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Regulate mopeds, save lives

  • Updated
Moped deaths increase 57 percent in 1 year in South Carolina Moped regulations pick up speed in S.C. House

Mopeds are an increasingly popular mode of transportation in the state and in Charleston, where they can be spotted crossing the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. The Office of Highay Safety reports 55 people died in moped accidents in the state in 2015. File/staff

Thanks, South Carolina, for the freedom to climb on a moped and buzz off without a worry, the breeze in your hair. But at what cost?

Fifty-five moped riders died statewide in 2015, up from 35 deaths in 2014 and 24 in 2013.

That’s why, with the Legislature back in session, it’s high time that lawmakers pass a moped safety bill to bring the state closer in line with common sense and the laws in neighboring states.

As it is, moped riders here don’t need a special license if they already have a regular drivers license. They aren’t required to register with the Department of Motor Vehicles and don’t need insurance.

Adult moped riders can’t be charged with drunken driving under S.C. law, since mopeds aren’t technically motor vehicles. And there’s no law that says people whose licenses have been suspended for DUI can’t ride mopeds.

Further, just about any 14-year-old, with parental permission, may get a license and ride without a helmet.

By contrast, North Carolina now requires moped riders to be at least 16, to wear a helmet, get a drivers license and maintain liability insurance.

While moped deaths have been increasing steadily, South Carolina laws haven’t changed in 30 years.

South Carolina’s legal definition of moped is as outdated as its laws regulating them. By law, mopeds cannot exceed 2 horsepower or 30 mph. But those two-wheelers are relatively rare nowadays, making it a tough call for police to distinguish between mopeds and more powerful scooters — legally motorcycles.

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Because mopeds are slow, they are often struck from the rear. In a fatal nighttime accident on the Ravenel Bridge last November, police estimated the moped was going about 25 mph and the auto that struck it was going 65 mph.

Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed moped legislation last year, saying it was “government overreach” to require helmets on riders younger than 21 and reflective vests at night. House members were able to override the veto, but the session ended before the Senate got a chance to vote on the override, as Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, argued against the bill.

Governor-in-waiting Henry McMaster should not stand in the way of the proposed safety bill, which is virtually unchanged from last year.

“I would say we’ve got a darn good chance,” said Sen. Gregg Hembree, R-North Myrtle Beach, who has spearheaded previous efforts and prefiled a 2017 bill, along with Rep. Bill Crosby, R-North Charleston.

Closing the loophole that allows those convicted of drunken driving to ride a moped and avoid prosecution for tipsy two-wheeling seems like a no-brainer. And helmets for riders younger than 21 and safety vests at night are reasonable precautions.

Sen. Hembree says the pending bill, backed by law enforcement, can be enacted at little cost — to moped riders or the government. It would require two-year tags for $10, which would help law enforcement keep track of mopeds, and nighttime riders would have to wear reflective vests, which can be bought for less than $10.

If common sense won’t sway the Legislature, maybe Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney can. He railed against South Carolina’s lax laws when freshman defensive end Xavier Kelly, who was not wearing a helmet, was sidelined because of moped accident last year.

Had the under-21 helmet law been on the books, Mr. Kelly, who suffered a gash on the back of his head, would have been required to wear a helmet because he was just 18 at the time.

Legislators should tackle the bill right off the bat, sort out their differences and get ahead of the curve. Fuel-sipping mopeds will only become more popular as gasoline prices rise.

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