February 13, 2016

House panel advances bill that bans drunken driving on mopeds

South Carolina lawmakers are moving forward with legislation that would allow moped drivers to be charged with drunken driving.

SC Rep Derham Cole (R-Spartanburg) FILE

SC Rep Derham Cole (R-Spartanburg) FILE

Currently, South Carolina has an exemption in state law that does not classify mopeds as “motor vehicles.” As a result, their drivers cannot be prosecuted for operating a moped under the influence.

A House Judiciary subcommittee advanced a bill Wednesday that would classify mopeds as “motor vehicles” under the state’s DUI laws. The vote was unanimous among the panel of two Republicans and one Democrat. The proposal now heads to the full Judiciary Committee next week.

“I’m not sure why this exemption was carved into law,” State Rep. Derham Cole (R-Spartanburg) said afterwards. “But I think it’s important to correct because we’re getting input from law enforcement and solicitors’ offices that are saying we can’t charge these folks with DUI because of this statutory exemption.”

He said the law would not require moped drivers to purchase insurance or get a driver’s license. Law enforcement officials say drivers whose licenses are suspended often turn to mopeds for transportation. However, they also include drivers with short commutes who are just trying to save gas money.

Executive Director of the SC Law Enforcement Officers Association Jerrod Bruder warned that highway fatalities are slowly on the rise in South Carolina after several years of declines. He said part of the reason is due to the increased use of mopeds. However, a representative of the South Carolina Department of Public Safety told South Carolina Radio Network that his agency does not keep track of moped fatalities because they are not considered “motor vehicles.”

An identical bill passed the House last year, but did not make it to a vote in the Senate. Cole said he thinks time just ran out. He’s hoping that action early in the sessir will get the bill all the way through this time.

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