A driver who is uninsured and under the influence of alcohol, who doesn't have a driver's license and who hasn't paid taxes on his vehicle could go home with a pocket full of citations. Unless he's driving a moped. Then motoring laws don't apply.

But he is running an increasing risk of going home with grave injuries - or being taken to the morgue instead.

The tired excuses South Carolina legislators have offered in past years for failing to regulate mopeds for the safety of their operators are not acceptable.

And the grim statistics about rising moped fatalities in South Carolina should shame those who have dragged their feet to impose regulations on moped use.

Mopeds are two-wheelers with motors no larger than 50cc and which travel 30 miles per hour, tops. Their popularity is growing because they are far less expensive to buy and operate than cars or trucks. They can be bought for less than $1,000 and can get 100 miles per gallon of gas. They also can slip into tiny parking spaces.

Sadly, another reason for their popularity is that people whose driver's licenses have been suspended for six months or less, often for driving under the influence, are allowed to operate a moped legally.

Critics of increased regulation say that mopeds are the only way some people can afford to get to and from their workplaces if they are poor or if they have had their licenses suspended. They say the licensing and registration fees can pose an unnecessary obstacle.

Nevertheless, other states have begun trying to tighten laws regulating mopeds. A North Carolina bill that would have required moped owners to pay a $40 title fee and a smaller registration fee, and fasten a license plate to their vehicles passed the House but didn't make it through the Senate.

In contrast, Indiana joined neighboring states Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky this year in requiring that mopeds have license plates. Drivers will need to take a sign test.

Virginia passed a law last year that requires mopeds to be titled and registered and display a license plate. Operators must have a government-issued photo ID, and all riders must wear helmets and eye protection while on a public road.

But what about South Carolina? Our legislators failed to pass a bill that would subject moped drivers to DUI laws (from which they are exempt because mopeds are not considered motor vehicles under S.C. law - although that is exactly what they are).

And why should children as young as 14 be allowed to operate mopeds on roads and highways? They are too young to drive cars, and they're too young to drive mopeds.

It seems some people continue to see mopeds as toys. They're not. Already this year, 20 people in South Carolina have died in moped accidents.

And while requiring owners to register mopeds might not make them any safer, it would help law enforcement officers if the moped is involved in an accident or used in a crime. And it would be fair in that motorcycles, cars and trucks must be registered. All operate on public roads and highways.

Regulating the operation of mopeds does not diminish their usefulness. Indeed, it adds accountability to an alternate form of transportation.

And as the moped death rate grows, it is essential to enhance their safe operation.