Salisbury officials plan to crack down on dirt bike riders who are known for performing dangerous maneuvers on city streets, including wheelies and weaving in and out of traffic at high speed.
At a work session Monday evening, City Council members told of close calls they have had with the bikers, including Councilman Muir Boda who said he had to swerve to avoid a collision and “missed a telephone pole by inches.”
Council President Jack Heath said he, too, had a frightening encounter.
“I’ve seen them in action very close up,” he said. “Someone is going to get seriously hurt.”
Catching the culprits is not easy, Police Chief Barbara Duncan told council members. Dirt bikers are usually accompanied by a chase car that will pick up an injured rider and the disabled bike in the event of an accident. By the time police arrive, they are long gone.
“It is a huge problem,” she said. And officers pursuing the bikers through city streets is “very problematic to say the least.”
Heath suggested members of the public can help by snapping a photo of chase cars or getting a tag number.
Councilwoman April Jackson said she met with a group of dirt bikers several years ago to discuss their disregard for safety, but didn’t make much progress in getting her point across.
“I feel like we’re actually being tormented,” she said. “I see it every single day.”
Mayor Jake Day said problems caused by dirt bikes were discussed during a recent meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“The biggest takeaway was no one had an answer,” he said.
Police currently lack the ability to seize unregistered dirt bikes unless they are tied to a particular crime, but that could be changed through legislation, Duncan said.
Boda suggested Salisbury look at an ordinance from Baltimore City which he said “has some teeth to it.” That legislation prohibits riding a dirt bike or any unregistered vehicle on city streets. It also prohibits anyone from possessing a dirt bike unless it is securely locked or immobilized.
It also allows police to seize the bikes and prohibits service stations from selling fuel for them.
Boda also suggested the city needs to work with neighboring jurisdictions since the bikers often travel outside Salisbury limits.
While council members seemed ready to proceed with drafting legislation to reign in the dirt bikers, Amber Green, a community activist and member of the city’s Youth Development Advisory Committee, asked them to allow a one-year grace period to educate the bikers and help get them registered.
Dirt bikes are part of Eastern Shore culture, and the city should find a place for the riders to go, much as they did for skateboarders by creating a space for them in the City Park, she said.
But Heath and other council members told Green there will be no grace period. The unregistered bikes are already against the law and their riders likely aren’t interested in a space created just for them.
“They get their thrills making people upset,” he said.
“They just want to do what they’re doing -- tearing people’s nerves up,” she said.