Politics & Government

Require helmets, reflective vests? SC lawmakers revive moped bill

Moped rules and safety tips

Mopeds are on the rise in Columbia as parking diminishes. Here are a few tips to keep you riding.
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Mopeds are on the rise in Columbia as parking diminishes. Here are a few tips to keep you riding.

As S.C. moped-related collisions and deaths continue to rise, a group of state lawmakers plans to take another swing at moped laws they call slack and loophole-ridden.

State Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, and state Rep. Bill Crosby, R-Charleston, have revived a wide-sweeping, two-dozen-page moped safety proposal that nearly became state law last summer.

“Nothing has changed except more people have died,” Hembree said. S.C. moped-related deaths reached a five-year high last year, and early data indicates 2016 will see no substantial drop-off. “I’m trying to get it pushed through as fast as we can.”

Require helmets or safety vests?

Hembree and Crosby have prefiled bills in each State House chamber that would require moped drivers to register with the Department of Motor Vehicles, follow the same traffic rules as all other vehicles and wear reflective vests at night.

The proposal, criticized by some lawmakers last year as convoluted and onerous, also would mandate moped drivers younger than 21 years old wear a helmet.

It would would give mopeds a single definition under state law. That is needed, legislators say, because conflicting definitions make laws involving mopeds unenforceable.

Hembree’s bill also raises the minimum legal age to drive a moped to 15. Crosby’s leaves it at 14.

Two other House members, Reps. Mike Ryhal and Alan Clemmons of Horry, are proposing to require moped drivers and passengers wear reflective vests and equip their vehicles with a constantly flashing tail-light for visibility.

Lawmakers and advocates point to a number of factors, among them:

▪  Mopeds are growing in popularity because of their low cost and high fuel efficiency

▪  They are harder to see than other vehicles, especially at night

▪  They move slowly on roads with high speed limits, especially in rural areas

▪  Mopeds are held to lower legal standards than other vehicles

For example, moped drivers cannot be charged with driving under the influence because the so-called “liquor cycles” are not considered “motor vehicles” under South Carolina law.

No training is required to operate them, and users as young as 14 years old can apply for a moped-specific license.

Mopeds also need only generic tags issued by the dealer, making it tougher for law enforcement to track down their owners.

Death toll rising

The bills are the latest in a push over the past few years to shore up so-called soft spots in S.C. moped laws some blame for the rising death toll on S.C. roadways.

That toll reached at least a five-year high last year. Forty-five people died in moped collisions in 2015, up from 21 in 2010 and 12 in 2001, according to DMV data.

The number of moped-related collisions in the Palmetto State also reached a new high, up to 819 in 2015 from 618 in 2010 and 167 in 2001, data show.

Preliminary data indicates 2016 will see no substantial drop-off, if any at all.

“Lives are being lost needlessly with not a whole lot of regulation,” Hembree said.

Hembree said he has tried to get a moped bill passed for four years. Crosby has worked on it for three, since local law enforcement agencies approached him asking for support.

“We’ve had so many of the law enforcement people coming to us wanting us to do it,” Crosby said. “And so many people riding mopeds are getting killed.”

The bill also has support from medical groups, such as the Trauma Association of South Carolina.

“We as trauma centers in South Carolina, because (mopeds) are not regulated, see enumerable patients that are not licensed or do not have a license to operate a motor vehicle, coming in with horrible injuries because they’re not helmeted or they may be driving under the influence,” said Amy Hamrick, president-elect of that organization and Spartanburg Medical Center’s trauma program manager. “A lot of these accidents happen at night, and they’re not identified, so you can’t really see them, and they’re getting hit by cars.”

Bumpy road

The proposal had critics last year.

Republican S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed the bill last session, decrying as “government overreach” the provisions that required helmets and reflective vests.

As lawmakers scrambled to override the veto, House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, and state Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, complained the proposed requirements would be cumbersome for moped riders.

Rutherford added the bill was too complicated, that moped riders wouldn’t know they were breaking the law until being pulled over. Dangerous moped drivers “usually are only dangerous to themselves,” he said.

The House voted to override, but the bill met its demise in the Senate when Malloy delayed a vote by asking the Senate to go to other matters while he held the floor. He later filibustered another proposal until the Senate adjourned, ending the session.

This week, Malloy objected to a characterization he blocked the legislation. He said he is not “against all aspects of a moped bill,” only certain requirements, including the reflective vests.

“Whenever you start requiring them to wear a certain jacket, a certain color or those kinds of things, that is unacceptable and tantamount to being un-American,” Malloy said. “When you are putting a burden on the people that are generally challenged, it’s an unnecessary burden.”

Hembree and others, though, are optimistic ahead of the start of the session in January. The bill already has been vetted by both chambers and already has made it as far as the governor’s desk, they say.

“Last year was awful darn close,” Hembree said.

“A lot of the lawmakers up there now have realized so many people are getting killed,” said Crosby. “There’s so many accidents. They’re getting pressured by their local law enforcement people.”

Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks

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