Driving Mopeds on North Carolina Streets

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Every so often, someone asks whether a person must have a driver’s license to drive a moped on a public street in this state.  The answer is no—provided that the moped satisfies the definition of that term under state law.  A moped is defined as “a vehicle that has two or three wheels, no external shifting device, and a motor that does not exceed 50 cubic centimeters piston displacement and cannot propel the vehicle at a speed greater than 30 miles per hour on a level surface.” G.S. 20-4.01(27)d1. (incorporating the definition of moped in G.S. 105-164.3).  A person who is at least 16 years old who is outfitted with a safety helmet may lawfully drive a moped on the public roadways in North Carolina without having a driver’s license or automobile liability insurance. G.S. 20-7(a1); 20-8(7); 20-140.4.  Thus, despite the fact that mopeds are motorized vehicles, they are treated more like bicycles than automobiles for purposes of the state’s motor vehicle laws. See Ben F. Loeb, Jr. and James C. Drennan, Motor Vehicle Law and The Law of Impaired Driving in North Carolina 49 (Institute of Government 2000 ed.). Indeed, a moped is not considered a “motor vehicle” under Chapter 20. G.S. 20-4.01(23).  As a result, only the rules of the road that apply to all vehicles (such as the laws prohibiting impaired driving, and requiring that vehicles be driven on the right half of the highway, stop at stop signs, and obey speed limits) govern the operation of mopeds.

Some think the state ought to tighten the rules governing the operation of mopeds. One consideration is financial.  As this news story reflects, if the operator of a moped causes an accident resulting in damage to an insured motor vehicle, the driver of the insured vehicle and his or insurance company may wind up footing the bill.  Another consideration relates to public safety.  Some view moped drivers as a more dangerous subset of the driving population at large. Surgeons and researchers at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte published in March 2011 this study on the influence of alcohol on moped crashes. You can probably guess the findings from the title: MOPEDS: Motorized Objects Propelling Ethanol Drinking Subjects. An analysis of records from the Carolinas Medical Center trauma database revealed a greater association between moped collisions and positive serum ethanol levels (defined as a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 g/DL) compared with automobile and motorcycle collisions. The study also found higher BACs among the moped group as compared to the motorcycle group.  A follow-up study determined that 29 of the 65 moped operators evaluated by the hospital’s trauma service from 2007 to 2009 previously had been convicted of impaired driving. Twenty-five of these drivers had a revoked license at the time they were injured. The later study recommends re-evaluation of impaired driving and licensure laws regarding moped operation, but acknowledges the obvious question of whether legal changes would have any impact.  After all, driving a moped on a public street or public vehicular area while impaired already constitutes the crime of driving while impaired, a misdemeanor punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. See G.S. 20-138.1; G.S. 20-179.

Two bills addressing moped operation were introduced in 2011, but neither became law. Senate Bill 195 would have required that moped drivers be at least 17 years old and have completed the graduated driver’s license process and that mopeds be registered with DMV and be covered by automobile insurance. The bill also would have prohibited passengers on mopeds. House Bill 773 would have ordered the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee to study the need for a moped registration program. If enacted, the bill would have directed the committee upon finding moped registration to be desirable public policy to recommend the method of registering mopeds, the process for identifying the mopeds to be registered, the administrative agency responsible for registering mopeds, the need for financial responsibility, the need for safety and emissions inspections along with other related issues.  Again, neither bill was enacted, so mopeds continue to be lawfully operated on public streets by drivers who have no license or insurance.

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29 comments on “Driving Mopeds on North Carolina Streets

  1. I was appointed in Rowan County to represent a teenager charged with speeding on a moped–47 in a 35 zone. This was a legal moped. He was also charged with DWLR, no insurance, failure to register. Do these become legitimate charges if you speed on a 50cc moped?

    • I was appointed in Rowan County to represent a teenager charged with speeding on a moped–47 in a 35 zone.
      If that person was doing 47 in a 35 he/she was wrong!

      This was a legal moped.
      NO it not a legal “Moped” if it was able to do over 30mph!

      He was also charged with DWLR, no insurance, failure to register. Do these become legitimate charges if you speed on a 50cc moped? YES!!

      • Bays, if you did your homework you will realize that the ‘moped’ that kid was on. was not a moped. if it runs more then 30MPH under current law, it is considered a motorcycle.

        what often happens in this state is that ‘dealers’ will sell ‘mopeds’ and tell the parents, and buys its a moped, and its not required to have tags/title/insurance. regardless of the size of the engine. I know dealers in the western part of the state that routinely sell ‘performance kits’ for the scooters, boosting them to 100, 150 or 200 cc engines, without telling the buyer it changes the status of the moped to a motorcycle .

        the dealer network needs to be policed and the law enforced, we don’t need other laws on this issue, the dealers need to be help accountable as well as the police NEED TO DO THEIR JOBS!

        its pretty simple, if the police car is passed in a 45mph zone by a ‘scooter’ that scooter is illegal.. period. see it happen all the time .

        ‘discretionary’ enforcement of the law needs to stop. people are being killed because a lot of scooter riders are arrogant and careless.

        if an change in the law needs to be made, it should be that scooters require the msf scooter course, or the basic riders course before they can purchase a moped or scooter.

        and even then, its truly up to the operator and the dealers to be honest. that is where the system fails every time. with no accountability or fines to the dealer network, and the offenders that are purchasing and speeding on the roads.. it will not change.. people will continue to be killed needlessly, the law will continue to be unenforced.

        • Scott, I certainly hope that a NC registered scooter dealer would not install a big bore kit on a 50 cc scooter and not inform the customer the scooter is no longer considered a “moped”. I know small independent shops that do this all the time. If it is happening they should be stopped. At my dealership we do not install any big bore kits. As you have stated they make the “moped” illegal and they shorten the life of the engine.

          As for changing they law, I agree with you but until the lawmakers get out of the office and come talk to the dealers they will never understand how the definition of a “moped” is extremely dangerous to those who ride 50 cc scooters.

  2. One thing our legislature could entertain is revising the NCGS 20-138.3 law regarding those less than 21yrs old. An officer can not charge this statute if the person is less than .08 unless the officer can articulate impairment.

    Example: in a private car the person is a .03 the charge will stick but on a moped, it doesn’t apply. NCGS 20-138.1 indicates “a vehicle” but NCGS 20-138.3 added the word “motor” which puts this in another category. Sure you can charge a Chpt 18 violation but this Chpt 20 we are reviewing.

    As stated above, mopeds are not motor vehicles.

  3. Whew! As usual PROFESSOR DENNING sure presents both sides of the story!!!
    Fear the poor, broke bastard moped drivers, who may have no other reasonable way to get to work, etc. Take away the one final way they have to get around at a decent speed. What else could they do? Ride the non-existent or half-assed public transportation system? Maybe walk or bicycle? Be real.
    Thank you PROFESSOR DENNING for bringing this extreme danger once again to public light!!!!!!

  4. Ms. Dennings comment that many of the moped riders have had DWI’s, WOOW, what a revelation! Mopeds going a whopping 30 mph cannot be but so much of a danger. One is probably at a greater risk changing a light bulb than risks from a moped. Good grief! As gas prices rise I believe that we will see many more folks riding scooters. Actually they are fun to ride. I prefer motorized bicycles. Mine runs at an “extremely dangerous” speed of 26 mph and gets 150 miles per gallon. The law requires that I ware a DOT approved helment, I think a bicycle helment should do the job. But, it is the law & one should comply. If a moped/scooter goes faster than 30 mph then they have ASKED for the ticket and I do not feel for them. They all know the law. If not they will soon learn the hard way. PS: we have ENOUGH laws. The moped laws in NC are just fine. GET A LIFE and ride a scooter/moped and save the planet!?!?

    • AGREED!!!

      • There are many mopeds being represented as the 50 cc models, but are really 100 or 150 cc motorcycles. Driving is a privilege, not a right. The fact that they can be brazen enough to be burning Doughnuts around the Dallas courthouse square on MOPEDS leaves all the law abiding citizens wondering what is WRONG,

  5. While there are other reasons for driving a moped, the overriding reason seems to be the inability to attain a driver’s license, usually due to dui. It seems illogical to allow people who are unable to qualify for a driver’s license the ability and right to operate a motorized vehicle on public thoroughfares without insurance or any sort of qualifications. The law specifies that such vehicles are single gear and limited to 30 mph, yet in my experience, subjective as it might be, I have followed very many at speeds up to 45 mph and heard many change gears. I’ve followed several with a child passenger and even reported them. One I followed to see if the police responded, but never saw any response. My conclusion is there seems to be an apathy concerning these drivers. Some appear law-abiding and competent, but I’ve seen too many weave in traffic, ignore traffic lights, stop signs and automobile drivers and slow or impede the flow of traffic, to consider moped drivers, as a group and under the present apathetic level of tolerance, anything more than a nuisance. Since a percentage of these operators do exhibit a sense of responsibility, it seems that changes are necessary to preserve their ability to travel on mopeds – because without that responsible minority, mopeds should be banned.

  6. It is unbelievable that people that had had DUI’s are still on the roadway. The purpose of taking away their license is because they are unsafe to themselves and others when driving a machine. Since I have been living in NC, I have seen scooter drivers cause or are in a wreck while on their moped. Gennaly, they have been drinking when driving th moped and when the wreck occurs. It is a vicious cycle. I think that the people in the legislature should be the level headed and sensible one to offer more avenues of public transportation in rural areas, and make the scooter illegal. Tell me this. They can essentially stop a person from driving a car by taking their license. How do you stop a scooter/moped user from driving under the influence? You can’t take away their license .

    • uuuuh put them in jail like they do druggies

      • Really so if you get in the car after two beers and were pulled over, arrested for a point over. you would like to be treated the same as a meth dealer. and as far as the moped people with dui’s still need to work. unless you would rather feed them and house them for free, if so pull your money out and start handing it out.

        • You all have valid points…Some of us are not druggies or drunks…Some of us live on a fixed income, can’t afford a car, have dr appointment s we have to get to…so also look at both views be for passing judgments

  7. I own a moped myself, not because I am a drunk, but because of gas prices, and live on a college campus. Got a car, but find not driving the car as much, lowers insurance, and just way cheaper on the gas.
    I do believe there should be a law for drunk scooter drivers that are caught. Some drunks will go as far as buying a 150cc scooter, granted some are just so fat, they kill a small 50cc.
    But for the average scooter owner, if a recommendation in the law where posted, like, scooter drivers it is recommended that one take as many secondary roads to get to your destination as you can. Cause if you get into an accident on a road where even a car is not suppose to drive faster then a moped. It will be the car owners fault.
    Even I a scooter owner believe if your driving drunk on a scooter, and caught, arrest them, take the bike, sell it in a police auction. Give the money to a car insurance agency to help lower insurance cost, or help Geico make another commercial, one of the two.
    Cause the first thing the drunk is going to do, is buy another scooter, and do it again. They do it if you had a law requiring a drivers licence for a 50cc.
    Put them in jail, oh that is free food, and health care.

    How do I know, go to any Walmart, see scooters parked, look at the speedometer, look for a tag, 150cc with out a tag, humm wait, guy with no teeth, smelling like a liquor store comes out.
    Bet he don’t got a licence, granted I would be for a loophole in the law for heavyset scooter owners to have a 150cc without a licence if they are sober, just need to go to work. But also think there should be 50cc scooter insurance, no licence, but tag, and insurance yessir. Cause I don’t want to be punished because of other dumbasses out there that have not learned their lessons about not drinking, and driving.
    Cause whatever law you pass, the drunk will not care, he will do it anyway without a license on a 150cc, over, and over again.
    I can PROVE IT, I AM NOT MAD, I LAUGHING, CAUSE ITS OBVIOUS. LOL

  8. I understand the frustration with seeing people who are obviously still drinking and such being allowed to use scooters, but I do wish people would be a little less judgmental. I think you should put yourself in the shoes of someone who made a very regretted mistake and is now trying to better himself. If you had gotten a DUI and then decided you needed to make a life change, but you didn’t have a way to get to work or school to support yourself or your family and truly make efforts at bettering yourself, you’d likely give up and decide to go back to drinking. And I’m sure the people who are complaining about the scooter drivers on the road are the very people complaining about having to support folks who won’t go out and get a job. Just remember, a lot of the people you see on scooters are on their way to class or are or their way to work. Maybe you could be a little less assuming and a little more understanding that you do not actually know their situation. And no, I’m not a scooter driver.

    • Finally! Very well said AB. No one thus far has mentioned or acknowledged the toll it takes finacialy or the lifestyle and career changes that must be made to acomodate a dui. For me, a scooter is my saving grace right now and a nececity to keep down the career path ive choosen. No scooter, no job. One more unemployed american looking for work with hellacious legal fees.
      And just for the record the legal limit is .08 which is easly acheved by a beer with no Wait-before-drive time. Chewing gum will make you blow positive on a breathalizer. I would bet many social drinkers who have an opinion on the burdensome scooter drivers have probably left social occasions on or above the line. Its easy to dismiss the consequences of such a simple action as a few drinks.
      there’s good and bad apples in every bunch. There dont need to be tighter restrictions on scooter drivers across the board. The slower you go the more dangerous on those pot hole ridden trecherous country roads. Let the cops weed out the ones speeding through town and driving erraticly on liquer cycles
      NTB

  9. I agree with AB, you folks assume and judge each person you see on a scooter as if you know all things about them. Is it really that much of an inconvenience to pass a small vehicle which is nearly always spotted on the right side of the lane? How much of your day does this actually take? It seems you literally think, “how dare this person get in my way”. How special do you consider yourself? You pass that person and go on with your day and they continue on to work (very slowly) or class or to pickup groceries (and generally harming no one), possibly for a family which they support solely on their own income. That person may be a veteran who has made mistakes after serving for your freedom and way of life but has learned from his/her mistakes and as mentioned above, is working towards better things. Self righteousness is disgusting, as if one of you is perfection walking. The person on the scooter is probably hoping that as car after car blows by them, each passing motorist is not the one to end his/her life. Remember to keep that cell phone handy for text and conversation. Worried about your insurance after you run someone over and dent your car? How selfless of you. Take a moment and imagine if it were you who were driving that scooter and it were you who needed that mode of transportation just to scratch out a life. Your rants are just disgusting and selfish, I almost wish I hadn’t sacrificed myself to protect your freedom, but at least today when I rode my scooter I accomplished things I am proud of and stepped another day away from my past ignorance. You may never remove yourself at all from your own.

  10. The Maryland law for scooter’s and moped’s . In Maryland you need a license to ride a scooter or moped or permit , but if your license has been suspended or revoked you will not be able to get a permit to ride. As of Aug 1 , 2012 you will have to register your scooter or moped with DMV and also get insurance for the scooter or moped or you will be fined, obey tha law and ride safe .

  11. seems to me that if you own a scooter you are as said broke/ drunk ?
    get real I have a Honda ruckus that cost me right at 3 grand new, and we have just as much right on the road’s as bicycles or horse and buggy for that matter.
    maybe we should drag the guys who ride bicycles over the coal’s for being much slower and a larger risk of causing a accident.
    I agree that the guys giving this hobbie a bad name by drinking and riding should have the book thrown at them!
    a bigger problem that the law enforcement doesn’t relize s that these guys are riding bigger than 50 cc on the street’s.
    the lack of knowledge of types of scooters is there problem.
    just a little tip for you folk’s.. if you see a scoot with larger than 10 inch wheel’s its not a 50cc.
    the scoot’s with 12 inch or larger are 80 cc to 150 cc, and the cvt cover that has the kick starter attached is twice the size as a 50 cc.
    this is that part that gets my blood pressure up , I am a law biding citizen who yes has had a dwi conviction back in the 90′s and haven’t drank in year’s for my health (I am diabetic)
    and is my form of transportation to my job where I work 12 hours a day and pay taxes thank you very much.
    seems to me the nc should be worrying about the crime rate and the drug problem that is getting worse by the minute rather than wast taz payers and my money whining over a scooter/ hobbie that so many of enjoy, and 100 miles to a gallon I see guys with suits and ties riding scoots around downtown highpoint everyday.

    • Not true Rick. Kymco People 50′s have 14 inch wheels and Vespa LX 50′s have 11 inch front tires.

  12. I drive on the road 40 hours a week. I see lots of dangers mopeds cause and am trying to put a stop to it. The laws need to be changed and am working on doing my part . Please help !
    Holland

    http://www.pbase.com/kippercat/moped_problems

  13. Hi there, those willing to listen and judge at the same time. Yes, I received a
    DWI. Am now riding a scooter, Honda Ruckus, and live in a rural setting. Am also physically disabled and have several doctors to see. Ride scooter to AA/NA meetings, visit probation officer, get groceries, take quiet rides to get out of the house sometimes, and ride 15 miles away from home to pharmacy. The point is there is no family or friends to help. I live by myself and tire easily. The scooter is very reliable, but a tiring pain to ride very far. The point being sometimes there is not an easy solution as many haters think. Any DWI/DUI in NC is treated the same. The is fines, fees, court costs, classes, treatment centers and so on depending on who’s case it is.My own dad says tell court there is no money and go to jail. People are so cruel, they should get out in the real world more often!

  14. It amazes me that all these people are whining about scooters being a danger.You what is dangerous?Driving 70mph in a car while you talk on your cell phone,eating fast food and playing with a gps.I have lived in both NC and SC for my whole life.I have owned all types of vehicles including a few Honda Ruckus when I lived at the beaches.I personally prefer to ride my Ruckus when the weather is nice more than my gas guzzling car.As far as all you asshats that think everyone on a scooter or moped is an alcoholic, you have just proved how stupid and ignorant you actually are.I bet you clowns drink and would blow over the legal limit on a regular basis if you were tested every time you drink and drove.In all honesty alcohol is more dangerous in this debate than a scooter any day.If alcohol was made illegal again there wouldn’t be any drunk driving.Its all about government greed when it comes to alchohol.If it was outlawed the country would surely go bankrupt without the trillions of dollars they make on the taxes on liquor and beer.

    • Exactly John, Let’s make alcohol illegal and make all these problems disappear. I bet every single one of the people that are mad about scooters break more traffic laws daily than anyone else!!! Alcohol related deaths kill more people than cancer, aids, and heart disease combined!!! Alcohol is the problem. I agree that scooter owners should have insurance, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to restrict someone from having a scooter if they get caught driving one over the legal limit in alcohol. I think the way to go about is to make scooter owners buy a permit which requires them to have insurance to obtain the permit. There problem solved. Scooter owners should be allowed to go 35 that would help. No passengers on a 50cc, great idea. I ride a scooter everyday, pay taxes, and work my ass off to feed my children. Place the blame where it lies, and quit stereotyping everyone that rides a scooter!!! ” He who lives without sin cast the first stone”-Jesus Christ.

  15. Well we went from gay bashing to scooter bashing. Is not this country great when we all can state our personal point of view on things that we don’t even know about or agree with? What it really comes down to is $$$ the almighty dollar and people with a little power and a cheap funeral suit on a ego trip stepping on the publics right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness which every individual will have a different view of their own desires. There is no one right answer or law to fit every situation. We need to be thinking about more important things in life than bashing people with what someone else sees as a problem. Believe me riding a scooter is almost as bad as our forefathers had riding horses and wagons through bear infested forests and God only knows what else. Socialism is the first step to Communism. Every new law is taking away our freedoms one piece at a time. We need less government before we fall like the Roman Empire. Bashing scooter riders will not solve the real problems in America today. Leave the scooter riders to God and fate and get them cell phone users with 4000 pounds of death running at 70 mph that me and you meet every day on the highway! Wake up America!!!

  16. One can be charged and convicted of riding a horse on the public right or way and in public vehicular areas intoxicated. Charging a moped rider with DWI is just not a problem if the officer has his case together.

    Mopeds present the same problems to motorists as pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists. Trying to legislate the problems of the world away does not ease the responsibility to be aware and attentive to the road and the hazards. Drive defensibly and carefully.

  17. I purchased a scooter to run local errands. I love getting up to 100 miles per gallon and just the simple pleasure of riding it. I have never had a DWI or had my license revoked. I am almost sure they will become more popular with people becoming more concern for our planet. Soon the laws will be changing. Give the scooter riders a break. A lot of us have other reason for riding scooters. FUN!

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