Snoqualmie mulls scooter regulations

The Snoqualmie youths zipping around town on motorized foot scooters are either an annoying safety hazard or just children having fun. A flurry of discussion on the city's online discussion forum late last month prompted city leaders to revisit the idea of making a law to help control the use of the scooters.

"They're just not that safe," said Snoqualmie Police Chief Jim Schaffer at a city Public Safety Committee meeting June 12.

The scooters are essentially two-wheeled skateboards with handlebars and either an electric or gasoline engine. Some can attain speeds in excess of 15 miles per hour. Schaffer said his officers routinely see children and teens riding the scooters on the city's streets and sidewalks, disobeying traffic laws and engaging in risky maneuvers that endanger themselves and others. Most complaints are about children ages 10-12 rather than the older riders, he said.

Snoqualmie police officers contact scooter riders when there is a complaint or when they see the youths engaged in dangerous behavior.

"We want them to be safe," he said.

Becky McLaughlin of Snoqualmie wants her children to be safe, too, but she doesn't want their fun ruined by a few "bad apples" spoiling the fun for the city's youths who safely ride scooters. Before she bought an electric scooter for her 10-year-old daughter Kylie, she checked with a police officer who lived next door to learn the law and safety tips.

There is no Snoqualmie law governing the use of motorized foot scooters. However, regulation can help improve safety, Schaffer said. City attorney Pat Anderson said state law allows cities to regulate scooters similarly to bicycles: such as by requiring helmets and restricting the scooters from sidewalks. However, state law explicitly states that scooters are entitled to the same rights of access as bicycles so things like curfews, age limits and restricting them from public streets likely would violate state law, Anderson said.

The city of North Bend has a strict anti-motorized scooter law that prohibits people under the age of 16 from using them, makes operating them on sidewalks and trails or at night without reflectors and lights illegal, bans them from streets with a 25 mph or higher speed limit and requires helmets and mufflers to quiet noise among other conditions. North Bend adopted the ordinance in August 2004.

North Bend Mayor Ken Hearing said he realizes his city's law contains some provisions that might not hold up if challenged in court, but the goal was to promote safety.

The strict language of North Bend's ordinance didn't sit well with some of the Snoqualmie residents in the online forum.

"I would hate to see a law as strict as the North Bend law here," said a poster identified as Jeff Green.

"If the kids are being reckless, then the police should step in as they do when a person is caught without a helmet while riding a bike," he said in a later posting. "I just don't think one child should suffer just because another is showing a lack of responsibility and bad behavior."

Snoqualmie considered imposing restrictions in 2004 as well, but took no action.

Other posters worried that banning scooters from city sidewalks would expose children to even more risk.

The worst that could happen if scooters are allowed on sidewalks is severe injury while death could result if scooters are forced onto roads, warned poster Martin Naskovski.

"Both outcomes can potentially generate a lawsuit," Naskovski stated. "The major difference in both cases - you cannot undo death."

On the other hand, Schaffer said if the scooters are not banned from sidewalks, citizens would be upset because of the danger to pedestrians and the city could be held responsible for condoning a dangerous action it had the power to prevent. Snoqualmie can't keep scooters off the streets, he said.

"Those [scooters] are ankle breakers," he cautioned. Senior citizens walking on sidewalks are at great risk of being injured by careless scooter users, Schaffer said.

"[Allowing scooters] on sidewalks is just fraught with ultimate danger,." Schaffer said.

Though it would be a good idea to keep them off streets with speeds higher than 25 mph, current state law wouldn't allow such a ban, he said.

Federal law bars the scooters from trails receiving federal money, so scooter riders can't legally use them on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail.

"Children need to be protected," stated Katharine Warmerdam in an online message. "If parents were diligent, it wouldn't be an issue. Unfortunately, that isn't always the case."

Police need to have a law on the books in order to enforce safety, she stated.

"I think we need to be proactive," said Kathi Prewitt, City Council member .

To that end, Prewitt instructed attorney Anderson to write a draft ordinance.

"I guess we probably need to do something," said Charles Peterson, City Council member. "It's not going to be as hardnose as some of the citizens want, but we have to follow state law."

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