Hezekiah Godette has been riding his scooter around Havelock for about a year.
“This is my car here. It’s my truck,” he said.
The motorized scooters that can reach speeds of about 35 mph are proving to be a popular alternate mode of transportation, mainly because a license is not required to operate one. The only requirements are that the engines not exceed 50 cubic centimeters and that operators be 16 years old and wear helmets.
In Godette’s case, an eye infection prevented him from getting a driver’s license, so he turned to a scooter.
“I got this to get around with,” he said after picking up his lunch at the Taste of China restaurant last week. “I couldn’t pedal a bicycle to get around with, so this comes in handy. It’s a handy little thing. It’s just to run around town or run around the neighborhood to do what you want to do.”
Still, there are some concerns that the scooters or mopeds pose a safety hazard on the road, not only for operators of the scooters, but also for vehicle drivers who may have to slow quickly and switch lanes to avoid them. Last month, a scooter was involved in a crash with a vehicle in Havelock, though no one was injured.
Sgt. James Fahnestock, of the Havelock Police Department, said the scooters are entitled to the entire lane in which they operate and that those in vehicles must switch lanes to get by them.
“You cannot share the lane with a moped,” he said. “Where he’s at, that lane belongs to him. The best thing you can do if you come upon a moped is to slow down, and when it’s safe to pass, go around.”
He said on two-lane roads when a scooter is operating in the lane, vehicle drivers are not permitted to pass in a no passing zone, but if the scooter is riding outside the white fog line on the shoulder of the road, it can be passed in a no passing zone.
Godette said he was not worried about bigger vehicles while riding his scooter around town.
“You just have to stay on the right side,” he said. “That’s the way you’ve got to ride it.”
Operators do have to observe the rules of the road, such as stop signs, speed limits and traffic signals. And, don’t think it’s safe to drive a scooter while drunk.
“You can get a DWI on a moped,” Fahnestock said. “We can issue a DWI to anything that rides on the road except for a horse.”
Just two weeks ago, John Dancy, 43, of Morehead City, was convicted in Carteret County for habitual impaired driving after his arrest in June for driving a moped while intoxicated. Dancy was sentenced to 17 to 30 months in prison for his fourth DWI conviction in 10 years.
“Impaired driving is dangerous regardless of the method of transportation,” District Attorney Scott Thomas said in a statement. “Mopeds can cause traffic collisions just as any other vehicle can. Impaired moped operators are not immune from prosecution and prison.”
Fahnestock said he has noticed an increase in the number of scooters on the road. He believes one of the biggest reasons is because of the good gas mileage.
Dave Thompson, sales manager of Craven County Motorsports, located on U.S. 70 between New Bern and Havelock, said the scooters can get up to 80 miles per gallon.
“They are real easy to ride,” Thompson said. “There are no gears or clutches. You just get on it and give it gas.”
Prices for a scooter at Craven County Motorsports start at $2,199.
“There are some cheaper brands that start at around $1,000, but we don’t sell those,” he said, adding that he has not seen an increase in sales recently.
At any price, owners of scooters save money on vehicle taxes, license tag or registration fees, state vehicle inspections and insurance, none of which are required for scooters under current law.
“You’ve probably got college kids, and this is a way for them to get around inexpensively without having to get a tag or insurance,” Thompson said. “There’re a lot of benefits to it. It’s an inexpensive way to get around. By the time you get your tags and taxes and insurance, that’s a lot of money. This is a way for someone to avoid all that.”
Still, there was an effort this past legislative session to require scooters to be registered with the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles. The measure didn’t pass.
“If they try to do something to outlaw them or something like that, it’s going to mess some people up,” Thompson said.
One of those people would be Godette, who said he simply has no means to get around town on his own other than on his scooter.
“When you’re disabled and can’t work and can’t pass a driver’s test, you have something that you can get around on,” he said. “And if you can’t pedal a bicycle, this will get you where you want to go. That’s what it’s made for.”
Havelock News reporter Drew C. Wilson contributed to this story.