Increase in SC moped fatalities prompts new focus on safety

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SOUTH CAROLINA

Increase in SC moped fatalities prompts new focus on safety

By ALLISON STICE
astice@islandpacket.com
Published Wednesday, February 20, 2013   |  654 Words  |  

The increasing popularity of mopeds is easy to explain for Yamaha of Beaufort owner Danny Sutcliffe: People don't want to spend more on gas.

Mopeds, defined as motorbikes that go no faster than 30 mph, can get 100 to 120 miles per gallon. Since the economy crashed and gasoline prices rose, Sutcliffe said, many have turned to mopeds as a cheaper way to get around.

Mopeds also are an alternative for those who have lost their car-driving privileges, either because of DUI or multiple traffic violations.

The number of moped licenses issued has doubled in the past five years, according to the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.

But the increase in popularity has been accompanied by a rise in accidents. Deaths of moped riders and drivers have also increased.

Between 2011 and 2012, the number of fatalities involving mopeds rose by 54 percent, reports the S.C. Department Highway Safety. And more than 600 moped riders are injured in South Carolina each year.

Those statistics are prompting an effort by state lawmakers and law-enforcement agencies to focus on moped safety.

A bill in the S.C. General Assembly seeks to define mopeds as "moving motor vehicles." The new classification would mean moped drivers have to get insurance coverage and can be cited for driving under the influence. Moped riders are currently exempt from state DUI laws. The bill has passed the House, and the Senate is considering its version.

On the safety front, the S.C. Department of Highway Safety is launching a new public campaign. The $200,000 marketing effort aimed at vulnerable roadway users -- which includes mopeds, bicycles, motorcycles and pedestrians -- is expected this spring and will include billboards and public-service announcements for radio and television.

"The data is driving our effort," said Phil Riley, director of the Office of Highway Safety and Justice.

The S.C. Highway Patrol has created a handbook for law-enforcement agencies describing laws that apply to moped drivers.

Mopeds are barred from interstates and other high-speed roads, but they are allowed on streets with speed limits as high as 45 mph.

Moped drivers must have a license, but the requirements are not as stringent as those for car drivers.

The only requirements for a license are to be at least 14 years old, pass a 25-question test and pay $25 at the Department of Motor Vehicles office.

The S.C. Highway Patrol reports that most crashes involving mopeds occur after dark.

To try to reduce moped fatalities, troopers will encourage riders to wear reflective clothing. Another bill has been filed in the legislature that would require moped riders to wear reflective material.

John Pallitta, whose 19-year-old daughter Amanda died last year in a nighttime moped accident, said he no longer believes it is safe to travel by moped on high-speed roads.

Amanda Pallitta was riding on the back of her new moped on S.C. 46, just outside of Hardeeville, when a car rear-ended it at 9:30 p.m. June 9.

The hit-and-run driver, said to be driving a two- or four-door red truck, has never been found.

Since his daughter's death, he said he and his wife have noticed how difficult it is to see moped riders while driving.

Riley said the new marketing effort will encourage trucks and cars to look out for mopeds.

"Drivers can ride up on a moped going slower than they are and might not realize it until it's too late," Riley said. "There needs to be more awareness that mopeds also share the road."

The (Columbia) State contributed to this report.