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Front Page » October 15, 2009 » Carbon County News » Scooter dilemma
Published 2,182 days ago

Scooter dilemma

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For Kellie Chriswell, an incident that happened a couple of weeks ago was very scary.

Near the intersection of Airport Road and Main Street, she was maneuvering her electric scooter around the construction barrels that were in the road because of the new blacktop that was being installed. As she drove around one orange barrel, the back wheel of the scooter ran up onto the barrel's base and she tipped over, almost into the lane of traffic.

There she lay with a very heavy scooter on top of her as she was spread out across the pavement. Motorists who drove by swerved to miss her. Some even honked. But, for some time, no one stopped to help. Pete Martinez, who was accompanying her, couldn't lift the heavy scooter himself. Finally, a couple of people did stop to help.

"I am so grateful that someone helped," she said, last Tuesday evening. "But I can't get over how many people just drove by and did nothing as I lay there."

Maybe some people didn't realize what had happened or others didn't even see her. But, the fact remains that scooters, for those without mobility, are a part of life in Price, and in the general area as well. As more and more electric scooters and wheelchairs appear on the streets of Carbon County, the problem of how to deal with them seems to be growing. Motorists aren't sure how to react to the scooters. And a certain question has emerged from many mouths in recent years.

Are scooters considered vehicles or should scooter drivers be treated as pedestrians?

"Some of it depends on the kind of scooter," said Price Police Captain Kevin Drolc. "But, for the most part, they should be considered a pedestrian."

However, some motorists feel that the drivers of scooters sometimes act like pedestrians, while at other times they act as if they are driving motor vehicles.

On the other hand, scooter drivers find themselves caught between a curb and a hard place. While a lot of work has been done over the years, particularly in Price, to repair uneven or disjointed sidewalks, problems remain. But the work goes on. In the past month, crews have been tearing up street corner sidewalks and turning the old curb and gutters that were once precarious to travel for the handicapped into handicapped access friendly ones.

But the conflict between scooters and cars, for some, remains.

"I think that sometimes drivers forget that the scooter drivers have a legal right to be on the road," said Nancy Bentley, director of Active ReEntry in Carbon County, an agency that is one of the main suppliers of scooters for handicapped people. "Sometimes they have to go on and off the sidewalks depending on what is going on. Sidewalks are often not too friendly to those on scooters, even if they have had renovation done to them."

Bentley points out that sidewalks are often blocked by cars or other things and the scooters can't get by.

"In some cases, they have to ride on the side of the road because they have no real choice," she said. "People need to remember, too, that this is these people's independence, their only way of getting around. Some have to drive from the public housing behind Wal-mart all the way to doctor's offices or the hospital on the west side of town. That is the only way they have to get there."

Some have joked that the scooters are Price's Utah Transit Authority, since there is no mass transit in the town.

Bentley says that the way the laws are written, it is not clear whether the scooters are vehicles or should be considered pedestrians.

"I know that there was an accident where a driver was coming out of a parking lot in Price and didn't see a scooter as they pulled out," she said. "In that case, the car owner's insurance paid for a new scooter, so I guess the scooter operator was considered a pedestrian in that instance."

But motorists can get confused. Some scooter operators go with the traffic on the side of the road one time and against traffic another time.

"We do training with the operators when they get the machines," said Bentley. "But, I will say, we encourage them to face traffic so they can see what is going on."

Another issue is crosswalks. Some motorists stop for scooters waiting to cross in a crosswalk, while others have the attitude that if they are a motor-driven vehicle, they should cross the street when traffic will allow, just as if they were driving a car.

"We would consider a scooter in a crosswalk to be the same as a pedestrian," said Drolc. "Motorists should stop for them and let them cross if they are in the crosswalk."

Drolc also says that the police generally wouldn't write a ticket for a person with a scooter, unless they were doing something outlandish or crazy.

"We might do something if they were in the middle of a busy traffic lane driving," he said. But when asked about the fact that the law doesn't allow motor vehicles to travel on sidewalks, he said that the police wouldn't enforce that with the handicapped scooters people are using.

"I think the biggest problem is education," said Bentley. "The law isn't very clear about a lot of this. We have been trying to work with driver's training programs on teaching young drivers about scooters and their place on the road. But, somewhere along the line, I think that the state might consider a law that would make scooter drivers take a test to operate their machines on public streets."

Certification or licensing would be a big step for those who operate what, for most of them, is their "legs" to get around.

What may happen law-wise is still second to human nature, however. What happens on the road and how people, both on scooters and in cars, react to each other is the real situation. That part isn't about law or philosophy; it's about human kindness.

"I just want to say thanks to those that stopped to help me," said Criswell. "I don't know what would have happened if they hadn't helped out."

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October 15, 2009
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