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A new state law governing mopeds that went into effect July 1 has prompted Fairfax County police officers to become more aware of the prevalence of mopeds, mini-bikes, and foot scooters on county roadways.

On July 10, officers from the Fairfax County Police Department participated in a new pilot course aimed at laws and safety issues surrounding mopeds and other two-wheeled vehicles.

According to police officials, in 2013, there were almost 600 crashes across the state involving these types of two-wheeled vehicles; 12 of which were fatal. Recently, there was a fatal crash in Reston involving a 17-year-old boy riding a moped.

“While there are no statistics kept by government on the numbers of these vehicles on Fairfax County streets, officers’ note that their presence is swelling, with warm weather and high gas prices as possible contributors,” said police spokesperson Lucy Caldwell.

The new law that went into effect on July 1 mandates that all mopeds with engines of 50 cc’s or more must be titled and registered with the Virginia DMV, as well as several other provisions.

Virginia law now requires that every moped driver operating on Virginia roadways be at least 16 years of age and carry a government-issued photo ID — although it does not have to be a driver’s license.

In addition, drivers and passengers must both wear helmets and face shields, safety glasses or goggles unless the moped has a windshield. Operation of mopeds remain prohibited on interstates.

In addition, the new law states that it is illegal to drive a moped if your driver’s license is suspended or revoked for convictions of DUI, underage consumption of alcohol, refusing a blood or breath test, or driving while on a suspended or revoked license for a DUI-related offense.

“If a moped is operated in excess of 35 miles per hour, it will automatically be considered a motorcycle and the driver will be required to comply with all the motorcycle requirements such as vehicle registration, insurance, inspection requirements, and driver licensing laws,” said Master Police Officer Joe Moore, who heads the new pilot course for fellow county officers. According to Moore, any two-wheeled motorized cycle over 50cc’s is automatically considered a motorcycle and subject to a different set of regulations, including requiring a motorcycle endorsement on the driver’s operator license.

“Decades ago, mopeds were used as fun or sport; now, many people are relying upon them for commuting purposes and driving long distances on busy roadways,” said Moore. In addition to mopeds, Moore says other types of two-wheeled vehicles exist and are often used in ways not consistent with the law, such as foot scooters and mini-bikes. “Foot scooters basically look like skateboards with elevated handlebars on the front and a small motor on the rear,” he said. “Virginia law says you only need to be 14 to operate one of these, but they can only be used on streets with speed limits of 25 miles per hour or less, so they are essentially meant to be used for entertainment like going around a neighborhood block, and not for transportation.”

Moore says mini-bikes, which generally have seat heights less than 24 inches high, are considered ‘motor-driven cycles’ and are strictly made for entertainment on private property and are not street-legal whatsoever.

“If all these regulations and definitions are confusing to you, you are not the only one,” said Moore. “Even some police officers find them confusing, which is why I’m trying to make them aware of the existing safety regulations with these classes. After learning about all the two-wheeled cycle safety regulations in my class last week, every officer who participated said they issued citations within two hours of attending my class.”

gmacdonald@fairfaxtimes.com