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'Pocket bikes' drive new debate and laws

Tue Mar 15, 8:01 AM ET

By Larry Copeland, USA TODAY

Tiny motorcycles have become a rage among teens - and also a source of rage for communities across the USA that are banning or restricting their use.

"Pocket bikes," or "mini motos," usually 15-18 inches high and capable of going 35 mph, have joined motorized skateboards and scooters on the danger list in many states, towns and cities that consider them a speedy nuisance.

In recent weeks:

• Arlington Heights, Ill., gave preliminary approval to an ordinance that would ban motorized scooters and skateboards. Police in the village of 77,000 northwest of Chicago got 56 complaints about them last year, up from 16 in 2002, says Chief Gerald Mourning. "It's also a safety issue," he says.

• The New Hampshire Department of Safety has asked the state Legislature to ban motorized scooters and pocket bikes on streets.

• La Porte, Texas, restricted the use of motorized scooters to daylight hours and to streets with posted speed limits under 30 mph after two boys lost control of their scooter and were struck and injured by a car.

• Lenexa, Kan., stopped short of banning the devices outright. Instead, the City Council voted to allow motorized skateboards on sidewalks but banned them on streets. Pocket bikes and other motorized vehicles are prohibited on all public property.

• Monroe, Wash., following the lead of some adjoining communities, passed an ordinance restricting operation of motorized scooters to those ages 16 and older. The scooters can be used only during daylight hours, and riders must wear helmets.

• Several Arizona communities, including Tempe, Chandler and Mesa, have considered banning motorized scooters. Both Phoenix and Tucson outlawed them last year.

Emergency room doctors across the nation treated 10,015 injuries connected to motorized gas- or battery-powered scooters from July 1, 2003, to June 30, 2004, says Patty Davis, spokeswoman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission (news - web sites). The commission is an independent federal agency charged with protecting the public from risk of injury.

About one-third of those injured were younger than 15, Davis says. And since October 1998, she says, 49 motorized-scooter riders have died.

New Hampshire state Rep. John Flanders, a former sheriff's deputy and sponsor of his state's proposal, says: "I had a near-collision with one of those folks out on the main highway. The kids have no fear. The people that are afraid are the people that are driving cars. I wouldn't want that on my conscience, hitting a young fellow."
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