Opinions mixed as Cape Girardeau scooter rules begin

Sunday, November 18, 2012

New requirements went into effect Friday for individuals who want to lawfully operate scooters within the city limits of Cape Girardeau.

Operators of scooters -- along with mo-peds and motorized bicycles with engines of 50 cc and below -- must comply with the new ordinance or face penalties that could result in a maximum fine of $500 and 90 days in jail.

The ordinance was passed by the Cape Girardeau City Council on Nov. 5. City officials had been considering new rules for some time, but the September death of Southeast Missouri State University student Meg Herndon in a scooter crash expedited their work on the regulations.

Cape Girardeau Mayor Harry Rediger is in favor of the new requirements.

"We've been through the period of getting the ordinance vetted and approved by the city council," Rediger said. "I'm pleased that it's in effect. It will help ensure the safety of not only the scooter drivers but for also the drivers of other vehicles within the city limits."

Scooter drivers must have a valid driver's license; an approved helmet; no passengers; and proof of insurance. Drivers must remain seated, drive on streets with 35 mph or below speed limits, obey all road rules and maintain a working headlight, taillight and turn signals. All of that may take time for scooter-driving students at Southeast to get used to.

"I think they are just singling out college students," said Bhabik Patel, 21, a scooter driver and Southeast senior from India. "I know there was a bad accident recently, but I don't like what's being done. I also think the insurance requirement is ridiculous. I'd be in more of a position to pay for whatever damage I may cause out of my own pocket than go through an insurance company."

Michael Phillips, 21, a senior and scooter driver from Mehlville, Mo., also didn't like the insurance requirement.

"I don't mind the helmet thing," Phillips said, "but I've got enough trouble with paying for school. Now insurance for a scooter is thrown on top of that."

Kirsten Sterman, 20, a junior at Southeast from St. Charles, Mo., said she will comply with the ordinance.

"I started wearing a helmet the day after Meg [Herndon] was hit," Sterman said. "I'd always had one, but I just didn't want to be the one sticking out wearing a helmet. Now I do. What happened to Meg could've happened to me."

Sterman added that while she supports wearing a helmet she isn't happy with other parts of the ordinance.

"I don't support the no-passenger thing," she said.

Local businesses that sell scooters and accessories seem ambivalent to the new regulations. Herb Anderson, owner of Grass Roots BMW Motorcycles, understands why the new law came about, but he's not thrilled about more government intrusion.

"Anybody out there knows that wearing a helmet on a scooter is the sensible thing to do," Anderson said. "But it took a tragic death to get the requirements made into law. I just wish people would do the right thing without the government making them do it."

Anderson added that while his store caters mainly to motorcycle enthusiasts, he is selling approved helmets for scooter drivers.

"We've got about a dozen approved helmets for the scooter drivers right now, and we can always get more if we run out," he said.

Todd Rapp, owner of Campus Motoworkz, said he has recently ordered helmets for scooter drivers.

"I'll have about 65 helmets soon, and I don't have a problem with a driver having to wear one," he said. "But to me this whole thing is a witch hunt. What happened to Meg Herndon was an accident, but it would have been the same if she had been hit while she was walking. There's no need for insurance requirements and limiting a scooter to only one person."

The Cape Girardeau Police Department is set to enforce the new ordinance, but not right away. According to patrolman Darin Hickey, there will be a period of up to seven days from Friday during which officers will not ticket violators of the ordinance but instead will remind them of the changes.

"We're in a period of educating instead of enforcement." Hickey said. "But if we have to educate the same person twice during the period, we'll probably give them a ticket."

klewis@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address:

Cape Girardeau, Mo.

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