DMV denies Beaufort County motorcyclists' claims that skills course too small
The S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles recently began requiring motorcyclists to take a skills test because it says too many bikers have beginner's permits instead of full-fledged licenses.
Some Beaufort County bikers say they wouldn't mind getting their licenses, but they renew beginner's permits instead because their bikes are too big to navigate the DMV course.
Pete Izzillo of Hilton Head Island said he was turned away from the DMV in Bluffton's Sheridan Park last April when he tried to take the skills test. He was told his Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic was too large, and he'd have to rent or borrow one to navigate the course. Most other bikers he knows also ride larger models, and he said he can't rent one with just a beginner's permit.
"The majority of people I've met so far have permits instead of licenses because it's too hard to pass on the little course with a bigger bike," Izzillo said.
Kirk O'Leary, a member of the Fire & Iron Motorcycle Club, said he knows riders who have failed the skills test at the Beaufort DMV, where he said the course is also too small. One of them was his wife, Barbara, an experienced rider with a Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200, which has larger tires that couldn't navigate the tight circles.
She will borrow a smaller Yamaha with a tighter turning radius and retake the test.
Having to borrow a bike to get a motorcycle license isn't fair, said the club's chapter president, Glenn Guidroz.
"Then you have somebody on an unfamiliar bike trying to take a safety test," Guidroz said.
He agreed that some bikes are "way too heavy for the small, low-speed turns that the state is requiring them to do."
DMV spokeswoman Beth Parks said the riders are mistaken -- that any stock manufactured bike can be used for the test. All of the motorcycle testing sites were revamped to accommodate larger bikes in 2005, she said, and no manufactured makes or models are turned away.
Parks said a Highway Patrol trooper easily navigated the 80-by-24-foot courses on a Harley-Davidson Road King when the DMV revamped the testing sites.
The only exception might be bikes that riders have built themselves or customized to be larger than the factory version, she said.
"If they built the bike so big, then they may have to use something else," Parks said. "We're not asking them to do anything they wouldn't be doing on the road."
Attempts Monday to reach representatives at the Bluffton and Beaufort DMV offices were unsuccessful.
The new DMV rules took effect at the beginning of June. While motorcyclists are required to take the skills test when they renew their beginner's permits, they don't have to pass it to keep their riding privileges. If they fail, they won't be able to get a license, but they can still keep their beginner's permits.
Sgt. Steven McDonald of the Fairfield County Sheriff's Office is part of the S.C. Motorcycle Safety Task Force, which recommended the change to the DMV. McDonald said it may be a "warning sign" if a rider can't pass the test on the bike he uses every day.
The task force, created by the S.C. Department of Public Safety in 2006, reconvened late last year to again address an increase in motorcycle fatalities. In 2011, motorcycle fatalities rose by 18 percent compared to 2010. In a recent study, the Governors Highway Safety Association found they continued to rise in 2012.
Requiring bikers to take the skills test was a simple way to encourage safety without changing the law, which allows beginner's permits to be renewed indefinitely, McDonald said. According to the DMV, about 30 percent of South Carolina's motorcyclists carry beginner's permits instead of licenses.
Izzillo agrees it's a good idea, and said he wants to follow the rules. But navigating a large bike at 15 mph around tight turns without putting his foot down -- an automatic failure -- could be difficult even if he is allowed on the course, he said.
"I just want to get my license," Izzillo said.
Follow reporter Allison Stice on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Allison.