In a recent story reported by WJBF News Channel 6 posted on February 16, 2012, there is an apparent effort to “close the loophole” which allows DUI defendants to drive mopeds despite not being able to get a regular driver’s license during a suspension period. At the risk of seeming flippant, I always thought driving a moped was part of the rehabiliation process. The jokes alone would seemingly deter future bad conduct. Nevertheless, the legislature is taking active steps to deprive accused drivers from using mopeds to get around or go to work. Truly drunk drivers should be arrested and punished, especially if they injure or kill innocent victims. However, as a practicing DUI attorney, I regularly meet good, hard working individuals who have gotten caught up in the current DUI hysteria after having a drink with dinner or a beer with a friend. If you drive with any amount of alcohol on your breath and are stopped, you are going to be arrested and spend the night in jail no matter what you say or do. If you attempt to perform field sobriety tests, you will invariably fail and be arrested. If you decline any question or test, you are going to jail. You get the idea here. The best advice, pre-DUI arrest, is to simply not drink at all before driving. Even though that is not what the laws requires, it is the only protection available to prevent a wrongful DUI arrest.

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Here is the story:

Columbia, SC –A South Carolina Senate committee has approved a bill that would close a loophole in the state’s DUI law that has allowed people to drive mopeds while drunk.”It seems strange, but some magistrates have agreed that the law exempted mopeds from DUI laws,” says Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “So we’re absolutely closing that loophole.”

The problem is that state law does not consider mopeds to be motor vehicles. The state House passed a bill last year that would change that, to treat mopeds as motor vehicles in all circumstances. But Sen. Grooms says the House bill would lead to some unintended consequences, like allowing mopeds on Interstate highways, even though by definition a moped can’t go more than 30 miles per hour on level ground.

Mopeds are often associated with DUIs, because people who lose their driver’s licenses because of drunken driving can still drive a moped. State law says, “a person must possess a valid driver’s license … or a valid moped operator’s license … except that a person whose driver’s license has been suspended for a period of six months or less is not required to obtain a moped operator’s license or possess a valid driver’s license during the period of suspension.”

The Senate version of the bill would not change that. Sen. Grooms says, “The Senate amendment classifies mopeds as a motor vehicle only in the section of law dealing with driving under the influence.”

Moped driver Taylor Harrison, of Greenville, thinks closing the moped DUI loophole is a good idea. “Because a moped is essentially a motorcycle just powered down a little bit less. So if you drink and drive while on it, it still can be as dangerous as drinking and driving while on a motorcycle or something else,” he says.

But Billy Campbell, owner of Hawg Scooters in Columbia, says he doesn’t see a need for the change. “Clearly they don’t get all the DUI drivers,” he says. “So why are we going after mopeds?”

He says only the driver of a moped is likely to be hurt in a moped DUI accident. “There’s not going to be some mopedist that runs into a family and kills anybody,” he says.

The bill now goes to the full Senate floor, where Sen. Grooms expects it to pass. If it does, since senators changed the House version, the two bodies will have to reach an agreement on a final version.