Kevin Shaw says he has had several close calls in traffic while riding his moped to work over the years near the Greenville County line.
“It’s usually people who want to pass you on a solid yellow line on a hill, and a car is coming your way,” he told The Greenville News. “I ride on the side of the road, as close as I can to the curb so they can pass me easy. There is a mutual respect between mopeds and cars that needs to be out there.”
For 55 people, close calls turned deadly last year in South Carolina moped accidents.
According to the state Office of Highway Safety, the 55 deaths are up from 35 in 2014, a 57 percent increase.
That compares to about a 16 percent increase in traffic deaths overall near the end of 2015.
“They are very hard to see,” said Rep. Joseph Daning, a Berkeley County Republican who recently helped push a moped safety bill through the House. “It’s hard enough right now, at 45 or 35 mph to come around the corner and spot one that fast, especially if they don’t have a yellow vest on. They’re just there.”
Tiffany Wright, a spokeswoman for AAA Carolinas, which monitors vehicle safety issues, said low gas prices are pushing drivers of all vehicle types onto roads in increasing numbers.
“It really is convenient for folks to hop on a moped and run errands,” she said. “Traffic deaths as a whole have gone up and that’s a direct correlation with gas prices because we have more folks on the roads due to gas prices being lower than they have been in recent years.”
She said it’s important for motorists to be mindful of mopeds.
“They can’t travel faster than 30 mph,” she said. “And you might have somebody on a moped driving 25 mph ahead of you and motorists don’t realize it. They might be going 55 mph and approach the moped and before they know it that distance has shortened pretty quickly.”
The accidents have become almost routine throughout the state.
In November, a 36-year-old man traveling in Anderson County was driving on U.S. 76, according to troopers, when a vehicle suddenly turned in front of him, causing him to crash into the vehicle.
While he was on the road, two other vehicles struck him. The moped driver died of his injuries and one of the cars involved in the collision drove off without stopping, according to the Highway Patrol.
In October, a 43-year-old Cowpens man was on a moped on US 176 in Spartanburg County when he was struck from behind by a station wagon at 5:45 am. According to the Highway Patrol, the moped driver was pronounced dead at the scene.
And in November, two riders on a moped were struck and killed by an SUV in Florence. The driver of the SUV fled and was later charged with felony DUI and leaving the scene of an accident, according to the Highway Patrol.
Lawmakers for years have proposed ideas to improve the safety of traveling around mopeds, which do not fall under the state’s traffic laws, but the ideas have yet to translate into law. Legislators in the last year have filed bills to require safety equipment, such as reflective vests and special rear lights to enable drivers to better see mopeds.
The House-passed bill classifies mopeds as motor vehicles, requiring registration, insurance, operator’s licenses and for drivers to follow all traffic laws.
A provision to limit mopeds to streets with speed limits no higher than 35 mph was cut from the bill, after opponents argued that moped owners sometimes need to cross highways where the speed limits are 55.
The bill would also prohibit moped drivers from operating a moped if they had their driver’s license suspended or revoked, which has drawn opposition from some legislators and Upstate moped dealers who say many people who are poor or without licenses depend on mopeds to get to jobs.
Daning said he considers the House legislation a safety bill.
“I’m hoping if we can get through the Senate we can see a reduction in moped accidents,” he said.
Wright said the AAA also supports safety legislation for mopeds.
“We’ve always been behind that legislation,” she said. “That entire chapter in state law books, it needs work. We are in favor of the license requirement. We want to see these mopeds registered. All of these things as far as legislation, we’re in favor of.”