Raleigh, N.C. — House lawmakers are weighing a proposal to require moped operators to have license plates and insurance.
The measure, House Bill 1145, won its first vote Tuesday in the House Transportation Committee, but some lawmakers assailed the measure as unfairly targeting people who have no other option.
Mopeds, which include motor scooters and electric bicycles, are two- or three-wheeled vehicles that cannot exceed 30 mph. They are not currently subject to any of the testing, licensing, registration, inspection or insurance requirements that apply to other vehicles. They're often used by people who cannot afford a car or who have lost their driver's licenses, sometimes due to driving while impaired convictions.
Sponsor Rep. Phil Shepard, R-Onslow, said he's received many complaints from people who get into accidents with moped drivers and find their own insurance must cover the cost of damages because the moped isn't required to have coverage.
The bill would require moped owners carry bodily injury, property damage and liability insurance, which Shepard said he was told would probably cost about $65 a year.
To register the moped, the owner would have to provide a manufacturer's certificate of origin, which is like a title for a car. If the owner doesn't have one, he or she would have to go through a Division of Motor Vehicles inspection to obtain a registration and plates. The cost would be $18.
Co-sponsor Rep. Rayne Brown, R-Davidson, said the state saw a 290 percent increase in motor scooter crashes between 2003 and 2012 as use of the small vehicles became more common. Almost 850 crashes, she said, involved a moped and a motor vehicle.
"They are running into people. They are doing damage to their personal property. They have no insurance. A lot of the time, we don't even know who these people are," said Brown.
The bill, she stressed, does not require a driver's license for moped drivers.
"We know that that is the way – if you've had your license taken away for a DWI, that's really the only way many folks can get to work," she said. "We don't want to take away their ability to make a new start and to contribute to this state."
The requirements would take effect July 1, 2015.
Critics of the bill argued at length that it penalizes people who are already struggling.
"Nobody wants to be on a moped. They're trying to get to work," said Rep Michael Stone, R-Lee, who has sold mopeds in the past. "Everybody that drives a moped is not a drunk. There's a lot of hardworking people just trying to get by."
Stone pointed out that golf carts are involved in accidents, too, but rules for those are left up to each community.
"You know why that is? Because rich people drive golf carts," he said.
Rep. Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, asked whether a moped driver with a previous DWI conviction might have to pay more than the $65 estimate for insurance.
Tim Lucas with the state Department of Insurance explained that, in cases where a driver owns another vehicle, the driver's points and resulting higher rates would affect the insurance cost for the other vehicle first.
However, Lucas later explained to WRAL News, if the moped is the driver's only vehicle, then the DWI record would very likely increase the cost of insurance for the moped.
Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, said bicycles are just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than mopeds.
"I've always been uncomfortable with licensing mopeds," Cleveland said. "We've left the mopeds alone for the simple reason that there are thousands and thousands of North Carolina citizens that use them to support their families. I think, at this point, we should not start down that road."
"We're seeing the consequences of leaving the mopeds alone," Brown replied. "It's a growing problem."
The bill also directs the state to study whether additional changes are needed to ensure that mopeds are being operated safely.
Fred Baggett with the state Police Chiefs Association said his group has supported registration of mopeds for a long time. He said they're increasingly being used in the commission of crimes.
"If there's a license plate, it can be traced to a registrant," Baggett told the committee.
John Hill, a moped dealer speaking for the Motorcycle Vehicle and Electric Vehicle Association, said his group is in favor of registration but opposed to requiring insurance. He said Virginia is requiring all mopeds to have license plates as of July 1, but neither Virginia nor South Carolina requires insurance or a driver's license.
The measure passed the committee 17-13 and goes next to the House Finance Committee.