The news regarding highway safety in South Carolina is mostly good – with one notable exception: Fatalities involving mopeds or similar scooters are way up.
As of July 4, 357 people had died on the state’s roads, one more than during the same period last year, which ended with a fatality count of 734, a sizable drop from 2012. One signficant reason for the drop undoubtedly is the widespread use of seatbelts.
Figures show that, for the third year in a row, at least 90 percent of the state’s drivers are buckling up. The percentage of those dying in accidents without seatbelts has dropped from about 55 percent last year to about 49 percent so far this year, according to data from the state Department of Public Safety.
Even motorcyclists are faring better with 35 deaths so far this year compared with 54 for the same period last year. Sadly, though, fatalities for those riding scooters increased from seven for the first half of last year to 18 for the first half of this year.
Mopeds and similar scooters are not licensed vehicles. They are closer to being in the category of motorized bicycles.
Because they aren’t licensed, those with suspended driver’s licenses, such as drivers convicted of DUI charges, can use mopeds to get around. And, with the rising cost of gasoline, many people are choosing to drive scooters to save money because they can get 60 to 75 miles to the gallon.
While some sophisticated scooters are capable of reaching speeds of nearly 80 mph, most putter along at less than 40 mph. That can make them something of a nuisance for drivers of larger vehicles who are in a hurry.
That poses a danger to scooter riders. And they often are at increased danger because they aren’t wearing helmets or other protective gear.
Legislatros introduced bills this year to regulate mopeds but none passed. One that covered both scooters and bicycles was withdrawn after bicycle riders strongly objected.
The fundamental problem, which is hard to address legislatively, is that mopeds and similar scooters are short, slow and sometimes hard to see, especially at night.
One way to make scooters safer might be to give them the same protections as bicycles. They could be permitted in exclusive bike lanes and sharrows.
Sharrows are used on streets where there is not enough room on the side of the road for a bike lane. If a cyclist is using a sharrow, drivers are supposed to move to the left lane to safely pass the cyclist.
We suspect that many people who take up scooter riding assume that it’s a kid-toy version of a motorcycle that requires no special skills to ride. But riding any two-wheeled vehicle is different from driving a car and requires training and practice.
One way to improve scooter safety might be to require riders to take a training course.
Ultimately, though, we might have to accept the fact that scooters are inherently risky and, as long as they remian unlicensed, hard to regulate. Those considering taking up scooter riding also might want to weigh the dangers along with the advantage of cheap gas.
With all the good news about highway safety, we would hate to see the fatality rate for moped riders grow even worse. But as long as more and more people decide to ride mopeds on a regular basis, the death toll is almost certain to rise.