Carroll puts brakes on scooter use

Interpretation of law bans mini-vehicles from roads

August 15, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai, Mary Gail Hare and Sheridan Lyons | Athima Chansanchai, Mary Gail Hare and Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

By the end of next month, the only place in Carroll County where the buzzing of miniature motorized scooters and motorcycles should be heard are on private driveways and property.

Concerned about the safety of the riders and the motorists who can't see the small vehicles, Carroll police chiefs and representatives from the sheriff's office and the state's attorney's office met recently to agree on a standard of enforcement for the trendy transportation.

Under the county's interpretation of the state law, motorized mini-scooters and skateboards and mini-motorcycles in Carroll will be prohibited from operating on public roads, authorities said.

"My main concern is for the safety of the people that operate these devices, which are not intended to be operated on the roadways," said Westminster Police Chief Jeff Spaulding. "There's been confusion as to applicability of the law. It took us some time to figure it out. That's the reason for putting a grace period in place until the end of September."

Spaulding told Westminster's mayor and council members Monday night that the Police Department would offer the grace period before issuing citations. He said he wants to educate residents first. Violations carry a maximum fine of $500.

Mopeds and regular-sized motor scooters are allowed on public roads as long as drivers possess valid licenses. But the law did not address the miniature versions of the vehicles.

"I tried to come up with what I thought the law was," said David P. Daggett, deputy state's attorney for Carroll County. "My interpretations are based strictly on the traffic code."

Maj. Thomas Long of the sheriff's office said Carroll officers were running into situations in which the vehicles were a hazard. "We see them mostly in the towns, on the streets and in alleys. It really became an issue of safety," he said.

Parents could face charges for allowing a child to operate the miniature vehicles on public roads.

Each jurisdiction within the county can also impose its rules for operating a mini-vehicle.

In Sykesville, Police Chief John Williams said the department will keep track of violators and hold habitual offenders accountable, even though the town has no specific penalty. Parents of violators could receive five points on their drivers' licenses and a $300 fine, Williams said.

At the town's council meeting Monday, Williams said he had responded to two calls that afternoon about errant scooter riders.

"These devices are self-propelled and fall under the definition of vehicle," Williams said. "They cannot be on the roads or the sidewalks. They can only be on private property or on [private] parking lots. Even there, we can still enforce the basic motor vehicle laws and helmet regulations. These children are speeding on the roads."

In Hampstead, the Town Council introduced an ordinance Tuesday night that would ban motorized scooters - mostly seatless, stand-up models such as Razor scooters and Go-Peds - from its sidewalks and streets.

At that meeting, Velma Dietz of Westwood Park appealed to the council for an alternative to the ban. She said her two children enjoy their scooter and stay off the main streets.

"I hate to see something that could be made safe ... banned right off the bat for the kids," Dietz said. "Give them an opportunity to prove that they're smart and they can follow the rules."

Hampstead Police Chief R. Kenneth Meekins Jr. said scooter complaints average two or three a day and have been increasing during the past year with the popularity of the mini-scooters.

If adopted, the ordinance would increase fines from $50 to $500 and would allow police to impound the vehicle if its operator is younger than 18, with towing and storage costs to be paid by parents.

In Mount Airy, a 2002 amendment to the town code lumps the new stand-up scooters in the same category with motorcycles, trail bikes, minibikes, dirt bikes, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles.

Riders are required to wear helmets and follow rules of the road. They are also prohibited from riding them on Main Street and in other posted areas.

"Scooters are allowed but you have to follow the regulations - including state regulations. So if the state doesn't allow them, we wouldn't allow them," said Town Clerk B. J. Dixon.

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