Will mo-ped drivers need license?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 9, 2011

By Karissa Minn
Every day, Woodleaf resident Joe Rogers rides to work on a mo-ped.
The motorized scooter can only travel up to 30 miles per hour and provides no protection from the weather. But it’s the only option he has to drive himself to work without a license.
“I don’t care how cold it is,” Rogers said. “I have to get to work to support my five grandchildren.”
Rogers, who runs a handyman service, lost his driver’s license about 15 years ago for driving while impaired. He was charged again for habitual impaired driving 10 years ago, but since then his record is clear.
“I was a real heavy drinker,” he said. “Now, I haven’t had a drink or a ticket in years, but I still don’t have my license.”
At least 17 states have adopted laws requiring mo-ped drivers to carry a license for their vehicles. Two such bills have been brought up in the North Carolina House and Senate. They died in committee in 2009, but at least one co-sponsor says it will likely be re-introduced.
N.C. Rep. Bill McGee, R-Forsyth, said the House bill he co-sponsored was introduced for safety reasons.
“It’s important for people on the highways to have knowledge of the law that they are to abide by on the roadway,” McGee said. “When you ride a bicycle, you don’t have to have a license, but a mo-ped is a motor vehicle.”
Currently, a person must be 16 years old to drive a mo-ped and riders must wear a safety helmet. A mo-ped cannot have a motor of more than 50 cubic centimeters, an external shifting device or have the capability of exceeding 30 miles per hour on a level surface, or it must be registered as a motorcycle.
Another bill introduced in the House that died in committee would have required registration, tags and insurance for mo-peds.
Tom Crosby, spokesman with AAA Carolinas, said AAA would be in favor of both kinds of laws in North Carolina.
According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, the number of mo-ped-related fatalities nearly doubled from 48 to 96 between 2005 and 2009.
“Often, mo-peds are not sufficiently powered to maintain safe traveling speeds with four-wheeled vehicles,” Crosby said. “The speed differential can be a killer.”
He said requiring mo-ped drivers to be licensed would help train them to deal with these dangers.
Mo-ped accidents this past summer and fall in Rowan County resulted in critical injuries and a near amputation. One involved alcohol, and the other was caused when the mo-ped driver failed to yield.
Darian Wagoner, owner of Motts Powersports in Salisbury, said he doesn’t mind mandatory registration and insurance for mo-peds. But if mo-ped riders had to have driver’s licenses, that would “greatly affect” his business.
“I had a guy in here this morning who is not mentally capable of acquiring a driver’s license, but he can get around,” Wagoner said. “What people think these are for — and the majority are — is people with DWIs who lost their licenses, but there are others, too.”
He said the law would hurt people like Rogers who rely on mo-peds as job transportation.
Rogers looked into getting his license reinstated two years ago, but he said the process is complicated and costly. Attending special classes and participating in a state hearing could cost thousands of dollars.
“You could buy a house — a down payment on one — with what they charge you,” Rogers said. “There’s no way I can afford that.”
He said he wouldn’t mind having to register his vehicle with a tag and buying liability insurance, but requiring a driver’s license would “destroy” him.
“How would I go to work?” Rogers said. “Walking is a greater risk and takes too long. I could ride a bicycle, but I’d have to leave at 4 a.m. some days.”
To deal with the dangers of the road, Rogers said he drives carefully, keeps an eye on his mirrors, goes the maximum speed and moves out of the way of incoming cars.
“If you respect them, they respect you,” Rogers said. “People see me every day, they know I’m going to work and they respect me.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.