City proposes a motorized scooter law

Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2001

James Andersen, 11, may need to keep his motorized scooter at home for a few years if an ordinance under consideration by the Juneau Assembly is approved.

Andersen, who was riding a non-motorized scooter home from school on Tuesday on the Mendenhall Loop Road bikepath, also owns a gas-powered Go-Ped, a brand name for a popular type of scooter. He mainly uses it to travel around his street when the weather is good, he said.

"They're safe as long as you use them right," he said.

But under an ordinance under consideration by the Assembly, children and adults who ride lightweight motorized scooters may face new restrictions. Motorized scooters would be off-limits to kids younger than 14, and riders would need to wear helmets and eye protection. The measures wouldn't apply to the slower, foot-powered scooters.

Andersen doesn't agree with the proposal's age limit.

"They should make it under 12," he said.

The Juneau Police Department is proposing the ordinance for safety reasons generally and specifically because of an accident earlier this fall, police Capt. Tom Porter said.

In September, two 12-year-old boys on a motorized scooter ran into a truck towing a small boat in the Mendenhall Valley. The two, who sustained minor injuries, were wearing helmets. When EMTs arrived, the scooter was under the boat trailer.

"The primary thing is the concern for the well-being and the safety of everyone," Porter said.

Scooters don't have lights and are hard to see, even in daylight, Porter said. Although Juneau doesn't require bike riders to wear helmets, the police encourage anyone on a scooter or bike or who is using in-line skates to wear one, he said.

As scooter sales have increased, so have injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Motorized scooter-related emergency room injuries totaled 2,250 in the first seven months of 2001, up from 1,460 injuries in the same period last year. Children under age 15 accounted for 39 percent of the injuries, the commission reported.

Along with helmets, the Consumer Product Safety Commission suggests that scooter-riders also wear knee and elbow pads, spokesman Mark Ross said. Some motorized scooters can travel more than 20 mph, he said.

"It's something people think of as a toy, not something you can get hurt on. Unfortunately, that's not the case," Ross said.

The commission recommends that children under 8 not use non-motorized scooters without close adult supervision and children under age 12 not ride motorized scooters. It's up to parents and caregivers to know what a child's abilities are, and how well a child can ride a bicycle is a good indicator, Ross said.

Under Juneau's ordinance, children under 14 would not be able to operate a motorized scooter. The same age restriction applies to smaller motor bikes and mopeds under state law, Porter said.

"That seems awful reasonable," said parent Ron Williams, who was keeping an eye on his 4-year-old son, A.J., and friend's daughter Sonya at the Pipeline, Juneau's skateboard park, on Tuesday. Someone on his block has a motorized scooter, he said.

"There's nothing worse than seeing someone fly by without a helmet in the dark. They do pick up speed," he said.

But Go-Ped creator Steven Patmont said scooters shouldn't be more regulated than bicycles, skateboards and in-line skates, which he said cause more injuries per unit and can go faster than scooters.

Patmont launched Livermore, Calif.,-based Patmont Motor Werks from his garage in 1985. The company sells scooters powered by gas, electric and foot.

Patmont doesn't agree with the Consumer Product Safety Commission motorized scooter recommendation of age 12, in part because the government is taking the place of parents, he said. Minors need to have responsible adult supervision, he said.

"I can show you some 30-year-olds that don't belong on a Go-Ped and some 10-year-olds that do belong on a Go-Ped," he said. "Human beings can be very responsible at early ages and irresponsible at any age," he said.

Patmont prefers the California Motorized Scooter Law, which makes it legal for people age 16 and older to drive a motorized scooter on the right side of the street or in a bike lane, provided they wear a helmet and don't travel faster than 15 mph.

Under Juneau's proposed ordinance, motorized scooter riders would need to obey traffic laws and speed limits. They wouldn't be allowed on sidewalks or in areas where skateboarding isn't allowed. Riding at night would be prohibited. So would passengers.

The ordinance applies to a coaster, scooter, skateboard or other wheeled device without a seat that is self-propelled by a motor or engine of less than 5 horsepower.

The proposal does not lay out a specific fine, although city staff members are discussing possible penalties. A public hearing on the scooter ordinance is set for 7 p.m. Nov. 19 in the Assembly chambers.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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