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04-29-03: St. Marys police to put brakes on most youth motorized scooter travel
Other local law enforcement check on all off-road vehicles

The Daily Standard
    ST. MARYS - City police officers will be cracking down on the motorized scooters that are becoming a favorite mode of transportation for some local youths.
    St. Marys Law Director Kraig Noble rendered a legal opinion at Monday's regular St. Marys City Council meeting that in most cases bans the vehicles from streets and sidewalks. Licensed drivers for now will be allowed to use the scooters on city streets. But it remains unclear whether the scooters eventually will be forced to comply with motor vehicle equipment standards.
    Police are expected to begin enforcing the law soon; they already are issuing warnings.
    "The police department has been getting a lot of complaints about motorized scooters," Noble told a crowd that included about 15 junior high students from Holy Rosary School in St. Marys. None of the students admitted to owning one of the scooters when asked by city officials.
    The scooters - marketed under names such as "Go-Ped" - are mechanized versions of the foot-powered scooters that returned to popularity a few years ago. The powered versions are run by gasoline or electric. The gas-powered versions can get 100 miles per gallon, although they hold far less than a gallon of gas in their tanks. They vary widely in price, mostly between $400 and $900.
    The scooters fall under Ohio's broad definition of a "motor vehicle," Noble said, which means an operator must be at least 16 years of age and have a valid driver's license. The scooters don't fall under Ohio's motorized bicycle (moped) law because they have no pedals, he said.
    Snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles (ATV) are covered under separate statutes, but no law specifically covers the scooters, Noble said. That means they have to follow the same laws as cars and motorcycles.
    "It's perhaps a case where manufacturers got ahead of the law in creating a new type of vehicle," Noble said.
    The city cannot pass an ordinance to regulate the scooters because it would be precluded by state law, he said.
    County sheriff's deputies plan to enforce the law from the same legal stance, Noble said.
    There are other unanswered questions about the scooters, such as whether they must be registered as a motor vehicle to lawfully operate on public roads. It also is unclear whether the scooters would require safety equipment like headlights and turn signals to comply with state laws, or if a driver must wear a helmet.
    Donna Bruns, 902 Heather Drive, said her son has one of the scooters and was told by a police officer to drive it on the sidewalk.
    "There was some initial confusion," Noble said.
    Celina police Chief Dave Slusser this morning said the scooters have not become a problem in Celina yet, but he is not waiting around. In response to the discussion in St. Marys on Monday, Slusser plans to ask Law Director Kevin McKirnan to review the legal issue and render an opinion.
    "We've not had that great of a problem. We've had no complaints but I have seen (scooters) sitting around," Slusser said.
     Rockford police Chief Paul May said scooters are not a problem in the village, but ATVs are. Police routinely are catching youths as young as 8 driving four-wheelers, May said. Sometimes they simply are in town to get gas; other times they are engaging in more dangerous behavior such as giving rides to other kids.
    Mercer County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Tim Fink this morning said the scooters have not become a problem that deputies have mentioned. The department likely would handle complaints of scooters on the roadway the same way they address the illegal operation of mini-bikes and ATVs, Fink said. That means a warning for first offenses and a citation the next time around.
    In other business Monday, St. Marys council members:
  - Saw Mayor Greg Freewalt swear in newly hired police Patrolman Troy Ellis, who then immediately hit the streets for his first day of duty.
  - Passed final reading of an update to the city's grass and weed ordinance that allows city officials to respond faster to complaints of unmowed grass or problem weeds.
    - Passed a resolution honoring police dog Boz for 10 years of service to the community and authorizing the sale of the animal to Sgt. Russ Bailey for $1.
    - Passed a resolution accepting the donation of $26,500 in playground equipment from the St. Marys Rotary Club to be placed in a children's park adjacent to the new city swimming pool.


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