Raleigh, N.C. — Moped riders would be required to carry insurance and face other restrictions if the General Assembly follows through on recommendations the state Division of Motor Vehicles will make to a legislative oversight committee Tuesday.
"We would like to see insurance on them," Rep. Phil Shepard, R-Onslow, said Monday, adding that he and Rep. Rayne Brown, R-Davidson, had been studying the issue since last summer. "We feel like we've got some very good information from hospitals that would say we need insurance on them (mopeds)."
Shepard said that drivers should be covered in case they injure themselves in an accident. As well, he said, requiring moped riders to carry insurance would protect other drivers who might be involved in an accident with mopeds.
Lawmakers required moped owners to register their bikes with the state as part of a bill that passed the General Assembly in 2014. That registration requirement was aimed at making moped accidents easier to track and cutting down on theft and other criminal activity. Lawmakers contemplated making an insurance requirement as part of that same bill but dropped it after much debate.
However, Shepard, who was a lead sponsor of last year's measure, says he will push again for an insurance requirement, an idea that apparently has the backing of the DMV, which is poised to make a number of moped-related recommendations to lawmakers on Tuesday, most of which would tighten requirements for riders.
The main difference between mopeds, which must be tagged but do not require a license to drive, and motorcycles, for which drivers must have a license and insurance as well as plates, has to do with size and engine speed. By law, mopeds are not supposed to go faster than than 30 mph.
The DMV estimates some 8,000 mopeds are sold in North Carolina annually, according to a legislative analysis published in 2014. Dealers say many of those are sold to people who lost their license due to drunken driving charges – and the DMV is suggesting some of those riders come off the road.
Prohibiting some moped riders
DMV Commissioner Kelly Thomas is scheduled to address the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Transportation on Tuesday. Figures contained in Thomas' presentation show that Wake and Durham counties are two of the top 10 counties for moped crashes in the state, with nine people killed and 323 more injured during moped accidents in Wake County alone between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 13, 2013.
Of the 105 fatal crashes reported statewide during that same period, alcohol was suspect in 32. That may be why the DMV is recommending that, if a driver has lost his or her license due to an alcohol-related charge, they be prohibited from driving a moped on state roads, just as they would be prohibited from driving a car.
Another slide from the DMV shows that, of 833 moped drivers involved in reported crashes in 2013, 374 had seen their licenses to drive a car suspended or revoked.
A DMV spokesperson declined to comment on the recommendations before they are presented to the committee.
Shepard said he had not looked at a restriction for moped drivers who had seen their licenses for other vehicles revoked. However, he said, the restriction might make sense.
"If you're not safe on the highway in an automobile, what makes you safe on a moped?" he said.
Such a requirement would no doubt be controversial. Chris Brewer, a motorcycle dealer and president of the North Carolina Motorcycle Dealers Association, said that a variety of people, including students and professionals, purchase mopeds for a number of reasons, including saving money on gas and an affordable purchase price. Some people do buy the small bikes as a way to ensure they can get around after going to court for a DWI, he said.
"They lose their license, and they need something for transportation. They just need something to get back and forth to work on," Brewer said.
He had not heard about the DMV proposal on prohibiting people with suspended or revoked licenses from operating mopeds and said it would have an impact both on moped riders and dealers.
"I just can't believe they would do that," he said.
Insurance would raise costs
Brewer said that little has changed in the past six months that would make members of his association see an insurance requirement for all moped drivers as necessary.
According to the North Carolina Rate Bureau, liability insurance premiums for moped riders range from $68 to $450, depending on driving history.
"The whole idea of a moped was to be affordable," Brewer said, adding that requiring riders to carry insurance could price them out of the market.
The oversight committee is scheduled to finalize its report and recommendation to the General Assembly on Tuesday. Lawmakers return to session on Wednesday and are expected to be in session at least until July.