Scooters. Safe and economical or a dangerous trend?

July 6, 2008

Getting behind the bars
by Jeff Cutler

According to the lighthearted nature of recent articles online and in both regional and national newspapers, riding a scooter is the best way to fight gas prices and stick it to the parking authorities while navigating urban and suburban streets.

Just tonight the mainstream broadcast media hit us with another story hammering home how much fun and utility these little vehicles have. The story ran during the 7PM news July 6, 2008 on MSNBC. See more here – Video of Scootering.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

In fact, the characteristics that make a scooter easy to purchase, own and operate are the same ones that can end your life in an instant if you’re not careful.

For starters, a scooter is just a scaled-down motorcycle. Quiz people at the office and the same ones that gush with enthusiasm over hopping on a Vespa will start spewing dark and dreary comments about how motorcycles are contraptions of the devil and how they’d never hop on one of those death machines.

Consumers are also clamoring to scooters because they think they’ll be able to pay for them in gas savings alone. Take a look at this from – JUST GOTTA SCOOT FUEL CALCULATOR – and then continue reading. You’ll see that paying for your scoot with only the savings from gasoline isn’t an ideal reason to buy one.

Scooters and motorcycles are more alike than you might believe and they are piloted using identical skills. Even state governments understand how similar scooters are to motorcycles and the majority of them require you to possess a motorcycle license to operate a scooter.

With this in mind, I decided to prepare myself for the road with proper motorcycle training as recommended by the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles. These ARE the same geniuses that had me get a notarized letter proving that my middle name was Jeff. And they’re also the same brilliant crew that missed out on the common sense rations.

As an aside to prove my point. I am five feet, ten inches tall. When I went for my replacement license a few years ago, the person at the registry asked me my height. I clearly responded, “I’ve always wanted to be six feet tall, so how about six feet?”

They put six-feet as my height on my license. It might be a situation where the clerk was just humoring me and decided to believe me, but I doubt it. Mostly because the guy in front of me in line said he was five feet, eleven inches tall, and he could have eaten peanuts off my head.


Aside from their occasional misstep, the Registry has done a good thing in recognizing that motorcycle operation is more difficult than driving a car. And the MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) course drilled into us over the course of two days that it’s the rider’s responsibility to keep himself safe and in control.

In a car – or a ‘cage’ as bikers and scooterist call them, you can talk on the phone while eating a cheeseburger and taking notes in your Wifi-enabled laptop, all while driving. As long as you’re wearing a seatbelt and have some airbags, you’ll likely be fine when you smash into something or some other distracted driver smashes into you.

On a bike – scooter or motorcycle – that’s not the case. While the idiot behind the wheel of the Escalade is cleaning ketchup off her pink Razr, the EMTs could be peeling your off the guardrail that she forced you into.

She’ll be uttering the common phrase, “I didn’t see him,” as you’re checking to see if you’ve broken anything and looking at your mangled bike.

But while this scenario is relatively common, the most common reason for rider injury or death is their own error while driving. Some of the more sobering comments given by the MSF instructor had to do with how frequently inattention and poor skills end the lives of new riders.

So, as the news media jumps up and down and pumps up stories having to do with scooters – mostly because the prices at the pumps are also jumping up, up, up…take note that the experts urge you to be wary.

Let people know that scooters require some skill, they’re not toys, and falling off a scooter at 30, 40 or 50 miles an hour is probably going to hurt as much as jumping out of your car at the same speeds. Just because it’s cute doesn’t mean it’s harmless.

Ultimately, riding a scoot responsibly is great fun and can offer a great alternative to commuting and getting around in ‘cages’. But you’re going to be happier and last longer on the road if you gear up, be wary, and ride safe. Saving a few bucks at the pump is a great deal, but it’s only worth it if you’re around for a good long time to enjoy the savings.

Keep reading!