MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) You probably see mopeds and scooters weaving in and out of traffic on major roads every day. They are a nuisance to many drivers, but also dangerous for riders taking them in traffic traveling at speeds more than 50 miles per hour. And you might be surprised at some of the laws protecting these bikes on major highways.
Chris Gentry is a freshman at Coastal Carolina University and he knows for the next few years, money will be tight.
"It's a lot [to ask] mom and dad to fill up a gas tank for a car every day or every week," Gentry says. "With a moped, I can fill up $2-3 a couple times a week and it will ride, ride, ride."
He only drives around campus and to his apartment at University Suites, but that short distance involves him going onto Hwy 501. Gentry admits he's had some close calls.
"That's probably the most dangerous part," he said. "You never know when somebody might not see you coming and pull out in front of you."
Gentry needs to stay alert while riding his moped, but according to South Carolina law, so do motor vehicle drivers.
"Highways such as 501 and 17, those are major highways," said SCHP Lance Corp. Sonny Collins.
"Mopeds are allowed to drive just as a car would, they have the same rights," he adds.
State law explicitly points out the difference between moped and scooter use. Mopeds can be operated by anyone age 14 and up. They can only go up to 25 miles per hour and basically any licensed driver can take a moped out on a major highway.
A scooter, though it looks like a moped, actually falls under motorcycle regulation because it can maintain speeds up to 60 to 70 mph. That means the scooter rider must be licensed and insured to ride a motorcycle.
Another big difference between the two is helmet use.
"The helmet law does not apply [to mopeds]," Collins said. "But for scooters, since they can travel faster than 30 mph, they fall under motorcycle regulation, so if they're under 21, they do have to wear a helmet."
Collins said many people get mopeds to offset rising gas prices, but a lot of drivers also starting riding when they're charged with DUI, since they can still operate one while suspended from driving.
In tourist towns like Myrtle Beach, visitors line up to rent mopeds, but it can be very dangerous if they don't know how to operate one.
Haley Sims is a manager at Go Fast Motorsports in Myrtle Beach.
"We don't want anyone past Market Common or the city limits," Sims said. "We tell most people to stay on Ocean Blvd. in slower traffic."
Sims said they are concerned about safety, regardless of what the law states.
"Anyone under 21 has to have a helmet. If you're over 21, we still like to offer it just for safety," Sims said. "Some people take it, some don't."
Collins said if there is an accident between a moped or scooter and motor vehicles on the road, the results are often deadly.
"When you're talking about a moped or scooter, they have very little protection," Collins said. "When we have a collision, the majority of the time it can be fatal."
The number of fatal moped crashes has been steadily rising. The South Carolina Department of Public Safety keeps track of all crashes in the state.
The numbers show just five fatal crashes involving a motorized bike in 2006. By the year 2011, there were 19 fatal crashes involving "motorized bikes".
The number of injured rides is skyrocketing, too. There were 262 injured on motorized bikes in 2006 and more than 610 in the year 2010, the last year for which data is available.
Collins said there are things moped and scooter owners can do to protect themselves when riding on major highways.
First, do everything you can to make yourself visible, whether it's wearing bright clothing or a reflective vest. Also, only travel during daytime hours, rather than on dark roads at night. Lastly, be smart about picking your travel. Collins said don't pick a spot on a major highway during rush hour.
It is advice Gentry takes seriously because for him, the benefits of riding a moped outweigh the dangers.
"[I've saved] maybe thousands of dollars worth of gas," Gentry estimates. "If not, maybe close to it."