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Caveat Equa-tor

Without accident stats, scooter-philes are left to their own devices

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With the price of gasoline rising dramatically, many Boiseans are considering alternative forms of motorized transportation, such as motorcycles, mopeds and motor scooters. Yet when it comes to safety concerns, buyers are well advised to retranslate the old Roman saying into "caveat equa-tor--"Let the rider beware."

While no federal, state or local agencies report data specific to the vehicle subclass encompassing scooters, pocket-bikes, mini-choppers, mini-ninjas, mopeds, Go-Peds and the like, statistics complied by the Idaho Department of Transportation indicate sharp increases in the number of collisions involving pedal bicycles (up 14 percent) and motorcycles (up 16.2 percent) between the years 2000 and 2004. In that recent period, bicycle fatalities doubled, while the number of motocyclists killed increased by just over 25 percent.

The Boise Police Department said in a recent press release that that many riders fail to understand the legal definitions, and hence licensing requirements, for smaller motorized vehicles. Even Go-Ped operators need a regular driver's license and may not use the Greenbelt, sidewalks or bike lanes when riding. While police have urged retailers who sell Go-Peds to inform customers of applicable laws, a BW stealth-shopping tour of several Treasure Valley dealers found few of them doing so.

Enter Ron Shepard, head of the Idaho Skills Training Advantage for Riders (STAR) program. The enthusiastic owner of a Honda ST1100 himself, he warns that "people get a sense of false confidence riding these things, which react to input faster than a motorcycle does. Just because they travel under 30 miles per hour, people perceive them as not difficult to ride, which puts them at risk." With 11-inch wheels, scooters turn quickly and have trouble negotiating road hazards such as potholes and bumps. Their small profiles make it difficult for automobile drivers to spot them in traffic. And while technological advances in engine power, suspensions and tires minimize operator errors, "if you make one mistake, you get yourself in a lot of trouble."

Shepard issues particular cautions to senior riders, ages 45 and up, who he says are overrepresented on bicycle and motorcycle collision and fatality charts. "The returning Baby Boomers think that riding looks really cool, but some older riders don't even make it down the block," Shepard notes, without accidentally popping clutches or overpowering their engine throttles.

Shepard's solution is succinct: "Get training." Idaho's STAR program is rated one of the top in the nation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which credits the classes with "a reduced crash risk of 64 percent" and "a 69 percent reduction in the risk of a fatal crash" for graduates. Passing the advanced course fulfills all state licensing requirements except for the written exam. For more information and to register, contact www.idahostar.org.

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