Popularity of motorized scooters increases
October 2, 2008 · Updated 12:07 PM
SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - Scooters are not new to the streets of America, but recent years have seen the appearance of motorized foot scooters that go faster, farther and make a lot more noise than their predecessors.
As more motorized scooters hit the pavement, law agencies will be figuring out what to do about the not-quite scooters, not-quite motorcycles cruising city streets.
State and local law officials believe they will be dealing with motorized foot scooters often in the future, partly because of their prevalence. One doesn't need a license to purchase or ride a motorized foot scooter (not to be confused with a motorized scooter or Moped that the state treats as a motorcycle). Schuck's Auto Supply in North Bend sells a few different models. First Assistant Manager Mistelle Pillen said the store started carrying the scooters in December and they have been selling well.
The scooters come in a range of sizes and speeds. Children can get onboard a small, battery-powered scooter that looks like a training tricycle. There is a large, battery-powered scooter that looks similar to a Moped, complete with headlights and a container on the seat, but can go only 8 mph.
"That is popular with the RVrs [older people vacationing in their recreational vehicle]," Pillen said.
There is, however, a gasoline-powered foot scooter that can reach 20 mph thanks to a two-stroke engine that runs on a mixture of gasoline and oil, similar to that used for weed trimmers.
Where and when people can ride these motorized foot scooters has started to present some public safety issues. Washington State law prohibits the use of a motorized foot scooters from a half hour after sunset to the half hour before sunrise and on fully-controlled, limited access highways (for example, Interstate 90). The state also allows municipalities to pass additional laws that could ban the use of foot scooters on roads that have a speed limit of more than 25 mph or in areas prone to pedestrian traffic.
Other than that, the state has no laws governing the use of motorized foot scooters. Washington State Patrol Equipment and Standards Review Unit Manager Christine Fox said the foot scooters are treated as bicycles so their use can be subject to laws for helmets and hand signaling, but additional laws are up to local jurisdictions. She said the state Legislature debated two bills in its recent session regarding motorized foot scooters that would have placed additional laws on their use, but neither of the bills were passed.
Until more laws are passed, Fox said, many state and local law officials are holding their breath for some bad accident to spur a desire for additional laws, a view shared by Snoqualmie Police Department Chief Jim Schaffer. He said that if an officer sees reckless use of a scooter, they can stop the rider and give them a warning. The officer can't really give a citation, however, since there are no laws governing use.
Schaffer said that scooters weaving in and out of traffic has not been the immediate concern for citizens. The sound from the gas-powered, motorized foot scooters can be heard well before the scooter comes into sight, and that noise could be susceptible to new laws.
"I could see some decibel [noise] law in the future," Schaffer said.
Bellevue Police Officer Michael Chiu said traffic and noise are not the only problems with scooters. He said the pollution from the motorized foot scooters is something people should consider.
"These things put out more exhaust than a pickup truck," he said.
Any new laws would have to catch up to a market that has people of all ages cruising the streets on the scooters