- Aww, look at the cute little moped. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
In this week's Metro history post, I glanced back at the legal debate surrounding mopeds when they arose in the 1970s. Was the two-wheeled motorized vehicle more like a motorcycle and a bicycle — and how should it be regulated? An editor for Popular Mechanics argued it was no different than a bike in a magazine piece from 1975, but most states seem to have settled on the idea that the moped is, yes, in the category of a motorcycle.
A Virginia law firm contacted me in response to the piece, and it turns out they have multiple pages about moped law on their site. Awesome.
The Virginia law, I discovered, is a little more complicated when answering the question of whether a moped is a motorcycle or bike. Moped law requires that riders wear helmets, not exceed 35 miles/hour, not operate on a highway, be at least 16 years old, you must have ID, and other details along those lines. Yet there's a catch about what happens when you exceed 35 miles/hour. Then, it seems, you're not riding under the law of the moped anymore. The Parrish Law firm notes, "Regardless of motor or the size of the moped, operating a moped over 35 miles per hour will then classify you as operating a motorcycle."
Well then! All right. The firm also helpfully notes that you can get the same types of traffic tickets that any driver would and that they'll affect your record in the same way.
There's also conveniently a whole page on moped DUIs for any sneaky folks who thought that drunk mopeding wasn't drunk driving.
The law firm points to the section on mopeds on the Virginia DMV website, where many of the prior classifications are also noted, and spotlights the following line: "All DUI laws apply to mopeds operated on public highways." Virginia is especially tough on drunk driving, the firm notes, so don't even think about trying to get away with it.
The perception of mopeds may, in this instance, fall more into the instance of bicycles. The idea of biking while drunk has traditionally been a much more socially acceptable notion when compared to drunk driving in a car. Biking has struck some of my friends as the safe, good alternative — just bike to the bar and have an exhilarating, intoxicated ride back home when the night is over. The potential danger seems far less in a bike, but risks of course exist. Cyclists can still be charged in certain parts of the country if they're recklessly riding under the influence, however, from what I can tell.
I'm glad to finally have a more detailed answer about how modern moped law works in the area, however, at least in Virginia. What I find most fascinating is that the legal designation really does come down to speed in many ways. As long you ride your moped under 35 miles/hour, it's legally not considered a motorcycle.