Police Warn Riders to Keep Scooters Off Roads

Scooters -- both gas and electric -- popular Christmas presents in 2003

Published: 15-Jan-2004

Madison County and state authorities want unlicensed drivers to find new scoot routes.

Officials say the problems started last summer and increased at Christmas.

Authorities began noticing a flood of children under the age of 16 operating motor vehicles in subdivisions throughout the county. But these weren’t driver’s education students. They were youths playing with Christmas presents.

The presents were electric- and gas-powered motor scooters -- hot items this year.

The scooters cost between $100 and $1,000, based on their features and whether gas or electricity powers them. Different types of scooters can travel between 13 and 30 mph.

Either way, authorities maintain the scooters are illegal if operated on public roadways without meeting certain requirements.

"(A motor scooter) is a motorized vehicle," said Sgt. Marc McLemore of the Madison County Sheriff’s Department’s Godfrey Substation.

Master Trooper Ralph Timmins of Illinois State Police District 11 in Collinsville said that means the scooters must meet the Illinois Vehicle Code.

Timmins said the code calls for all motor vehicles operating on a public road to be registered through the Secretary of State’s Office. The vehicles and their operators also must be insured.

"Nobody is going to do that, because it costs money," Timmins said.

In order to be registered, the vehicles must have a headlight, horn and taillights, which most of the scooters on the market today have.

The scooters also must be operated by a licensed driver.

However, Timmins said no one is prohibited from operating the motor scooters on private property, regardless of age. That limits most riders to back yards, driveways and sidewalks, he said.

"But a kid’s not going to be satisfied with a sidewalk," Timmins said. "It’s going to take a tragedy, unfortunately, before something is done."

Bethalto Police Chief William Hays said he used to see scooters driven by children -- mostly 10 years old and up. He said Bethalto considered drafting a city ordinance addressing scooter laws but didn’t follow through.

"It was a safety factor," Hays said. "It has kind of calmed down. We just don’t have the problem we used to have."

Hays said officers who spot children on motor scooters usually offer them a lift and inform parents about the law, as well as the hazards of driving a scooter on a public road.

Lt. Eric Decker with the Sheriff’s Department agreed with Hays.

"Are we going to write every 10-year-old a ticket? Maybe not," he said. "Our emphasis is on education."

Laurie Ing of Godfrey said she was confused when McLemore brought her 13-year-old son home one afternoon last month. She was unaware motor vehicle laws applied to the $200 scooter she bought her son for Christmas.

"The poor kid was scared to death when he was brought home," Ing said.

Ing said her son since has been afraid to ride his new scooter. She said she just wanted to know the scooter laws.

McLemore said Ing was not alone in her concern. He said more than 20 parents had contacted him in recent months with questions.

"At this point, because people are unsure about the status of scooter laws, people are calling first," McLemore said. "But I think most people pretty much have the understanding that it is illegal (on public roads)."

Ing said she was unsure whether the law is made clear to scooter buyers.

Employees at Beltline Auto Parts -- a store that temporarily sold out of the scooters -- said they do their part to inform customers.

Mark Thaxton, an employee at Beltline, said he tells customers the scooters are technically illegal until they are registered properly.

Bill Prehn, a scooter mechanic from Alton who has earned the nickname "Scooter Bill," said he tells people it "depends on where you live."

Prehn said he hasn’t received any flack from authorities for starting the 15-person Milton Area Safety Patrol group that travels via scooters during the summer.

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