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New scooter law, other driving regulations begin Monday
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New scooter law, other driving regulations begin Monday

New rules apply to mopeds, texting while driving

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Scooters

A person on a scooter crosses Franklin St. near The Jefferson Hotel.

Virginia moped owners won’t be able to scoot around state paperwork much longer.

As part of a group of traffic laws taking effect Monday, they will have to register their bikes with the state, though they will have until July 1, 2014, to do so.

The same day, texting while driving becomes a primary offense, which means police can pull motorists over if they see them texting, and there will be new limits on how many passengers that drivers with provisional licenses can have with them.

“Our belief is the fact that a police officer can pull over and cite someone for texting should serve as a major deterrent to those who are currently breaking the law and putting everyone on the roadway in danger,” said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Martha M. Meade.

State officials and AAA Mid-Atlantic held a news conference on an Interstate 95 overpass to discuss the changes and urge people to drive safely over the Fourth of July holiday.

“Please be responsible and be a good example to your family and others,” said John Saunders, the DMV’s director of highway safety.

Currently, drivers can be ticketed for texting only if police pull them over for another offense. The new law removes that requirement and stiffens the fines. Virginia does not have a prohibition on cellphone use while driving, though there is a ban on young drivers using electronics behind the while, Meade said.

Separately, drivers younger than 18 who have had provisional licenses for at least a year will be able to have up to three passengers younger than 21, but only going to or from a school-sponsored activity or a licensed driver who is at least 21 is in the front passenger seat or in an emergency. Currently, they can have up to three passengers younger than 18, without destination restrictions.

Perhaps the most complex changes will be for scooter riders. The state defines anything with an engine smaller than 50cc and that goes 35 mph or less as a moped, and anything that goes faster or has a bigger engine as a motorcycle.

Currently, moped riders face few regulations, and it’s common for people who own bikes that meet the state’s definition of motorcycles to pass them off as mopeds, since they have scooter-style bodies, said Chelsea Lahmers, owner of Scoot Richmond, a scooter dealership.

Under the new law, they will have to title and register their scooters with the state by July 1, 2014. That means they’ll get a single license plate to hang on the back of the moped, but the state will not require them to have insurance or safety inspections.

Titling will cost $10, registration $20.25. Customized plates will be available for $10 more, a DMV pamphlet on mopeds advertises.

“Six characters: endless possibilities,” it says, showing sample plates 2WHEEL and ISCOOT.

Moped drivers will be required to carry some form of photo identification, though they still won’t be required to have driver’s licenses. They’ll also have to wear helmets and, if their mopeds don’t have windshields, goggles.

“It shouldn’t have too much of an effect on people as long as they’re already following the rules,” Lahmers said, adding that Richmond already requires helmets.

Taking a bug, or other object, to the eye is a great way to crash, she said.

The plan is touted by officials as making it easier to identify both stolen mopeds and dead or injured moped riders.

In the year ending Tuesday, 222 mopeds and 512 other motor vehicles were stolen in the city of Richmond, according to the Richmond police.

DMV spokeswoman Sunni B. Brown said the DMV is ready for the paperwork problems associated with registering a state’s worth of scooters in the span of a year, and even people who have no existing paperwork on their scooters will be able to register their vehicles.

Those without paperwork will have to be helped on a case-by-case basis, Brown said.

Those without title may be able to fill out an affidavit-in-lieu-of-title and get it notarized, Brown said.

Riders’ reaction to the new plan was mixed.

Cuppy Harris of the Lost Boys moped club said he felt the changes would take away some of the freedom riders of the currently unregulated vehicles are going for.

“It seems like our government that we’re supposed to trust is just sucking money out of us,” he said.

Local rider Justin White shared a different view. While reserving final judgment, he said he thought the idea was a good one.

“It’s common sense,” he said. “But it’s good to have it officially out there.”

tstrong@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6861

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