South Carolina Governor Vetoes Moped Safety Bill Over Helmets, Vests

June 16, 2016

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has vetoed a moped safety bill, saying it is government overreach to require reflective vests for nighttime driving and helmets for drivers under 21.

People over 18 “should decide for themselves what they should wear for their personal safety,” the Republican governor wrote in her veto message, signed Friday.

Sen. Greg Hembree, R-North Myrtle Beach, said he believes mopeds are the most dangerous vehicles for people to drive, partly because there are no regulations. He’s been pushing for safety legislation since his 2012 election.

“They’re slower and you can’t see them as well,” Hembree said Monday about the need for vests. “That’s how they get hit. They get run over at night.”

According to the Department of Public Safety, 50 people died in moped crashes last year _ 18 of those in Horry County, which topped the fatality list. The statewide toll was up from 32 moped deaths in 2014 and 24 in 2013. At least 16 moped drivers and/or passengers have died so far this year.

In her veto letter, Haley said the proposed restrictions for mopeds exceed those for motorcycle drivers.

But state law does require anyone under 21 who’s driving or riding on a motorcycle to wear a helmet. The motorcycle advocacy group ABATE – which stands for A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments – has long squashed any effort to require helmets for older riders.

But ABATE spokesman Chad Fuller said the group wanted legislators to add the helmet provision for mopeds.

“We supported them having the same regulations that we as motorcyclists have,” he said. The group, of which Haley has been a member, took no position on the vest issue.

Legislators will decide later this week whether to overturn Haley’s veto.

Rep. Bill Crosby, the main House sponsor, said the bill is not about helmets or vests, but saving people’s lives.

“I wish she would reconsider,” said Crosby, R-North Charleston. “I would think it would sit on her conscience if this doesn’t pass. … We’ll continue having people killed.”

He likened the moped restrictions to requiring people in vehicles to wear sea belts.

While a House member, Haley voted against the 2005 law that allowed officers to stop drivers for not wearing a seat belt.

The moped bill would allow officers to charge intoxicated moped drivers with drunken driving.

“Literally, you can be stinking drunk on a moped and can’t be arrested,” said Hembree, formerly the chief prosecutor for Horry and Georgetown counties.

That’s because state law specifically excludes mopeds from the definition of a motor vehicle. Proposals to close that loophole have died repeatedly since 2010. People who lose their license due to a DUI conviction often use a moped to get around. In a state where public transportation is lacking, legislators didn’t want to prevent people from getting to work.

To solve that sticking point, the bill creates a special moped license. People who lose their regular license, for whatever reason, can get the separate license, starting the point system over. But a moped license could be suspended too.

“If that happens, we’re starting to lose sympathy for you. You’re going to have to be walking,” Hembree said.

The bill would require people to register their mopeds and attach a license plate, which the bill creates as a way to cut down on theft and identify mopeds in crashes. Mopeds would still be exempt from property taxes and insurance.

The bill makes it illegal for mopeds to be driven on highways where the posted speed limit is 55 mph or greater.

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