Sykesville to consider law on motor scooters

Plan would require riders to follow rules of the road or face fines of up to $75

May 24, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Concerned about children speeding through town on motorized scooters, ignoring stop signs and riding without lights or helmets, Sykesville officials will take up an ordinance today that would crack down on the problem - with violators facing fines of up to $75 and possible impoundment of their vehicles.

"We are not out to bust 6-year-olds or to take away scooters," Mayor Jonathan Herman said of the proposal, which would require riders to follow the rules of the road and use helmets and safety lights. "This ordinance is an attempt at gentle persuasion."

The southern Carroll County town isn't the only community in the state looking for ways to cope with motorized toys and other unconventional vehicles.

New Windsor, in western Carroll County, became alarmed at the number of modified tractors that young adults had taken to racing on town streets. The town council has banned scooters, minibikes, snowmobiles and lawn tractors from its streets since January.

On the Eastern Shore, the town of Delmar is expected to vote today on its version of an ordinance regulating scooters.

"Scooter riders are not obeying traffic signs and signals," said Delmar Town Manager Sara Bynum-King, who recently had a close call with a child on a scooter who ran a stop sign and nearly hit her car. "Kids just don't understand the rules of the road."

Some scooters - typically a narrow footboard mounted on two wheels - have been altered with small gas-powered motors and in some instances seats.

Pep Boys in Randallstown, part of a national chain of auto supply stores, sells several scooter models from $99 to $1,100.

"We get a delivery on Wednesday, and they are all gone by the weekend. Our stores across the state are all saying the same thing," said sales associate Berkley Howell.

`Our hands are tied'

In Maryland, small scooters with gas-powered mini-motors that are less than 50 cubic centimeters are not considered motor vehicles and are not subject to traffic laws.

That leaves local officials to find ways to regulate them.

"Our hands are tied, and the ordinance will untie our hands," said Sykesville police Officer David Lewis, who received four scooter complaints one day last week. "We are seeing kids on these things running through stop signs and driving on the wrong side of the road.

"We are not doing this to stop kids from having fun. We are trying to keep them safe."

Authority to act

Sykesville officials, who say they receive daily complaints about errant scooter riders, say they just want to give police the authority to act when they see an offense.

"I clocked one scooter in front of my car going 30 miles per hour," said Sykesville Councilwoman Jeannie Nichols. "The rider was 10 years old and not wearing a helmet. This situation is already dangerous. In a confrontation with a car, the car is going to win."

Matthew Candland, Sykesville's town manager, said that one day recently he was driving about 10:30 p.m. in a 25 mph zone when he had to slam on the brakes to avoid a scooter rider.

"I saw a kid swerving back and forth with no reflectors or lights and not riding in the travel lane," he said. "I see these scooters all over town, and the riders can be 5 or 6 years old on up through the teens."

Focus on safety

In Sykesville, a town of about 4,500 residents, officials say they have learned that it is better to take a stand as soon as they become aware of a problem.

When town streets became crowded with portable basketball hoops last year, the council banned them despite public protest. Officials said they acted because the hoops encouraged children to play in the street and damaged town snowplows and trash trucks. The council is working to build public courts in town parks.

No one is talking about a ban on scooters, but many acknowledge that the vehicles can be a risk to public safety.

"We see this problem as something we can monitor," Herman said. "We don't want to seem like the town that is hypersensitive about safety, but we have little kids traveling at fast clips without any care to their safety or to others."

Violators face fines

Under the proposed ordinance, a first offense would result in a $25 fine, which would double for a second offense. A third violation would lead to a $75 fine and impoundment of the motor scooter.

The Sykesville council has scheduled a public hearing and a vote on the ordinance tonight. If the ordinance is approved, it will take effect in 21 days - almost in time for the closing of schools for the summer.

"We have to do something before this proliferates," Herman said. "We have learned from the past that you have to take care of these things early on."

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