A ticket to ride — nowhere

2-wheel devices are legal but not on public streets, sidewalks


Herald Writer

For some, they are just another form of transportation.

Others like motorized scooters for their recreational value.

"They’re more fun than a skateboard, and you have better control — and you can actually stop," said Alan Hyatt of Lynnwood, owner of a motorized scooter for about a year.

No matter how they’re used, you can get used to the fact that there’s an increasing number of them out and about. There’s also an increasing amount of confusion over where people can ride them.

The biggest problem is some law enforcement agencies frown on the little scooters that can attain speeds of 20 miles per hour or more.

The Washington State Patrol recently decided the vehicles are not legal on streets or sidewalks, casting cold water on the two-wheeled fun. The only place you can legally ride them is on private property.

Ray Stonehocker of Marysville used to ride his motorized scooter around Snohomish when he lived there. He was a little chagrined once when an officer told him to stop riding on a rural road and push his vehicle home. But he said a lot of officers are just more interested in the machine itself than stopping him from riding it.

There still are only a handful of dealers of the little vehicles in our area, but the people at Blue Moon Motorsports in Monroe say they sell about 30 a month, and they’re getting increasingly popular.

That’s why a Blue Moon owner, Charlie Bisbee, said he will be in contact with his legislators in an attempt to get approval of state law regulating the vehicles. Bisbee disagrees with the State Patrol’s interpretation of the law, and he wants to settle any ambiguity.

"They’re a great form of alternate transportation," Bisbee said. "When you get on the bus it folds up, and you can stick it in a duffel bag" and carry it aboard. "We have literally hundreds and hundreds of satisfied customers that want to see this resolved."

He’s going about it the right way, said Trooper Tom Foster, a State Patrol spokesman in Olympia.

"That’s the course to take right now," Foster said. "Right now the statutes say they’re not legal."

The motorized scooters are caught in sort of a Catch-22. They have either internal combustion engines or battery-powered motors, but they can’t be registered as motor vehicles. That’s because they don’t "meet any of the criteria for registration," Foster said.

At the same time, it’s against the law to ride a motor-powered vehicle on a sidewalk. Riding either in the street or on the sidewalk can mean a $71 fine, Foster added.

He said the state is more concerned about safety than about pocketing the fine.

"We’re afraid these are dangerous," Foster said.

Indeed, the federal Consumer Products Safety Commission has been keeping track of emergency room visits around the country from all kinds of scooter accidents.

Commission spokesman Mark Ross said the big concern has been with those lightweight push-scooters you see for sale just about everywhere nowadays. Through Nov. 15 this year, there were 30,000 reported injuries, including two deaths, associated with push-scooter accidents, Ross said.

There are fewer motorized scooters, which start at about $500 at your retailer or through the Internet.

Ross said for all of 1999 and the first nine months of 2000, emergency rooms have treated 2,500 people injured on motorized scooters. There also were two deaths.

"We just emphasize that people should wear safety gear (such as helmets and elbow pads) on whatever kind of scooter you’re riding," Ross said.

Other states already have started grappling with the issue of motorized scooters.

The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles this fall started conducting a survey to determine whether state legislation is advisable there, said Jamie Dunbar, the agency’s deputy director of public relations.

"Is it a toy or is it something that we need to regulate?" he asked.

In California, the legislature there already has acted. Last year it approved a law allowing motorized scooters on some streets with low speed limits. The law doesn’t require driver licenses or vehicle registration, but riders must be 16 years old and wear a helmet.

While the debate goes on, a lot will depend on the behavior of motorized scooter riders and the discretion of police who see them, officers said.

"There’s definitely room for discretion on the part of the officer who sees someone riding them," Foster said.

All he can do for folks thinking about them as Christmas gifts is to provide the information.

"I would not advise someone not to purchase one," Foster said. "Just realize the limitations."

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