Scooter safety issue before Cape city council Monday

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Scooter operators in Cape Girardeau will need to ride solo and wear a helmet only on city streets with speed limits 30 miles per hour or less or face fines if a proposed ordinance passes through city council as written. The council will discuss and vote on a first draft of ordinance at its Monday meeting.

The Cape Girardeau Police Department is recommending that the council pass the ordinance to reduce the severity of injuries in accidents involving scooters.

There have been 32 scooter-related accidents involving scooters since 2010, according to the department, most of which have been in the area of the Southeast Missouri State University campus. On Sept. 9, a university student, Meg Herndon, was critically injured and later died after the scooter she was riding was struck by another vehicle. She was not wearing a helmet.

The city has had no ordinances pertaining to the operation of scooters, or what the ordinance refers to as motorized bicycles. These vehicles are defined by the state as "any two-wheeled or three-wheeled device having an automatic transmission and a motor with cylinder capacity of not more than 50 cubic centimeters, which produces less than three gross brake horsepower, and is capable of propelling the device at a maximum speed of not more than 30 mph on level ground."

State law does not require helmets to be worn on scooters, but does require operators to hold a valid driver's license and abide by the same laws governing a motor vehicle, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Cape Girardeau's proposed ordinance was drafted by city attorney Eric Cunningham and Al Spradling III, attorney for the university and chair of its board of regents. Eye protection and insurance requirements were discussed for possible inclusion in the ordinance, but are not in the first draft.

The protective eyewear requirement was requested by the university, but according to the report accompanying the draft, it was removed from the proposed ordinance because the requirement seemed "burdensome to an operator of a much less powerful and slower moped," and is not required of motorcycle riders by the state.

Neither Spradling nor Cunningham could be reached by phone Saturday for comment on why an insurance requirement was not included in the proposed ordinance, but Councilman Mark Lanzotti said he will be pushing for one during Monday's discussions. He said he believes requiring insurance is an important component and that people should be held liable for damages and injuries in the case they negligently operate scooters.

Councilman John Voss also said he believes insurance should be a requirement but he would like to hear more from attorneys about whether it can be required legally.

Voss said he believes while requirements in the ordinance are appropriate, more can be done.

"I think we still need to figure out how to reduce the frequency of accidents," he said.

The draft ordinance also details manner-of-operation requirements including:

* Riding with the operator's legs on both sides of the vehicle while seated.

* Prohibiting riding on handlebars.

* Operators keeping both hands on handlebars.

* Not riding the vehicle on any sidewalk, walkway or footpath.

Fines for violation could cost between $5 and $25. Anyone under 17 caught violating the ordinance could have the scooter impounded for up to five days.

The ordinance could take effect immediately if a council member makes a motion to adopt it as an emergency measure as allowed by the city's charter, and five affirmative votes are given. If that were to happen, a second and third reading and vote to pass would not need to be held at the first November meeting of the council.

The council also will hold a vote to repeal an ordinance that bans placing fliers on unoccupied cars since a federal judge recently ruled that the city, its officers and its employees are permanently enjoined from enforcing or threatening to enforce the ordinance. The ruling came after the Ku Klux Klan filed a lawsuit against the city claiming the ordinance violated its free speech rights.

A final vote to rezone a nine-acre tract of land from single-family to multifamily residential to allow a prospective developer to plan and build an apartment complex on Bertling Street and Old Sprigg Street Road will be included in the consent agenda.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

One University Plaza, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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