- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The debate over regulating mopeds in North Carolina resumed Tuesday as legislators heard new rule suggestions from the Division of Motor Vehicles just months after the General Assembly mandated owners register the vehicles.

DMV Commissioner Kelly Thomas said lawmakers also may consider requiring moped or motor scooter operators to have a driver’s license or state identification card and to obtain liability insurance. Mopeds should be prohibited from roads where posted speed limits are at least 45 mph, Thomas added.

Seventy-seven of the 115 reported fatal crashes in North Carolina involving a moped or motor scooter from 2009 through 2013 were on roads with speed limits at or above 45 mph, a DMV presentation said.

“Most fatalities are at higher-speed roads, and it’s kind of a no-brainer,” Thomas told the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee. “A low-speed vehicle on a high-speed road will lose.”

The General Assembly has been weighing for years the benefits of moped regulation on traffic safety versus the needs of low-cost travel. Mopeds are often an alternative for those who’ve lost driving privileges.

The recommendations, which Thomas said were based on crash data and what other states already regulate, also would prevent someone from operating a moped with a driver’s license that was revoked or suspended due to impaired driving. The committee didn’t vote on the recommendations, which would have to be approved by the full legislature. This year’s session reconvenes Wednesday.

Starting July 1, owners must provide paperwork showing the vehicle is built to meet moped standards and pay an $18 fee. A moped engine can’t be more than 50 cubic centimeters. Some lawmakers are concerned more restrictions might go too far.

“I think we all recognize the benefit of allowing people who’ve made a mistake to have some way to get to work,” said Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, and a committee member. Limiting moped use to lower-speed roads would essentially prevent their use in rural areas, Daniel added.

Lawmakers have been concerned the state has little information about the number of mopeds and how many are actually souped up as motorcycles. State law currently says mopeds can’t be built to travel more than 30 mph on a level road. Liability insurance for a moped currently ranges in North Carolina from $68 to $450 annually, said Tim Lucas with the North Carolina Rate Bureau.

John Hill, a moped dealer and member of the North Carolina Motorcycle Dealers Association, said the insurance requirement will discourage moped sales, particularly among young people who need transportation around town or a college campus. But insurance rates for other drivers go up due to accidents involving mopeds whose drivers have no insurance, said Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell.

The five-year DMV crash data presented Tuesday to lawmakers identified more than 3,800 crashes involving mopeds or motor scooters, although state traffic engineer Kevin Lacy cautioned accidents were likely underreported.

The most crashes occurred in Wake (357), Guilford (236) and Buncombe (205) counties, but accidents also were high in more rural counties such as Gaston, Catawba and Iredell.

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NC DMV moped crash analysis and recommendations: https://bit.ly/1uZYjpj

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