New rules for mopeds

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.

Update #3 — March 20, 2013; 9:30 AM

By Shelby Mertens | Capital News Service

New moped regulations:

  • Beginning July 1st: moped operators must carry a photo ID and wear both helmet and eye protection.
  • Beginning July 1, 2014: moped owners must title and register new vehicles ($10 charge), and obtain a license plate.

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Moped operators in Virginia would have to wear helmets and eye protection, carry a government-issued photo ID, and title, as well as 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 SB1038, 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.

SB1038 was sponsored by Republican Sens. Stephen Newman (23rd District) and Charles Carrico (40th District). 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.

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Update #2 — February 14, 2013; 9:55 AM

Today, the House of Delegates voted 60-39 on a bill (SB1038) that would require moped owners to register and title their vehicles, and moped operators to wear a helmet and goggles.

Although the bill–which addressed other “non-conventional vehicles” in addition to mopeds–passed the Senate, it was modified by a House committee to refine the definitions of all-terrain vehicles and establish low-speed license plates for special four-wheeled electrically-powered vehicles, among other things (PDF).

As the bill was modified, it will return to the Senate for reconsideration. If the modified bill passes the Senate, it will go before the Governor. However, if the modified bill is rejected, it will then enter a committee of conference for the two bills to be reconciled.

A representative in the office of the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Stephen Newman (R- 23rd District), said the senator approved of the House changes, and expects the modified bill to pass the Senate and move to the Governor’s desk.

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Update #1 – January 16th; 6:30 AM

Del. Joe May (R-Leesberg) has introduced a bill (HB1984) that would require all mopeds in Virginia to be titled and registered, with riders required to carry government-issued photo identification and wear safety glasses if the moped is not equipped with a windshield.

The bill would also update the state’s legal definition of “moped” to mean:

…every vehicle that travels on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground that has (i) has a seat that is no less than 24 inches in height, measured from the middle of the seat perpendicular to the ground and; (ii) has a gasoline, electric, or hybrid motor that (a) displaces less than 50 cubic centimeters or less or (b) has an input of 1500 watts or less; (iii) is power-driven, with or without pedals that allow propulsion by human power; and (iv) is not operated at speeds in excess of 35 miles per hour.

Thus, motor scooters displacing 49cc or less would be considered mopeds under the bill, which would become law effective July 1, 2014. A representative of Del. May’s office said a House subcommittee reviewing the bill recently lowered the proposed titling tax rate on mopeds from 5% to 3%. The bill is scheduled to go before a full House Transportation Committee vote on Thursday.

The Senate is also considering a similar bill (SB1038), now awaiting vote in the Senate Transportation Committee.

Relatedly, Sen. Jeff McWaters (R-Virginia Beach) has introduced an additional moped bill (SB1007) that would require moped owners to have a valid driver’s license, complete special vehicle operations testing, and wear a helmet during operation. The bill also forbids excess of one passenger riding on a moped while in use, and increases violation fines from $50 to $250.

The bill is awaiting vote in the Senate Transportation Committee.

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Original — December, 27 2012; 10:45 AM

Draft legislation requiring scooter and moped1 owners across Virginia to register and title their vehicle, as well as wear helmets and eye protection, will likely come before the General Assembly sometime after it convenes in early 2013. Several motor scooter riders and enthusiasts, including the owner of local Scoot Richmond, think the proposed law is imperative.

“There were not nearly as many 49cc bikes” when state laws were first made, said Chelsea Lahmers.2 “Now there’s so many more. Something had to be fixed.” She said Virginia has one of the nation’s most lax moped laws.

She said that since 2009, Scoot Richmond has seen steady growth in annual sales, largely because of the fuel economy mopeds offer (typically 70-100 mpg). She said 2012 has been the retailer’s “best year on record,” seeing upwards of 75 moped sales in a single month. However, neither Lahmers or state officials know the number of mopeds in either Richmond or the state. “No one has any idea,” Lahmers said. That’s one of several benefits Lahmers sees in the proposed law.

The Scoot Richmond owner was one of several individuals that comprised a recent “Non-conventional Vehicle Study Group” organized by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The study group, consisting of various state departmental officials, representatives of safety organizations, and business owners, held a trio of meetings this past summer to discuss updating state laws regarding several non-automobile vehicles, including mopeds.

Lahmers said one of the chief concerns among moped discussions was to create a consistent law that encompassed all of the state rather than relying on individual cities and counties to make and enforce laws that sometimes contradicted one another.

For instance, Richmond law requires moped riders to wear helmets while operating their vehicle. However, “In many other counties, that [is] not the law,” Lahmers said. Similarly, some state jurisdictions require riders to wear eye protection while on a moped. Others do not. The proposed law will make it so that all Virginians who operate a moped must wear both a helmet and eye protection across the state.

Another benefit of the law that Lahmers praises is the requirement that all mopeds must be both tagged and titled. Currently, moped riders can operate their vehicle without a license plate, which Lahmers said help makes them “very easy” to steal. Just this summer, Richmond Police noted that moped thefts in the city were up nearly 150 percent compared to 2011. Should the proposed law pass, moped riders will be required to obtain a license plate3 for their vehicles at a one-time, $10 charge (the tag should follow the bike if its subsequently sold).

Many mopeds in Richmond are also not titled. The new law would require moped owners to pay $20 to register their vehicles with the DMV. Lahmers said that not only would tagging and titling mopeds deter theft (and make it more likely to recover a vehicle should it be stolen) but it would add another method of identifying a moped rider should she be involved in a severe accident with no identification on them. “If that person has no plate on the bike…there’s no way to find out who that person is,” Lahmers said. Titling will also help give officials and the public a better idea of just how many mopeds are in use statewide.

Many riders will be pleased with what the proposed law does not require. Moped owners will not need a driver’s license to operate their vehicle, will not need to pay property taxes, will not be required to obtain an annual state inspection of the vehicle, and will not needing to renew tags.

“I feel there aren’t a lot of downsides,” Lahmers said about the proposed statewide changes. She believes that when Delegate Joe May (R – Leesburg) brings the bill to the General Assembly sometime next year, as is expected, it will become law. “I’m very optimistic that this will pass.”


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  1. Public perception of mopeds and scooters sometimes differ from their legal distinctions. According to Virginia law, any motor bike that operates at 49cc or below is considered a moped. So, while some would see a 49cc Vespa and refer to it as a scooter, it is legally classified as a moped. Anything 50cc and above is a motorcycle. So, a 100cc Vespa may be called a scooter in conversation, but is legally referred to as a motorcycle. 
  2. Virginia considers motor scooters that operate 50cc and above motors motorcycles, which carry with them their own unique tagging and titling requirements. 
  3. Lahmers provided this photo comparing the license plates of an automobile (bottom), motorcycle (middle), and one that would likely be similar to that of a moped under the new law (top). 

photo by swanksalot

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