WRAL Investigates

Drunken mo-ped drivers dangerous, but could licenses kill industry?

Posted July 2, 2012

— Trauma surgeon Dr. A. Britton Christmas was working early one chilly morning when a drunken mo-ped driver came into the emergency room after a crash. Why was the man driving a mo-ped at 3 a.m. in cold weather, the doctor asked. His license had been revoked. As the doctor soon discovered, this man wasn’t the only drunken driver taking to two wheels, unlicensed.

North Carolina is one of only a handful of states that doesn't require a license, registration and insurance for mo-peds. Most states require at least one of them and, in some cases, allow drivers with a revoked license to get a special mo-ped permit.

Christmas and at least one state senator are hoping to toughen North Carolina's laws to make sure drunken drivers aren’t able to mount mo-peds so easily. But others, especially mo-ped dealers, worry that tougher laws could kill the industry.

In 2010, the latest year for which statistics are available, North Carolina authorities suspected impairment of mo-ped drivers in 10.5 percent of the crashes they were involved in – a rate four times higher than passenger car and SUV drivers and three times higher than pickup drivers, according to statewide crash data.

Mo-ped crashes in the state are on the rise, from 239 in 2001 to 671 in 2010, the data shows. During the same time frame, crashes involving passenger cars, pickups, minivans and bicycles all went down in North Carolina.

Back in the emergency room, the doctor treating the drunken mo-ped driver decided it was time to investigate.

“This kind of prompted us to start looking into these mo-ped operators, because we began to think that most of the mo-ped operators coming in were intoxicated,” said Christmas, an associate professor of surgery at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte.

Christmas and his fellow researchers released several reports, including:

The group researched 65 mo-ped drivers involved in crashes and found that 49 percent had alcohol in their system, 45 percent had a previous driving while impaired charge and 33 percent had multiple DWIs.

Drunken mo-ped drivers arrested, killed

In May, Wake County deputies stopped mo-ped driver Larry Williams on Western Boulevard in Raleigh, near North Carolina State University, and found that he had three misdemeanor DWI convictions on his record since September.

The deputy noted that Williams had slurred speech and stumbled getting off the mo-ped on the side of the road. A breath test revealed he had a 0.22 blood-alcohol content, nearly three times the level at which drivers are considered impaired under North Carolina law, prompting authorities to charge him with felony habitual drunk driving.

Doctor: Strengthen mo-ped laws to stop drunken drivers Doctor: Strengthen mo-ped laws to stop drunken drivers

Since January 2011, Raleigh police have charged 33 mo-ped drivers with DWI. More than 60 percent of those were repeat offenders, which is higher than the national rate of all repeat offenders. Studies put the re-offending number between 30 and 40 percent.

While those drivers were charged, the outcome can be much worse.

On July 14, 2011, Charles Fairley died after a tractor-trailer hit him while he was illegally riding a mo-ped alongside Interstate 95 in Cumberland County. A state medical examiner determined that his blood-alcohol content was three times the level at which drivers are considered impaired. Fairley had been convicted of DWI eight months earlier, according to court records.

Buck McCoy was driving at night on N.C. Highway 41 in Craven County on Feb. 13 when he hit mo-ped driver Perry McCoy, no relation, from behind. Perry McCoy was drunk and going 20 mph in a 45 mph-zone, troopers said.

Buck McCoy was not charged in the crash, but he and his insurance company had to cover the $3,100 in damage to his car. He believes the law should require mo-ped owners to take more responsibility.

“These mo-peds should have insurance,” Buck McCoy said.

Perry McCoy claims the crash wasn't his fault, but admits that he rides a scooter because he lost his license due to prior DWI convictions.

“(It’s) the only way to get around, really,” he said.

Licensing mo-ped drivers ‘could kill the industry’

Mo-ped dealers say many of their customers are turning to two wheels because of high gas prices, but some dealers also target drunken drivers who lost their license.

State Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, said he wants to add a registration and insurance requirement for scooters with engines 50 cubic centimeters or less.

“It’s both a safety and liability issue. When you have someone intoxicated, it doesn’t matter what they’re on. They’re on our highways. They’re a danger to every vehicle, every pedestrian (and) every biker on the highway,” Hise said.

Brandie Brandon, sales manager at Scooterz in Raleigh, says scooters with 50-cc engines are her biggest seller “because you’re allowed to drive them without a license.”

While Brandon says she has no problem with requiring insurance and registration for less powerful mo-peds – “I think it’s an excellent way to keep everybody protected," she said – requiring a driver’s license is another issue. “It could kill the industry,” she said.

For now, mo-peds and those who drive them ride unregulated in North Carolina. In the meantime, Hise and Christmas say they will push for tougher laws.

“I think that they are a legitimate danger on the roads and, to be quite honest, the current mo-ped operating laws are way too lenient for mo-ped operators,” Christmas said. “They pose a significant safety risk, not only to themselves, but to other drivers.”

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  • ncscooterz Jul 5, 2012

    In addition to the economic and environmental benefits, scooters are just plain fun to ride. You meet the nicest people on a scooter! I think everyone is in agreement that drinking and driving is bad, registration and insurance = good. However I would much rather be hit by a drunken scooter driver than someone drunk behind the wheel of a Chevy Tahoe. Just Saying.
    I would also like to mention that as a sales person we mail out to people charged with DUI, on a daily basis there are 10 DUI charges or more in the Raleigh area. I have never mailed out to a current customer which leads me to believe the majority of drunk drivers are driving cars, trucks, suv's and motorcyles.

  • ncscooterz Jul 5, 2012

    probably a lot greener than what you are currently using – Scooters, at least the modern ones, particularly 4 stroke models, are very low in emissions. Also, the production and ultimate disposal of a scooter occupies a fairly small carbon footprint compared to other motorized modes of transportation. Scooters are easy to ride – A lot of people don’t realize that modern scooters are automatic – that’s right – no gears to change. The brakes are hand brakes just like you would find on a bicycle. The throttle is in the right-hand grip – just Twist ‘n Go. Scooters are inexpensive to buy and upkeep and insure – The cost of a scooter in 2013 will be very competitive. The world economic recession we are currently experiencing has kept prices very reasonable. Scooter annual maintenance and insurance costs are a fraction of car ownership. Even for people who own a car, buying a scooter and just using it on a part-time basis to reduce your car mileage will usually show a pretty

  • ncscooterz Jul 5, 2012

    There are so many reasons to ride a scoot and daily new scooter owners are popping up on the roads of NC. As a sales person for scooters I would like to say it is unfair that all scooter owners were painted up as drunken drivers in this story. I would like to say the majority of new customers are people that are struggling in this current economy and are downsizing to become single car families. I have professors, lawyers, foreign students that will only be in the country for a limited amount of time, folks that are disabled and whom rave about having their freedom again, as well as people that just love to ride. America is the only country that does not embrace Scoots in the manner in which the should be accepted. As an inexpensive means of transportation. Scooters have low gas cost – Gas is expensive. All indications are for energy costs to rise. Fuel economy is great on a scooter – many people commute to and from work all week on $5 – $10 worth of gas. Scooters are probably a

  • christofertodd Jul 5, 2012

    First. Driving Drunk is bad, we all know this.
    Second. Scooter and MoPed riders arent stupid. Most are hard working people who cant afford a good vehicle.
    Third. Our country is in ruins because Government has to tax everything including sunshine and rain. As well as Pompous people who cant stand people who live on the fringe, who dont comply with "society", ergo they must be felons or worse. so make them go away.
    Fourth. I ride a MoPed. I have insurance. I wear a helmet.
    Fifth. Everyone has an opinion. It's sad that most people cant see how we of the poorest must survive. Live in our shoes for a month. I dare you.

  • christofertodd Jul 5, 2012

    In our ridiculous society today, it is sad to say that we need to register and insure a Scooter or MoPed. The fact is that most MoPeds and Scooters DO NOT have a title and cannot be titled under NC laws, as their is no "VIN".
    What needs to be done is require all DUI'S to have a monitor like Lindsay Lohan had, restrict them from OPERATING ANY form of vehicle for however long.
    IF we do this, NC would become one of the first states to do so and would certainly kill the MoPed and Scooter business, as companies would be forced to add a "VIN", thus raising a vehicle who's new cost is about $1500 new of the showroom floor to almost $2000. and in an economy such as we have...the real and honest people who cannot afford a car or daily bus use find the little gems to be a life saver.
    I simply state the following. If you see a MoPed or Scooter rider who isnt obeying the rules of traffic and safety travel....Pull over and call the police with the description of the rider and where they are.

  • Spock Jul 3, 2012

    Come on folks... ANY "motor" vehicle should have tags, a license to operate (yes, even motorcycles need a special license), insurance, and most of all a reasonable sense of responsibility when traveling the roads of the craziest drivers I have seen in the United States.

  • lbeylan Jul 3, 2012

    I do agree with the registration and insurance on a scooter as there are so many drivers that do not care about 2 wheel vehicles on the road, This should also be applied to bicycles as well. It's just about safeguarding ourselves as scooterists and in the case of a drunk or enraged driver hits us because of the 30 mph speed limit imposed. I would also suggest to increase the top speed at least by 10 miles per hour more so other drivers wont see us as an annoyance. Most city wide speed limits are set to 35mph but if a scooter is on the road and slows down traffic the blame is on the scooterist. If state law enforces having registration and insurance , it'll be a win win situation... Harder for a thief to steal a registered scooter and more protection to the rider. Again I make emphasis on the speed limit increase by at least 10 miles an hour more.
    Just to add a little more, Drivers using a cell phone while driving should be punished the same way as drunk drivers, they are a huge hazard

  • LucaBrasi Jul 3, 2012

    What a sobering discussion you all are having here.
    But back to the real problem, we're talking about a DRUNK who will do whatever it takes to get him from Point A to point B.
    Take away his mo-ped and he'll ride a bike. Take away the DRUNK, problem is gone.

  • SailbadTheSinner Jul 3, 2012

    I think that most of us will acknowledge that drunks can “just not drive.”

    The point is, they DO drive.

    If they are driving a MoPed, the only person that they injure – usually – is themselves.

    That, IMHO, is a good thing.

    Driving anything, especially a two-wheeled vehicle, while you are even the least bit intoxicated is definitely a form of Natural Selection.


  • jjsmith1973 Jul 3, 2012

    Really what this boils down to is if I have to pay they should too. If you think for one second, as one person said "that the drunks need to be punished" and that this state the one with the toughest DWI laws in the country doesn't already punish those for 10 years already. Then you need to look at the law again.