Stalled moped legislation finally ends its cycle

May 22, 2017

Gov. Henry McMaster deserves a lot of credit for signing a measure into law that should’ve been signed a long time ago.

McMaster signed a bill that tightens regulations governing moped operation. The measure includes important provisions, even though it doesn’t go as far as we would’ve liked. Nonetheless, pumping the brakes on delay after delay was a refreshing change of pace from previous efforts to regulate mopeds.

According to the new law, which takes effect in November 2018, mopeds are now classified as motor vehicles, the same as cars, trucks, and SUVs. This is a critical provision because technically speaking there was no real accountability for moped operators, some of whom may have been driving drunk. Intoxicated drivers can now be prosecuted. Also the measure requires helmets for teenaged moped drivers.

Moped drivers can be “stinking drunk on a moped and can’t be arrested,” Sen. Greg Hembree, R-North Myrtle Beach, a leading co-sponsor of the bill, said in an interview with the Associated Press.

The new law also restricts mopeds to roads where the speed limit is less than 55 mph. This keeps them off of interstates, as well as most rural highways where the speed limits are often set at 55 to 60 mph.

Here in Aiken, when the legislation takes effect, means mopeds would be disallowed on stretches of Jefferson Davis Highway, Columbia Highway and the interstates. They also would not be allowed on portions of the bypass, including Robert M. Bell Parkway, where an Aiken Standard journalist observed a moped traveling in a 55 mph zone as recently as late last week.

Some of us may chuckle at the notion that moped drivers present a danger, but the truth is they really do.

While in most instances, mopeds may seem generally incapable of inflicting mass trauma or property damage, wayward mopeds do present a danger to the persons operating them. Also the natural instinct of any driver observing a moped on a collision course with them is to veer out of the way to avoid a collision, sometimes leading the driver to over-correct, resulting in injuries or worse.

Driving drunk on mopeds is still driving drunk. The practice should be illegal, and the new law accomplishes that.

We were disappointed, though, that a provision that would have required moped drivers to wear reflective vest was stricken.

Due to their compact size and lack of adequate lighting, mopeds are incredibly difficult to spot. This is especially true at night. Requiring moped drivers to wear reflective vests would have gone a long way to making them easier to spot for motorists sharing the road.

The reflective vest provision was a polarizing provision, prompting several lawmakers to block, and eventually Gov. Nikki Haley, to veto moped law reform.

Opponents viewed the reflective vest as government overreach, which is one reason why it was removed from the final version of the bill. Taking it out was a compromise reached in order to push through other needed reforms. In this context, we remain supportive because some form is better than no reform at all.

The statistics don’t lie.

According to S.C. Department of Public Safety figures reported by the AP, 41 moped drivers were killed last year in 785 crashes. More than 80 percent resulted in injuries, the AP reported.

Those numbers are unacceptable. Collisions are going to happen and human error is always going to be in play, but if tightening moped regulations cuts fatality figures even in half, then the new law will have been worth it.