Lawmakers Tackle Scooter Issue
July 29, 2005
Filed under Uncategorized
Lawmakers around the country are debating the issue of regulating the use of small displacement motorized scooters.
In Minnesota, a new law starting August 1 makes it legal for anyone 12 years old or older to operate the electric and gas-powered stand-up and sit-down vehicles on public streets without a driver's license.
The new state law also defines motorized scooters as those with either 10-inch or smaller wheels or an engine that can't go faster than 15 miles per hour. Scooters with wheels 10-inches of larger can be operated as fast as the law allows. The law also bans the units from sidewalks, and designates the use of helmets by operators under the age of 18.
Minnesota state government had considered motorized scooters to be motor vehicles, but because the units lack safety equipment such as turn signals and lights, they cannot be registered and therefore are not street legal. They were, in effect, banned from use everywhere except on private property with the owner's permission.
"This was passed? Unbelievable!" a surprised Ron Reier, Minneapolis police spokesman, commented to the StarTribune newspaper. "A 12-year-old kid, a 13-year-old kid can operate these in downtown Minneapolis during rush hour?"
In Northbrook, Ill., police are asking for feedback before deciding whether to enact, refine or reject a Cook County law that prohibits riding any electric or gas-driven wheeled scooter, motor-driven cycle or similar vehicle for which Illinois does not issue license plates or registration certificates.
Northbrook could adopt its own ordinance and override the county law, which took effect in January.
South Dakota's Attorney General Larry Long issued an opinion on the scooters, too.
In a recent issue of The Shield, a Police Department newsletter in Spearfish, S.D., Long wrote that certain scooters fall under the definition of a motorized vehicle and qualify as a motorcycle. He explained that to operate a motorcycle on public roadways in South Dakota requires an operator's license with a motorcycle endorsement.
However, since stand-up motorized scooters are a motorcycle without mirrors or turning signals, they cannot be ridden on the streets. And, according to Long, since they are motor vehicles they cannot be ridden on sidewalks.
Forty-nine people nationwide died in motorized scooter accidents from October 1998 through November 2004, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
In a CPSC study of emergency room visits from July 2003 through June 2004, the commission found that:
o More than 10,000 scooter injuries were treated.
o Only 40% of those injured were wearing helmets.
o Few were wearing other safety gear such as knee and elbow pads.
o Two thirds were under age 15.
o 71% of the incidents were related to the operator (36%) or the environment (35%) or both, including operators who lost control, braked too quickly, accelerated unexpectedly, fell off the scooter, had two people riding, hit a curb, bump or pothole, or rode on gravel.
o 20% were blamed on scooter problems, including brake failure, loose handlebars, accelerator sticking and cuts on the sharp edges of the scooters.