Nov. 17, 2004 - Following in a line of cities and towns across the nation, Oro Valley is looking at a possible ban of motorized scooters.

At a Nov. 8 study session, Oro Valley Police Chief Daniel Sharp said the issue of if and how motorized scooters, skateboards and other play vehicles should be permitted for use in the town was brought to the council to "raise the level of awareness and discussion on the issue in Oro Valley" and the department, at this time, is not advocating any particular action.

However, several council members expressed opinions about needing to ban or regulate the scooters and the issue is to be brought back to the council in the form of an ordinance as soon as the police department can complete its research. Sharp said he will be trying to get it done soon, as the holiday season is approaching and the scooter's may be on some people's wish list this year.

Oro Valley Sgt. Aaron Teachout said the motorized scooters and skateboards are being used primarily in the different neighborhoods in the community, not on public pathways or in parks. He said the town has one documented collision and also has received several noise complaints related to the vehicles.

According to a study conducted by the department to see what other communities are doing in response to the vehicles, Teachout said some are regulating the scooters, others are banning them and some are not doing anything at all.

Tucson banned the use of such vehicles this year, and the towns of Tempe, Gilbert and Phoenix have placed regulations on their use. Mesa has no ordinance regulating the play vehicles.

Towns that do regulate the scooters have put age restrictions limiting use to those over either 14 or 16 years of age, limited use to daylight hours, required a parent's permission slip to be out and about on one, or even required an official town permit, among other measures.

Currently, the OVPD deals with any complaint or accident on a case by case basis, Teachout said.

Any ordinance dealing with these vehicles would not include segways, neighborhood vehicles or medical transportation vehicles already dealt with by state laws.

While the council has not made any decision on the scooters, members expressed opinions on the safety of the vehicles and ideas about how the issue should be addressed at the study session.

Councilmember Conny Culver did a little legwork before the study session and quoted from newspaper articles from other cities where individuals had been injured or killed in scooter-related accidents.

"My concern lies with safety," she said. "I am really concerned that regulating these isn't enough. The question, to me, is not how we will regulate them, but whether or not we even want to go there. They're too dangerous. There is a reason we don't put children behind the wheel of a car."

Kenneth "KC" Carter agreed that the scooters are dangerous, saying he barely averted an accident with a rider in his own neighborhood recently.

Councilmember Helen Dankwerth noted information gathered by the police department from several manufacturer's, which stated that these scooters did not meet federal safety standards and should not be used on the streets.

She also said mixing children, particularly those without the proper safety equipment, with the number of elderly driver's in Oro Valley seemed to her "a recipe for disaster" and "highly, highly dangerous."

"I would like to see an ordinance against this," she said.

While some council members seem convinced of the dangers, the council is asking for more information before acting on the issue. Councilmembers Barry Gillaspie and Terry Parish were absent from the discussion.

Mayor Paul Loomis said he, too, has seen the scooters in the town and said "they certainly can zip right along," but he is asking for more information about how prevalent they are.

While Vice Mayor Paula Abbott wanted to know how such a scooter would be different from riding a bicycle or other recreational vehicle, which also have regulations and potential for injury. She also wanted more information from the department regarding how they intend to enforce any ban or regulations.

"I don't think we should out and out ban them," Abbott said.

If the town does decide to regulate the scooters, such an ordinance could only govern public streets, paths and parks, areas the police department is charged to keep safe, according to acting Town Attorney Tobin Sidles.

What to do about the increase in the number of such motorized vehicles on the streets and sidewalks is a question being asked by towns across the nation as the popularity of these vehicles continues to increase.

Published reports in Florida, Missouri, Washington and Massachusetts all have noted the adopting of policies regulating the scooters.

According to Ed Benjamin, who began CycleElectric International Consulting Group in 1996 to provide information about the electric scooters and electric bicycles to those within the industry, the problem is that the scooters are so new that there are no laws dealing specifically with use. As such, states are trying to apply existing laws governing other vehicles to the scooters.

When Benjamin began his consulting, scooters were just emerging on the market.

Today, he said, there are more than 2 million electric scooters sold and that number has been consistently on the rise.

He said one problem with the discussion is that he believes there is a difference between the fast and often noisy gas powered scooters and the slower and quieter electric versions.

"Police officers and politicians often lump them together," he said. Electric scooters he has dealt with have the speed potential of between 6 and 15 mph, while other scooters can reach speeds upwards of 30 mph, depending on topography, design of the vehicle and weight of the rider.

But regardless of speed potential, Benjamin said he does not believe young children should be using any motorized vehicle.

"If a 10-year-old is riding a scooter, doesn't have a license and gets out onto a street and into traffic, he doesn't know how to be there, he shouldn't be there."

He said a nationwide definition of these new vehicles is needed and then rules on who should be operating them, where and with what equipment needs to be outlined.

"We need to address that, we need laws," he said. "We're not there yet."

But Benjamin said he believes the electric vehicles do have "a practical niche in our society" and that an outright ban should not be the answer.

"Electric scooters are not inherently dangerous," he said. "This is a new thing we are tossing into the transportation world. When mistakes are made, people get hurt."

And according to the numbers, people are getting hurt.

Mark Ross, a spokesman for the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, said over the past three years the number of emergency room-treated injuries relating to motorized scooters has increased from approximately 5,000 four years ago to 8,000 last year, although the number of people riding such vehicles, too, has increased.

The commission monitors injuries related to an array of available products through surveillance of 100 hospitals across the U.S.

Ross attributes the rise in injuries related to motorized scooters to the increased popularity and decreased cost of the products available.

In 2001, when an initial safety study of the scooters was conducted, there were three reported deaths nationwide, one of them a 27-year-old man from Phoenix who was struck by a van while riding one of the vehicles. While the commission does not have a more current statistic on the number of deaths, Ross said from monitoring media reports he believes that number, too, is on the rise.

According to CPSC, 39 percent of injuries on the motorized scooters occurred to children under 15 years of age. The more common injuries were fractures and other injuries to the arms, legs, face and head.

"Anytime something becomes more popular, like a fad, you are going to see more injuries," Ross said.

Non-motorized scooters have been involved in an even higher number of accidents, Ross noted, with nearly 100,000 sent to the emergency room in 2001 from related injuries. Eighty-five percent of those injuries were incurred by children under 15 years of age. In the first nine months of 2003, 16 people were killed in accidents involving non-motorized scooters.

While it doesn't keep specific data on motorized scooter injuries, Univeristy Medial Center in Tucson participates in the CPSC data collection, according to Dan Judkins, the trauma center coordinator at UMC, and said Tucson injuries are represented in those numbers.

Judkins, who also researches injury epidemiology, has many years of experience with injuries involving pedestrians, in-line skates, bicyclists and motorcyclists and said the problems of visibility apply to scooter riders as well.

"When you put someone out there that is not protected by having a car around them it becomes very obvious that the person is going to lose if they connect with a car," Judkins said. "When you are in a car, you are looking for other cars. You can scan and miss someone who is not in a car." Judkins said the hospital also sees injuries from individuals falling off scooters and injuring their head.

"If you're not properly protected, you're going to suffer," he said.

Judkins is "passionate about injury prevention" and said governments need to regulate this "stupid activity" because it is not just the individual riding the vehicle that gets hurt, but families, friends and the general public that has to pay for any mistakes.

Mark Brandenburg, works in the emergency room at St. Francis hospital in Tulsa, Okla., and has written a book titled, "Child Safe: A Practical Guide for Preventing Childhood Injuries."

He said motorized scooters are a hazard because they are too often used by children who ride in streets and even mingle with traffic.

"Children simply do not have the maturity to safely negotiate through traffic and have yet to develop an understanding of what can happen if they collide with an automobile," he said. "They certainly do not understand their own mortality or the significance of chronic disability, pain and suffering that so often result from riding motorized scooters. "

He added that parents often do not supervise their children while they are riding the scooters and do not make their children wear helmets when riding these "miniature motorcycles."

All types of play vehicles have been associated with serious injuries nationwide, according to Brandenburg, but motorized scooters have the added danger of increased speed and the greater likelihood that the rider will travel with traffic. Crashes with automobiles are the most serious and the injuries can be fatal, especially when they involve head and neck injuries, he said.

Even those making money from sales of the scooters say they shouldn't be operated without rules.

Frank Minero is CEO of the online company, which sells both electric and gas powered scooters and ships the vehicles throughout the U.S.

He said since cities and towns started banning motorized scooters, the company has seen a decrease in sales, although not a significant one, in areas where the rules have been enacted.

"We feel regulation is alright, they should be regulated, but banning is not good," he said.

Minero said the scooters are "safe when used properly." His Web site includes information about safety, as recommended by the CPSC, and state laws governing the use of the vehicles. The company encourages parents to read the information and to make a smart purchase.

"They can be dangerous when not operated correctly," Minero said of the scooters. "We give them (customers) the information from the government and the manufacturer and let parents make informed decisions."

While Minero said he sells motorized scooters to all ages, a majority of customers are parents buying the vehicles for teen-age children. Motorized scooters that are popular through range in speed from 10 to 25 mph, and Minero said low-powered vehicles are typically recommended for children under age 16. Sixteen and older, he said, is the recommended appropriate age for using the scooters because many states have laws prohibiting children under that age from operating any motorized vehicle.

Minero said riding the scooters is not only fun when done appropriately, but the light electric scooters in particular are "the way of the future," because they do not use fuel and offer alternative transportation to both young people and adults.

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