Mopeds' growing popularity raises safety concerns

Friday, May 10, 2013 4:39 PM
Last updated Monday, May 13, 2013 1:23 AM
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Rick Cohen’s scooter may not have a speedometer and its exhaust pipes might be rusted, but two gallons of gas can last him 160 miles, good enough for an all-day drive through the Augusta area.

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Street and Trail Motorsports General Manager David Heath sits on one of the many scooters for sale at the store in Evans.  MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
Street and Trail Motorsports General Manager David Heath sits on one of the many scooters for sale at the store in Evans.

Wesley Brown
Reporter
E-mail | 706-823-3221

“For getting around town, they’re real economical,” said Cohen, a self-employed computer repairman from Trenton. “I’m saving up my money to buy a better one.”

The love of the Vespa is back.

Equipped with an engine the size of a weed-whacker motor, a 50-cubic-centimeter moped can get up to 125 miles to the gallon and in Georgia and South Carolina, does not require registration, insurance or a driver’s license to operate.

The perks have made the low-powered, gas-sipping models widely popular in the Augusta area among college students, cash-strapped residents and motorists who have had their licenses suspended due to impaired driving convictions, said Lt. Ramone Lamkin, head of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office’s Traffic Division.

Police often refer to them as “liquor cycles,” and as gas prices hover around $3.50 a gallon nationwide, some are worried local roads will become overcrowded with scooterists that by law, cannot travel faster than 30 mph and are protected from drunk driving charges.

“The toys we sell are really driven by the economy and the weather, which with gas prices the way they are and the weather finally warming up, scooter sales are good,” said David Heath, general manager of Street and Trail Motorsports in Evans.

Heath sells four Japanese models and one Taiwan brand of mopeds that range in price from $1,400 to $10,600 for scooters with engines greater than 50 cubic centimeters, which can be operated by licensed drivers as young as 14-years-old in South Carolina and 15 years-old in Georgia. Even a person who has had a regular driver’s license suspended after a first driving-under-the-influence conviction can obtain a moped license.

Although Heath would not provide specific data on his sales, he said that in 2012 he sold more scooters than in the two previous years combined. The figure matches estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that show in the past five years the number of moped riders in South Carolina and Georgia has more than doubled.

But the rising number of mopeds on the roads has brought more fatalities for moped drivers, especially in South Carolina, where moped fatalities (79) rank only behind North Carolina (83) for such deaths nationwide. Georgia has reported less than a handful of deaths.

While Richmond County has not yet lost a life from scooter riding, it’s a different story in Aiken County, where a death has been reported in four of the past five years, the most recent fatalities coming in January and February.

Sheriff’s deputies in Richmond and Aiken counties said they are educating moped riders to wear reflective clothing, use proper hand signals and never drive without a helmet. For cars, automobiles and trucks, traffic chiefs in Aiken and Richmond counties stressed patience.

“Make sure that you’re aware of your surroundings, share the road and pass in a safe manner when driving,” said Capt. Eric Abdulla, of the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office. “Because you could come up on a slow motorist or someone who is riding a moped.”

All six of the fatalities recorded in Aiken County since 2009 happened at night or during the early morning on busy highways with mopeds being rear ended, wreck reports show.

Tom Clancy, owner of the Augusta Triumph-Ducati motorcycle dealership on Wheeler Road, said he can sell as many as 12 to 15 scooters – prices starting at $3,300 – a month when gas prices creep closer to $4 a gallon. The AAA projects by mid-summer gas prices will be between $3.40 and $3.20.

With a downtown core that pales in size and has less activity than Athens, Atlanta and Savannah, Clancy said he recommends those who operate low-powered scooters stick to secondary roads.

“Scooters with 50 cubic-centimeter engines tend to struggle to make it over 30 mph,” Clancy said. “Unless you have a scooter with a little bit of gumption, you’re going to be holding up traffic.”

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Little Lamb
53973
Points
Little Lamb 05/13/13 - 08:23 am
0
1
Rage

From the story:

All six of the fatalities recorded in Aiken County since 2009 happened at night or during the early morning on busy highways with mopeds being rear ended, wreck reports show.

Yes, it's dangerous out there. People are out to get you just because you drive slow.

john
1435
Points
john 05/13/13 - 09:54 am
1
0
ok

“Make sure that you’re aware of your surroundings, share the road and pass in a safe manner when driving,”

Yeah, good luck with that.

Little Lamb
53973
Points
Little Lamb 05/13/13 - 10:13 am
1
0
Another Grammar Lesson

From the story:

With a downtown core that pales in size and has less activity than Athens, Atlanta and Savannah, Clancy said he recommends those who operate low-powered scooters stick to secondary roads.

We are left with the impression that Tom Clancy, owner of a motorcycle dealership, possesses a small downtown core. Standard grammar says that an introductory clause or phrase is supposed to refer to the subject of the sentence which, in this case is Clancy.

In any case, wouldn't Clancy's advice be universal? It would be a good idea to keep low-powered scooters off of high-speed highways no matter how small or large is your downtown core.

LLArms
470
Points
LLArms 05/13/13 - 10:30 am
0
1
I recommend people do what I

I recommend people do what I did - I ordered a premanufactured brand new 2012 dune buggy, shipped it in from California and converted it to street legal. It has the benefit of up to 60mpg from a 4 cyl EFI engine (4 speed manual transmission with 7000rpm redline) and a roll cage to boot. Capable of 90+ MPH so can keep up with traffic easy.

- has 6 turn signals (2 front, 2 rear, 1 each side), brake lights, horn, windshield, two seats, 4 point safety restraints, DOT front and rear lights, Hi / Lo Beams, 4 DOT tires, AWD-Brakes

I'm sure some of you in Columbia County have seen me around. Only problem is DMV says they won't register it, but state law says it has to be registered based on its size and output - so I've created an exemption black hole. So the cops have left me alone.

And yes, I have full coverage insurance.

Total cost after putting street legal tires on it? About $8,500'ish.

Zero miles on the motor, brand new - great MPG - sure beats another car note...

So far I've seen, I'm the only in town driving one.

Edit: Manufacturers website: http://www.bmsmotor.com/dune/product_21_Sand_Sniper_1000_%282_seater%29....

Fair warning, while mine has been relatively trouble free and I am somewhat mechanically inclined, don't expect any support or warranty worth a damn.

GiantsAllDay
13008
Points
GiantsAllDay 05/13/13 - 02:27 pm
0
1
Sweet ride, LLArms!

Sweet ride, LLArms!

No_Longer_Amazed
5149
Points
No_Longer_Amazed 05/13/13 - 03:24 pm
1
0
2 out of 3 ain't bad...

"in Georgia and South Carolina, does not require registration, insurance or a driver’s license to operate."

http://www.dmv.org/sc-south-carolina/motorcycle-license.php

http://www.dds.ga.gov/drivers/dldata.aspx?con=1749319514&ty=dl

itsanotherday1
54305
Points
itsanotherday1 05/13/13 - 04:49 pm
1
0
I'm surprised to hear about

I'm surprised to hear about the DUI exemption. I've seen stories on TV where drunks were cited for operating tractors and lawnmowers on public property. What gives? Who is right?

itsanotherday1
54305
Points
itsanotherday1 05/13/13 - 04:55 pm
0
1
Yup LLarms

Sweet ride allright! If they would just go one step further and put removable semi-hard doors and roof on it, it would be complete. If I had a choice of being caught out in a cold rain on this or two wheels, this would be better for sure; but I would rather stay completely dry.

oldredneckman96
5115
Points
oldredneckman96 05/13/13 - 09:40 pm
1
0
Drunk mobiles
Unpublished

If it can not maintain posted road speeds, does not have a State tag, insurance, a licensed driver and all the millions of things any other veihicle has to have to be allowed on a public road; then it does not belong on a public road. Anything else is stealing from those of us who have jumped through every hoop and paid every fee and stayed sober. This means; golf carts, four-wheelers, bicycles, mopeds, or any other junk some drug addict will try to drive to try to score dope on. State law makers have sold out to these foolish devices for small money, vote them out of office if they do not get this junk off our roads.

itsanotherday1
54305
Points
itsanotherday1 05/13/13 - 10:38 pm
0
1
I disagree old redneck

People need to be able to run errands with anything that will do the posted speed limit, provided it has all of the required safety lighting, etc. You want evidence of competence via a driver's license, I'm OK with that. You want them to abide by all of the other requirements to operate a vehicle on a public roadway, I'm ok with that too; but car/truck owners don't own the highway.

oldredneckman96
5115
Points
oldredneckman96 05/15/13 - 10:14 am
1
0
Oldredneckman96
Unpublished

itsnaotherday1, you say you disagree with me,but you agree with everything I say? I agree with you, no one individule owns our public roads but you can use them if you pay for the use and follow the rules for thier use. Mopeds do not do this. Bicycles do not do this. Golf carts do not do this. But those of us who do follow the rules pay extra because of those who do not, higher insurance, traffic clogged up by slow moving junk, higher taxes to pay for the cost to clean up the mess of the wrecks this junk causes.

charlie marlow
206
Points
charlie marlow 05/28/13 - 06:10 pm
0
0
AC is wrong about mopeds

Hi Riverman, I hope things have been going well for you since the AC forum days.

Anyway, according to GA 40-6-351, a valid driver's license or learner's permit is required to operate a moped on a public road with moped being defined as:

"Moped" means a motor driven cycle equipped with two or three wheels, with or without foot pedals to permit muscular propulsion, and an independent power source providing a maximum of two brake horsepower. If a combustion engine is used, the maximum piston or rotor displacement shall be 3.05 cubic inches (50 cubic centimeters) regardless of the number of chambers in such power source. The power source shall be capable of propelling the vehicle, unassisted, at a speed not to exceed 30 miles per hour (48.28 kilometers per hour) on level road surface and shall be equipped with a power drive system that functions directly or automatically only, not requiring clutching or shifting by the operator after the drive system is engaged.

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