Mo-peds, the two-wheeled motorbikes that putt-putt down the road at about the same speed as a bicycle, have existed in legal limbo for decades. But now, with the rising number of mo-peds on the road and the rising number of mo-ped fatalities, some say it is time to regulate them more closely.
Unfortunately, finding the right legal niche for these vehicles is difficult. Overregulating them might negate the unique purpose they now serve.
Mo-peds currently are exempt from most state traffic laws. Anyone with a South Carolina drivers license is eligible to drive one, and mo-ped drivers 14 and older without a drivers license can apply for a special $25 license that requires only passing a 25-question test.
Mo-peds also are exempt from state driving-under-the-influence laws. It is no secret that mo-peds often are driven by those who have had their licenses suspended because of a DUI offense. Anyone who has had a regular drivers license suspended after a first DUI offence can get a mo-ped license.
But evidence suggests that many people have started using mo-peds to get around because the vehicles, at around $1,000 or less, are relatively cheap and because they average 80 to 100 miles per gallon of gas. In the past five years, the number of mo-ped licenses issued has more than doubled, to 8,603.
Because anyone with a regular license can drive one, that number probably doesnt come close to reflecting the number of mo-peds actually on the road. And, as the number of mo-peds has increased, so have the fatalities for mo-ped drivers.
In one year, S.C. mo-ped fatalities jumped 54 percent, to 37 in 2012 from 24 in 2011. In most cases, according to the S.C. Department of Public Safety, this often has been the result of slow-moving mo-peds being hit from behind at night by cars or trucks.
The state Office of Highway Safety and Justice Programs will launch a $200,000 safety campaign aimed at mo-ped riders this spring. State troopers will stop mo-ped riders to talk with them about visibility and advise them to wear reflective clothing and take other precautions.
But some troopers also would like lawmakers to revise the law so that drunken mo-ped drivers could be charged with DUI. Currently, some troopers and local law enforcement officers are stopping mo-ped drivers who appear to be drunk and are charging them with public intoxication to get them off the road.
This is a tough call. One reason mo-peds are exempt from DUI laws is that mo-ped drivers, chugging along at a maximum of around 30 mph, pose more of a hazard to themselves than to pedestrians or other vehicles.
They do provide practical transportation for people who cant afford a car. And, lets face it, they are a workable alternative for people who have had their drivers licenses suspended.
But they also pose a danger on roads where speed limits exceed 30 mph. And they are a nuisance to those driving cars, trucks and motorcycles.
Should mo-peds be beefed up so they can go 45 mph? That might be one answer, but it would make them even more dangerous if the driver is drunk or inexperienced.
Should officers be given the authority to charge mo-ped drivers with DUI? That might be worth considering
But, practically speaking, many drivers who have had their licenses suspended because of a DUI often drive anyway. Would residents prefer that they drive mo-peds or cars?
Again, the mo-ped drivers pose a far greater risk to themselves than the general public. Considering that, the state is completely justified in launching a mo-ped safety campaign.
Lawmakers also need to consider ways to reduce the hazard of mo-peds on roads where they cant keep pace with car and truck traffic.