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By Jordan W. Charness

Scooters are enjoying quite a renaissance: about 30 years ago, Italian scooters were popularized by the Mod movement in England and enjoyed a brief burst of interest on this side of the pond as well. Now, they are back bigger than ever.

A scooter differentiates itself from a motorcycle in that the motor, for the most part, is housed under the seat and the rider sits with his two legs together in front of him rather like sitting in a chair. A motorcycle is straddled, kind of like an iron horse, and the motor is located between the rider’s legs.

Having ridden my large motorcycle and my daughter’s scooter I find that a motorcycle seems to be a little more stable on the road although perhaps a little trickier to drive. In any case, as I was saying, scooters now seem to be enjoying quite the renaissance.

You can now buy some with an engine as large some large motorcycles and they are equipped to ride on the highways as well as city streets. The smallest motorized scooters, those with an engine displacement of 50 cc or less, have less stringent requirements for their riders. In some provinces a special driver’s licence may be issued to a teenager as young as 14 for these kind of scooters.

These small machines are only capable of a maximum speed of about 50 or 60 km/h and are not allowed to go on the highway. Nevertheless, these small motorized vehicles can give youngsters a sense of freedom and a means of transportation that is somewhat faster and classier, although much less eco-friendly, than a bicycle.

There is however another type of scooter that caters to a whole different clientele. This scooter is powered by a silent yet powerful electric motor. Unlike gas powered scooters these vehicles have three wheels as opposed to two and are much more stable. They are often equipped with swiveling seats and armchairs with arms that could be raised or lowered for easy access. These electric scooters are specially built for people who have difficulty walking. They are used most often by the elderly who are not wheelchair-bound but just have a difficult time walking long distances.

However, although they provide greater mobility, most of these electric scooters are not licensed for road use.

My daughter’s gas powered scooter has a licence plate and is registered like a motorcycle and must be driven only on the road following all the rules of the road.

The electric scooters for those with mobility difficulties do not have licence plates in most jurisdictions, and they’re not allowed on the streets except when crossing at intersections. These electric scooters can zip along at quite a clip, and can be a bit dangerous on sidewalks. Generally speaking, they are considerably faster than most people can comfortably walk.

As well, their operators may have slightly slower reactions and more difficulty controlling these manoevrable little vehicles. These scooters also weigh a fair bit and can cause serious damage if they hit someone.

Most provinces do not have detailed regulations regarding these types of electric scooters and the police tend to look at them in the same way that they would look at electric wheelchairs.

While I’m very much in favour of the increased mobility that these devices offer people who find it difficult to walk, I strongly suggest that scooter owners keep in mind that these vehicles provide little or no protection in any type of crash and will likely cause severe injury to both the rider and any pedestrian unlucky enough to be hit by one.

Just like I told my 14-year-old daughter when she began to ride her gas-powered scooter, “Remember, along with the increased freedom that comes with a ride comes the added responsibility to protect yourself and all the others around you”.

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