New moped laws close DUI loophole
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, email@example.com
Mopeds are a common sight on Darlington County roads, and new state laws designed to increase safety and responsibility for moped drivers are now in effect.
As of Nov. 19, the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (SCDMV) officially considers mopeds as motor vehicles, which means owners must register their mopeds and acquire a license plate. The price tag is fairly low for these new requirements: a moped license costs $25 and remains valid for eight years, and the registration fee is $10.
These new designations close an existing loophole where drivers who lost their licenses after DUI convictions could legally drive mopeds. Now moped drivers must have a valid license, and those who violate traffic laws – including driving while intoxicated – are subject to charges and arrest, just like other vehicle drivers.
“Under the old law, a moped was not considered a vehicle . . . and we were unable to charge anyone on a moped with DUI,” says Capt. Michael Cook with the Darlington Police Department. “It was impossible, and if you tried, it got thrown out as soon as it got (to court) because it was not deemed a vehicle.”
With the change in classification, moped operators must now abide by South Carolina DUI and Per Se Zero Tolerance laws, which apply when a driver’s blood alcohol content tests at or above 0.08 percent, regardless of their actual level of impairment.
You must be at least 15 to get a moped license. If you are 16 or younger, you may operate a moped alone only during daylight hours. At night, you must be accompanied by a licensed driver 21 or older and has at least one year of driving experience. You must pass a written test, though a road skills test is not required for a moped license.
Mopeds still do not have to carry insurance, and moped owners do not owe property taxes to their county of residence, says the SCDMV website. Mopeds that are purchased on and after Nov. 19 must also pay the infrastructure maintenance fee (IMF) if it’s not collected when purchasing the moped. The IMF owed is equal to 5 percent of the purchase price, but it will be no more than $500.
According to the South Carolina Highway Patrol, 41 people died in 785 moped-related crashes during 2017. To help address this danger, these laws impose new safety regulations as well. Drivers and riders under 21 must wear helmets, and mopeds must ride exclusively in the far right lane unless they are turning left. Reflective safety vests are not required, but SCDMV advises their use in order to increase visibility, especially when driving after dark.
Registration will make it easier for law enforcement to track and locate stolen mopeds, and to trace vehicles involved in collisions back to their owners or drivers. The law does not require moped owners to title their vehicles, but getting a title offers extra protection in case of theft. To obtain a title, you must bring the model name, serial or other identifying number, date of sale, total cubic centimeters or wattage for engine, new or used condition, manufacturer’s certificate of origin or previous title, and complete a SCDMV Form 400-M. A moped title costs $15.
You can get more information on these regulations and download registration forms at scdmvonline.com.
Illegal golf cart operation also carries new penalties under these laws. You may drive a golf cart only on secondary roads (speed limit of no more than 35 mph) within four miles of the registered owner’s house. Drivers must be at least 16 and have a valid regular driver’s license, and golf carts cannot be driven on roadways at night. Violations will now be considered misdemeanors, punishable with fines or up to 30 days imprisonment.
Cook says that while the Darlington Police Department is giving moped drivers a few weeks to obtain licenses and registrations, that grace period will not last very long. He advises moped drivers to gather their paperwork and get legal as soon as possible to avoid getting ticketed.
“Our officers do have discretion, but we will be enforcing this because it’s for the good of everyone on the roadway,” says Cook. “If we stop you and you don’t have a tag, we may just give you a warning. But the next time we stop you, if you still don’t have a tag, you may not get that warning.”