By Shelby Mertens
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Moped operators in Virginia would have to wear helmets and eye protection, carry a government-issued photo ID, and title, register and put a license plate on 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 September 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 the Code of Virginia.
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 of course do.
Virginia and North Carolina are the only states in the country 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 an accident and did not have a photo ID on them.
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 – starting July 1, 2014.
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 owner’s 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.
SB 1038 was sponsored by Republican Sens. Stephen Newman of Forest and Charles Carrico of Galax. It was approved unanimously by the Senate and on a vote of 60-39 in the House. According to Newman’s office, McDonnell is expected to sign the bill soon.
Last year, Maryland passed a bill that made similar requirements for moped operators. The Maryland law requires owners to place a permanent decal on the rear of the moped and levies a 6 percent tax.