South Carolina is on course to tighten its moped laws under a bill headed to Gov. Nikki Haley last week.
The measure approved in a 68-31 late-hour House vote Thursday would require moped drivers and passengers to wear a reflective vest, while those under age 21 must also wear a helmet. For the first time, South Carolina would also require a special moped operator’s license for those who do not otherwise have a driver’s license and will also require registration and a license plate.
The new changes would not take effect until next year, with the license and registration requirements taking effect in July 2017. Supporters say the changes are needed as the number of moped-related deaths has steadily increased on South Carolina roads.
“This is really a safety issue,” State Rep. Joe Daning, R-Goose Creek, said. “We’re trying to protect them and the people that may hit them and cause them an accident.”
A state Department of Public Safety spokesman said 50 fatalities were reported in South Carolina last year, but warned those numbers are not yet final.
South Carolina law has not previously treated mopeds as “motor vehicles,” meaning drivers did not need a license and were not subject to DUI laws. Daning and others argued that created dangerous conditions along roads.
But opponents argued lawmakers were targeting a segment of drivers who are likely low-income or had their license revoked and have no other way to get to their jobs.
State Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, doubted moped drivers would even be aware of the changes until they are pulled over after the law takes effect. “We are changing something in a rather dramatic fashion that I did not think was broken. And we are doing so because there are a number of lawmakers that were simply mad at people who drive mopeds.”
Rutherford said he believes the legislature would be better served by addressing those factors that force people to use mopeds in the first place. He thinks the increase in deaths is because more people buy mopeds as an alternative form of transportation.
Under the legislation, moped operators would still be able to apply for a license even if their driver’s license was revoked. However, they could lose that license accordingly for future violations committed while on the moped. The bill does expand some rights for moped drivers, allowing them onto roads with a 55 MPH speed limit instead of the current 45 MPH.