Westbrook residents who own a “go-ped” or motorized skateboard might soon find themselves stopped and ticketed by police while riding on the streets and sidewalks of Westbrook.

The Westbrook Police Department is hoping to pass an ordinance banning the use of these vehicles on anything other than private driveways in Westbrook. The ordinance would be in keeping with other communities across the state and country that have begun to restrict use of these vehicles because of an increase in their involvements in serious accidents.

Westbrook Police Capt. Tom Roth said police have noticed a surge in their use since last summer. He said a serious accident on Route 302 involving a motorized scooter, or “go-ped,” resulted in a minor being hospitalized in July.

Roth also said a scooter operator was involved in a near-fatal accident in Lewiston after being struck by a motorist who didn’t see the person because of the scooter’s low height.

“I’d hate to see a motorist strike one of these because they’re so low to the ground,” said Roth.

Targeted vehicles would include small, unregistered scooters, motorized skateboards, “pocket” motorcycles and gas- and electric-powered vehicles. These vehicles have gained popularity in the last year or so and represent a new danger on the streets, according to Roth.

Between July 2003 and June 2004, there were about 10,000 emergency-room visits as a result of scooter accidents, according to a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report. About two-thirds of the injured people were under the age of 15. Between October 1998 and November 2004, about 49 deaths resulted from scooter accidents.

According to the report, the most common accidents included brakes failing, getting cut off by a car, the small front wheel losing its track, the handlebars coming loose or coming off altogether or the rider being burned from touching a hot part of the scooter.

Unlike mopeds and larger motorized scooters, these scooters do not have to be registered. State law requires that moped and motorized scooter operators have a motor vehicle or motorcycle license to operate them and they must limit their speed to below 30 miles an hour, among other restrictions.

Roth said a range of people is riding these new types of transportation from small children to adults, including adults with suspended driver’s licenses. They’re also being run at speeds of 30 to 40 miles per hour.

“These vehicles have no warning devices such as a horn, no headlamps for nighttime visibility, no turn directors or hazard lights, and oftentimes are capable of traveling in excess of 30 miles per hour,” said Roth.

Maine law allows someone with a license to legally operate motorized scooters, said Roth. However, the state has created a provision that allows communities to enact stricter ordinances governing their use, which police would like Westbrook to do.

The Westbrook City Council is slated to look at a potential ordinance change in the coming weeks. While a motion passed through in committee to the full council, the outcome in a future vote is uncertain.

Councilor Ed Symbol said he is in favor of requiring operators of these vehicles to register and inspect them in the same way he is required to register his vehicles, to ensure that they’re properly maintained and in working order.

“(What if) the wheel falls off or the brakes fail. These vehicles should be registered and inspected like other vehicles,” Symbol said.

Councilor Suzanne Joyce said she was hesitant to agree to a ban if it meant people who have purchased the vehicles would now not be able to use them. “I don’t know if we should penalize these families who’ve purchased them,” she said, adding that she’s seen kids riding them in cul-de-sacs in town.

Roth said those children were already in violation of state law by operating the vehicles without licenses. “I think the safety concern outweighs the fun aspect,” he said.

Although he approved of pushing the item to the full council, Councilor Drew Gattine said he was hesitant to agree to the full ban given the state of fuel prices at the moment and the trend for new forms of transportation to emerge as an alternative.

“I’m very supportive of crafting something that works,” he said. “But I’m a little leery of the all-out ban.”

The full City Council is scheduled to take a preliminary vote on the ban on Monday, Aug. 21 at 7 p.m. in room 114 at Westbrook High School. The meeting is open to the public.


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