Segway riders risk driving ban

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 January, 2003, 12:00am

Anyone who rides the hi-tech celebrity scooter Segway on Hong Kong pavements, parks or roads risks being fined up to HK$8,000 and being banned from driving for 12 months.


The effective ban on the device was revealed to Technology Post in an e-mail response from a Transport Department spokesman.


The scooters, controlled by body movements with the help of tiny computers and balance-controlling gyroscopes, were put on sale to the public at Amazon.com in September for US$4,950 each, and will begin shipping in March.


The Transport Department spokesman referred to a court case in March 2001 in which a man was charged for the illegal use of an electric scooter in Cheung Chau.


The man was found guilty on five charges: driving without a motorcycle licence, driving an unregistered vehicle, using a vehicle that had no third-party risks insurance, driving without a safety helmet and driving without a closed road permit in Cheung Chau.


Although the Segway, billed as an anti-pollution solution in cities, was designed by inventor Dean Kamen to be used on pavements and not roads, the Transport Department has classified the Segway as a motorcycle.


The Transport Department official wrote: 'According to the Road Traffic Ordinance, 'motorcycle' means a two-wheeled motor vehicle with or without a sidecar. Whereas 'motor vehicle' is defined under the same Ordinance as 'any mechanically propelled vehicles' [please note that the definition of a 'vehicle' is 'any vehicle whether or not mechanically propelled which is constructed or adapted for use on roads but does not include a vehicle of the North-west Railway or a tram'].


According to the above definitions, a 'motorcycle' can be defined as 'a two-wheeled vehicle, whether or not mechanically propelled, which is constructed or adapted for use on roads [but does not include a vehicle of the North-west Railway or a tram]'.


As the Segway is a two-wheeled vehicle operated on battery and constructed for use on roads, it falls into the 'motorcycle' category defined by the Road Traffic Ordinance.


The Transport Department did not clarify how the Segway, which looks more like a golf caddy than a motorcycle, differs in function from a motorised wheelchair, which is allowed to travel on pavements and in parks in Hong Kong.


Technology Post wrote to Segway LLC, maker of the motorised scooter, informing the company of the Hong Kong Transport Department's position.


Carla Vallone, communications manager of Segway LLC, said: 'To clarify, Segway Human Transporter is designed to travel on the sidewalk, not in the street.'


The company refers to the vehicle it manufactures as the Segway Human Transporter, and objects to it being called an electric scooter.


Ms Mallone added that 'to our knowledge no municipal organisation in Hong Kong has taken legislative action, either for or against, regarding the operation of Segway HTs on sidewalks'.


Ms Vallone said the company was exploring overseas markets, including Asia.


Segway rode into its first serious pothole two weeks ago when San Francisco city officials banned the vehicle from its pavements, citing safety concerns for pedestrians.


The Segway has won legislation in 33 states, including California. California law allows cities to opt out.


Even before its first demonstration, the Segway has been a sought-after device among wealthy geeks. Amazon.com auctioned off three Segways last year, and started to take delivery orders in March.


Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos continued to pitch the Segway electric scooter, saying that since Amazon began taking advance orders for the pricey gadget, it has consistently ranked among the top 200 items in the store's electronics category.


'I can assure you there are no other US$5,000 items on that list,' he said.


Segway continues to sign up new customers, such as local government departments and utility companies, and expects to make annual shipments of 50,000 to 100,000 units to the commercial market. Segway has a factory in the United States that can make up to 40,000 scooters a month.


Last week, European company Keolis Group said it was bringing the Segway to France. Keolis said in a press release that it would begin to rent Segway devices immediately to commercial customers who operate public transportation systems, airports and railways. Keolis also plans to make Segways available for rent to commuters in French cities.


BUMPY RIDE


Billed as environment-friendly transport in cities, the two-wheeled Segway was designed for use on pavements


Segways went on sale in September for US$4,950 each, and will begin shipping in March


San Francisco has banned the vehicle from pavements, citing safety concerns for the city's pedestrians


 

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