Cape council to consider requiring helmets, insurance for scooter riders

Monday, October 1, 2012

The thought didn't first come to Sarina Webb because of what happened to Meg Herndon last month. Neither was it spawned in June, when Zach Boerboom -- a friend's 19-year-old son -- was involved in a crash that didn't take his life but did break his back and steal his dream.

For Webb, the idea that scooter riders should be required to wear helmets originated months earlier as she sat at a busy Cape Girardeau intersection.

As Webb waited for the light to change, she noticed a blond-haired girl riding a scooter. The girl was wearing flip-flops and "short shorts." The one thing she wasn't wearing, Webb noticed, was a helmet.

"Then I just thought out of nowhere how easy it would be to have her life stolen from her by one of those scooters," said Webb, a teacher's assistant in the Cape Girardeau School District.

Webb contacted her Cape Girardeau City Council representative, Mark Lanzotti, and told him what she thought. Now, with Lanzotti's full support, Webb will speak to the council at its 5 p.m. study session today in talks that could culminate in helmet requirements being placed on scooter riders.

She's been on the agenda for weeks and, as she waited, she saw her argument tragically reinforced by what happened to Boerboom, who was hit while riding his scooter as he drove home from Jackson in June. Then, last month, she learned that Herndon, a 21-year-old college student, was killed following a scooter accident that left her with severe brain injuries.

"I can't imagine losing a child," Webb said. "But maybe changing the ordinance will help prevent that from happening."

When Webb stands at the podium tonight, at least one of its members won't have to be sold on the issue. Lanzotti said that he supported the idea immediately and even thinks an insurance requirement should be added.

But he initially wasn't sure the council could legally do it. So he sent an inquiry to city manager Scott Meyer who, after a check with the city attorney, said the council did have the authority.

As Lanzotti understands it now, a Missouri city can make its laws more restrictive than the state, but not less so. Missouri's regulations, like Cape Girardeau's, allows scooters to be operated on public streets and highways if the driver holds a valid driver's license. A scooter is to have a maximum speed of no more than 30 mph. But, unlike with motorcycles, the state does not require a helmet to be worn.

Missouri communities are divided in how they've handled scooters. Springfield, St. Joseph and Rolla don't require helmets. Columbia, St. Louis and Kansas City do. Lee's Summit even banned certain types of scooters from its streets altogether.

States regulate scooters in different ways, too. In Maryland, for example, a new law that takes effect today requires moped riders to wear helmets and eye protection and calls on the state's 3,500 motor scooters be titled and insured.

In Cape Girardeau, scooters are popular among college students because they come with low price tags and are fuel-efficient. The university has seen an increasing number of tags, this semester issuing 340. The lure of not having to wear a helmet is surely a big draw, too.

Some, too, argue against wearing helmets, calling it a personal decision and that such laws infringe upon individual rights.

Lanzotti isn't interested in having that argument.

"That debate was had at the state level in regards to motorcycles," Lanzotti said. "Why can't I extrapolate that same result to what is functionally a low-powered motorcycle?"

Lanzotti even believes that scooters have been allowed to operate in a "loophole of the law." The problem has always been there, he said, and if Cape Girardeau leaders can close the hole, they should.

"I don't think my thoughts changed in light of the Meg Herndon tragedy," Lanzotti said. "I was generally comfortable with the notion that in the state of Missouri we're going to require motorcycle riders to wear helmets then we ought to put them on scooter riders."

Zach Boerboom, the son of Webb's friend, didn't used to agree, but he does now. Football is in his family's blood. His father is Brian Boerboom, the offensive line coach at Southeast Missouri State University, who played at the University of Nebraska in his college days. Zach's little brother plays at Central, where Zach had caught 13 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns as a senior.

After a stint at the University of New Mexico, Zach had come home, intending to play for his father this season with the Redhawks. Then, in June, Boerboom was riding his scooter when he was hit from behind and thrown 100 feet onto the pavement.

Two vertebrae in his neck were fractured, and his back was severely injured. He was airlifted to a St. Louis hospital in serious condition.

After eight hours of surgery, Zach was told by doctors he would likely face some level of paralysis. But after months of painful rehabilitation, he is walking. His football days, however, are behind him.

Boerboom doesn't think a helmet would have prevented his injuries, but he knows it could not have hurt. But when he saw three months later what happened to Herndon, he realized he was the lucky one.

"I think a helmet will help prevent brain injuries," he said. "But the thing is that kids won't ride scooters if they have to wear a helmet. Back then, I wouldn't have."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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