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New rules coming for mopeds

Published 11:17pm Wednesday, March 20, 2013

By Shelby Mertens

Capital News Service

Moped operators in Virginia would have to wear helmets and eye protection, carry government-issued photo identification and title, register and license their scooters under a bill waiting to be signed into law by Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Senate Bill 1038, passed by the General Assembly during its recent session, is based on recommendations from a yearlong study conducted by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

In 2011, the DMV was asked by the assembly’s transportation committees to study the increasing consumer demand for vehicles that do not fit the current motor vehicle definitions in state law.

The Non-Conventional Vehicles Study group was made up of representatives from the DMV, law enforcement, the insurance industry, highway safety, motorcycle dealers and manufacturers, moped dealers and other state and local government agencies.

The study focused on low-speed vehicles like mopeds, all-terrain vehicles and three-wheeled motorcycles. The work group wanted to address concerns dealing with the safety and proper use of mopeds.

“The number of mopeds on Virginia roads has increased significantly as a result of the rising cost of gas, along with the affordability and availability of mopeds,” said Sunni Brown, a DMV spokeswoman.

“With the increased number of mopeds sharing our roads, there has been an increase in the number of concerns expressed from the public, law enforcement, General Assembly members and traffic safety advocates.”

The study also looked at moped-related crash and fatality statistics in Virginia, as well as laws governing non-conventional vehicle in other states.

“After reviewing those other state moped requirements, it became clear that Virginia is one of the few states imposing no requirement on moped operations in terms of licensing of the operator, titling, registration of the moped and liability insurance,” Brown said.

Chelsea Lahmers, owner and founder of Scoot Richmond, which sells and services scooters, was part of the work group for the study. Lahmers said that right now, mopeds are in a gray area between bicycles, which do not require titles or registration, and cars, which do.

Virginia and North Carolina are the only states in the nation that do not require moped operators to carry official identification. Current Virginia law requires that the moped operator must be at least 16 years old, but no valid driver’s license is necessary.

As a result, Lahmers said, there have been many cases in which moped drivers have been in accidents without photo identification.

Under SB 1038, moped operators would have to carry a photo ID and wear a helmet and eye protection beginning July 1.

The requirements regarding titling, registering and getting a license plate for a moped would take effect the following year.

According to Lahmers, titling and registering a moped gives the owner protection against theft.

“We see mopeds get recovered by the police that never get back into the owners’ hands,” Lahmers said. “Without that title, it is almost impossible to get your vehicle back if it gets stolen.”

A $10 fee would be charged for titling. Lahmers said the titling requirement would apply only to newly purchased mopeds. The DMV is unsure of what to do with mopeds already on the road, she said.

Lahmers supports the legislation but questions one provision: Under the bill, low-speed vehicle owners would be subject to a 5-percent motor vehicle sales and use tax, and exempt from the retail sales and use tax. In addition, localities may exempt mopeds from personal property taxation.

Lahmers notes that some organizations, such as the Virginia Motorcycle Dealers Association, want the motor vehicle sales and use tax lowered to 3 percent.

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