New rules for motorcyclists aimed at improving safety require bikers to take a skills test when renewing their beginner permits, according to the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.
But failing the test won't mean the end of driving privileges.
Those who pass get a motorcycle license or an endorsement for one. If they fail, they can still renew their beginner permit, according to the DMV.
The new rules took effect this week.
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The DMV says too many motorcyclists only have a beginner permit instead of an operating license. According to its estimates, 30 percent of the 112,000 motorcycles registered in South Carolina are operated by those with beginner permits instead of motorcycle licenses.
Motorcyclists can continuously renew beginner permits each year without limit, instead of applying for a motorcycle license. Those with beginner permits are restricted to riding in daylight hours only, however.
"If they don't have a motorcycle license, we don't know if they are truly capable of operating a motorcycle," said DMV executive director Kevin Shwedo. "We have found motorcycle riders who have renewed their beginner permits five, 10 and even 13 times.
"If they can't operate their bike after a year or two of practice, they don't need to be on the road at all."
Nothing in the rule change, however, prevents beginner permit-holders from continuing to renew their permits because the law does not allow the DMV to limit the number of renewals, according to spokeswoman Beth Parks. The law does allow instructors to require a "bona fide" attempt at passing the skills test, she said.
As of Monday, motorcyclists hoping to renew their permits have to demonstrate they can do sharp turns and U-turns to the left and right, weave through cones, perform sudden stops, ride around curves and avoid obstacles.
Allen Pinkus, a member of the Sun City Roadrunners Motorcycle Club and a former motorcycle deputy in Allegheny County, Pa., has been riding for 52 years and has never had to take a skills test.
But he thinks it's a good idea.
"The basic requirements are fairly simple and straightforward, and anyone who has a modicum of skill should be able to do it," Pinkus said. "Most of the motorcycle incidents I've seen while in law enforcement have involved young people, unfortunately, or have been the result of drivers acting irresponsibly."
The rule change isn't likely to affect the Sun City club's members, who have all been licensed for years, Pinkus said.