Independence, Missouri Ordinance Makes Allowance for Mobility Scooters

Electric wheelchairs provide mobility to elderly and infirmed, but must remain on sidewalks in Independence, Missouri

Published: 15-Jan-2004

The Independence Police Depart ment hopes to convince the City Council to ban motorized devices such as scooters and skateboards from the city's streets and sidewalks.

Such forms of transportation are a safety hazard, said Police Chief Fred Mills.

Early discussion of the ban included prohibiting motorized wheelchairs, but Mills said the ban will still allow people using them to use the sidewalks and some streets.

"We want to prohibit those small motorized devices from being on sidewalks, streets and alleyways," Mills said. "It's a safety issue because they are so low profile (in those devices). Other motorists tend to overlook them."

Indeed, an elderly Independence man using a motorized wheelchair was struck by a car and killed in October while crossing 23rd Street.

Mills said people riding motorized wheelchairs will have access to all sidwalks but will only be allowed in the streets under certain circumstances.

"They have to have flags (on their chairs,)" he said. "They can be on the streets if there are no sidewalks."

Those who depend on the motorized vehicles to get around, like 63-year-old Shelby Elliott, say they are glad the ordinace won't hinder them from using their motorized wheelchairs.

"I don't have the strength in my arms for a wheelchair," Elliott said. "I have MS. Someone would have to be pushing me all the time. I'd go from being independent to totally dependent."

Elliott, a resident at the Pleasant Heights apartments, agrees some people don't operate their powered wheelchairs appropriately. He said he also could understand the city wanting to ban the devices from the streets.

"That can be dangerous, but the sidewalks are the only way we can go anywhere," he said. "But there are so many places in Independence that don't have sidewalks."

Elliott said he understands the risks of riding on the streets and takes safety precautions.

"It's our responsibility to look out for pedestrians and cars," Elliott said. "(The chairs) need flags and lights."

Pointing to his own chair, Elliott said, "This has a headlight, but all of these features are extra."

Elliott also has blinking flashers that he holds in his hands, allowing passing motorists to see him clearly.

Karin Roth, the secretary for the Independence Parks and Recreation Department, said she has seen an increase in usage of motorized scooters and other modes of transportation, known specifically as electric personal assertive mobility devices.

"Insurance is paying for more, so people can afford to buy them," she said. "I don't think they should be banned on sidewalks. That's their only way of transportation for people who don't drive a car."

Independence City Council Member Jason White said the council will look at all sides of the issue.

"I think it's wonderful that more people are mobile, but there has been a concern about folks who don't have flags (on their wheelchairs). I also received a letter from someone saying folks are driving in the streets when there is access to sidewalks."

However, White pointed out that only about half of Independence streets have sidewalks.

White said he has heard a few complaints about kids driving motorized scooters.

"There's some neighborhoods where (children) are pretty darn noisy and rambunctious with them," he said.

Missouri has no laws controlling these devices, but cities are allowed to pass their own ordinances, said Sgt. Mike Krueger, of the Blue Springs Police Department.

"They don't have to wear helmets, or have lights ... nothing," he said.

Krueger said if his department received a complaint about one of these devices nothing could be done unless it was impeding the use of the streets.

"There is no law prohibiting them from being on the street," he said.

Lee's Summit Police Officer Mike Childs said the devices usually fall under the bicycle class because they are operated with a motor under 50cc.

"They are supposed to obey all traffic laws even though they don't," he said. "It's really hard to enforce, but if we get a complaint we just go talk to the offenders."

Phil LeVota, of the Jackson County prosecutor's office, said the law isn't black and white when it comes to accidents involving cars and riders of these devices.

"You'd have to look at both parties and who was obeying the law," he said.

Missouri isn't the only state that has been debating these forms of transportation. The motorized devices have been banned from streets and sidewalks in Plano, Texas. However, the disabled are exempt from the rule.

Council members in Walt ham, Mass., recently rejected, on a narrow vote, an ordinance banning anyone under the age of 16 to operate the devices.

Aldermen in Macomb, Ill., voted to allow all forms of the motorized devices on their city's streets and sidewalks.

Mills said another concern with the motorized devices is the excessive noise they create.

"Some of them have engines that sound similar to a chainsaw," he said.

The Independence Police De part ment has already written an ordinance banning the devices.

"We've drafted it to cover every scenario," Mills said. "They keep coming out with different forms of transportation, so we don't want to have to keep going back (and rewriting it.)"

The department is passing the draft around to other city departments, such as public works to ensure nothing was left out. Mills hopes to have the City Council review the ordinance later this month and adopt it in February.

"This is really and truly to protect the public," Mills said.

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