In 2015, two dirt bike riders were racing and popping wheelies around the city when they struck and killed a 24-year-old woman who was the mother of a 6-year-old girl. When one of the riders popped a wheelie, the wheel hit the woman in the head, killing her. The riders left the scene and were never caught.

Fast-forward to 2020, three accidents to report. In one report, 4 were injured including a 5-year-old boy that was riding a dirt bike.

Another report tells of a dirt bike rider that was struck by a car and transported to an area hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Yet, another report depicts a woman killed when two dirt bikes collided. None of the involved individuals were wearing helmets.

Dirt bike riding on city streets is a hazard to motorists, pedestrians, and even the dirt bike riders themselves. The fact that sometimes there is no recourse for an injury caused by a dirt bike rider because they leave the scene, is a source of frustration to citizens too.

Law Enforcement Adjustments

baltimore-citys-dirt-bike-culture-is-thriving-but-dangerous

There have been many law enforcement adjustments to try and rid the streets of dirt bikes. As the law in the 1980s banning dirt bike riding on state property pushed dirt bikes onto city streets, the fight since then has been to get dirt bikes out of the city.

After the 2002 accident involving the dirt bike and the truck, a law was finally passed to outlaw dirt bike riding on city streets. However, this did nothing to curtail the dirt bike population. Why? Because the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) has a policy of not pursuing or chasing bikers or motorists due to safety concerns.

In 2008, a law was passed that allowed police to seize any unlocked dirt bike that they see without a warrant.

A police task force, solely dedicated to dirt bike riding, was formed in 2016. Their primary focus was to identify and charge those riding the dirt bikes illegally. Up to 2019, they confiscated more than 800 bikes and nine handguns. In 2021, that task force was dissolved with no explanation.

The current laws regarding dirt bike riding:

  • It is illegal to operate a dirt bike on public or private property in the city of Baltimore.
  • It is illegal to own or possess an unregistered motorcycle or a similar vehicle unless it is securely locked or cannot be moved.
  • It is illegal for parents or guardians to allow a minor to operate a dirt bike.
  • It is illegal for a service station or anyone to sell or dispense fuel into any dirt bike, unregistered motorcycle, or similar vehicle.

Gas stations that willingly allow dirt bikes and other unregistered vehicles to fuel at their stations are subject to a $1,000.00 fine or imprisonment for no more than 90 days.

The BPD has other plans to combat the city's dirt bike riding. They have developed an anonymous tip line for residents that may have any information on suspects or storage locations for dirt bikes.

It is illegal for gasoline-powered machines to be stored in houses. Dirt bike riders will put them in their house to hide them from the police. So if the police get a tip from a resident about this, that can prompt a legal seizure too.

Solutions

baltimore-citys-dirt-bike-culture-is-thriving-but-dangerous

In 2017, discussions began about ideas for a local dirt bike park. Officials even went to visit Pennsylvania dirt bike parks to get ideas on safe places a dirt bike rider would be able to ride legally in Baltimore. To this day, such a park does not exist in Baltimore.

Brittany Young, an elementary school technology instructor, and a former chemical engineer, thought it was a good idea to use bike culture to introduce black children to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

She does this through her granted-funded B-360 program, and she hopes it will decrease street riding in Baltimore, but at the same time, dispel negative perceptions about this popular hobby.

Louis Thomas created a program to turn the passion for street riding into a career in racing. The 3 to 4-week program teaches kids how to race, pit, become a mechanic, and leadership skills. It allows street riders to get off the street and race on the track.

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