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Safety tips for commuters on scooters and mopeds

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Scooters and mopeds are extremely popular with commuters and students, primarily because they're economical. Not only are they affordable, they're also relatively inexpensive to maintain and offer great gas mileage.

These two-wheel vehicles, however, aren't the safest means of travel. In fact, your chance of getting killed while operating a scooter is 35 times higher than driving a car, according to a recent report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Orange paint marks a spot on the pavement where two North Carolina teens died in an early morning crash after the moped they were on was hit by a Jeep and run over by a cargo truck.

Police said the headlight on the moped wasn't on, making it difficult for other drivers to see the moped. 

"I ride my moped everywhere I go," says Fred Mesmer. "It's the only transportation I have."

When Mesmer is operating his moped, he tries to be safe by staying alert, wearing a helmet and running his lights regardless of whether it's day or night.  

"You've got to be aware that people don't see you," Mesmer adds.

The people that don't see you are driving bigger and heavier vehicles. If there is an accident, the odds aren't great for a scooter operator or passenger.

"You've got safety features in cars that will protect you in the event of an accident that just don't exist on this," says Michael Pearce, who owns Vespa of Charlotte in North Carolina.

Pearce reminds customers their top priority should be to make sure all of the equipment is in working order before heading out on the road, especially the head, break and signal lights.

You also want to monitor the tread condition and air pressure of your tires to make sure you have a good grip on the road. 

Inspecting your personal equipment is your second priority.

Boots offer the best protection for your feet. Helmets that meet or exceed standards set by the United States Department of Transportation are 'DOT certified.' A closed-face helmet is the safest to wear, because it offers the most protection for your face.

The clothing you wear can also make a difference for your safety.

"Bright yellow and oranges are extremely important to make yourself seen," Pearce says.

Wear shades or goggles to protect your eyes from the sun, wind, rain and, yes, bugs.

"It hurts bad enough when the bug hits here," Pearce says while pointing to his cheek. "You don't want the bug or anything else, for that matter, to hit you in the eyes!"

Some scooter drivers like to listen to music while driving, but experts say that's not a good idea.

You want to be able to use all of your senses while driving because you may be able to hear the screeching tires before you actually see a car about to hit you.

Changing weather conditions can also pose a hazard.

Those painted white and yellow lines on the pavement are great for keeping drivers in their lane, but when these markings get wet, oil dropped by other vehicles makes the surface extremely slick for a two-wheeler.

"If you run across them when it is too wet, the bike can get out from under you and you are going to go down," Pearce says.

You should always obey the speed limit, but be prudent. If cars and trucks are moving at a faster speed, you may need to accelerate.

"Don't put yourself in danger by holding traffic up and creating an unnecessary back-up as well," Pearce adds. "Keep pace with traffic."

If that's not an option, you may have to find an alternate route

Copyright 2013 America Now. All rights reserved.

Additional Information:

The following information is from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission regarding Scooter Data (Source: http://cpsc.gov/pr/prscoot.html).

Non-Powered Scooters Injury Data

  • Injuries associated with non-powered scooters increased dramatically since 2000.
  • From January 2000 through December 31, 2000, CPSC estimates there were about 40,500 emergency room treated injuries associated with scooters.
  • In November 2001, CPSC estimated there were more than 84,400 emergency room-treated injuries relating to for January 2001 through September 2001.
  • About 85% of the injuries were to children less than 15 years old.
  • Two-thirds of the injuries are to males.
  • Most common injuries are fractures.

Motorized Scooter Injury Data

  • CPSC reported that 2,870 emergency room-treated injuries relating to motorized scooters were reported for the first 9 months of 2001. There were 2,760 injuries reported in the same period last year.
  • There were 4,390 total injuries reported in 2000 associated with motorized scooters and 1,330 in 1999.
  • 39 percent of the injuries occurred to children under 15 years of age. The most common injuries were fractures. Most injuries were to the arms, legs, faces and heads.  

Recommendations

  • Wear a helmet, knee pads and elbow pads. (Wrist guards may make it difficult to grip the handle and steer the scooter.)
  • Children under age 8 should not use non-powered scooters without close adult supervision. Children under 12 should not ride motorized scooters.
  • Avoid gravel and uneven pavement, which can cause falls.
  • Don't ride scooters in traffic.
  • Don't ride scooters at night - riders can't see where they're going or be seen by others.
  • Wear sturdy shoes.
  • Owners of scooters should check with local authorities for local laws regarding scooters.  

The following information is from an article entitled "Scooter vs. Automobile Accidents" published article on eHow.com (Source: http://www.ehow.com/facts_5708288_scooter-vs_-automobile-accidents.html).

  • The year 2008 saw a significant increase in the sales of scooters worldwide, mostly driven by a major increase in gasoline prices, according to a CNN Money report on Sept. 23, 2008. For many drivers, particularly younger ones, the cost of operating a car became too expensive. The increase in scooters resulted in an increase in scooter-related accidents.
  • The number of motorcycles in the United States is about 6 million, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. No governmental agency is counting the number of scooters, however. Of the motorcycles, between 3,500 and 4,500 riders are killed annually in the United States.
  • Scooters pose as a death risk are just as dangerous as motorcycles and far more dangerous than driving a car. All things being equal in speed, elements and conditions, scooter drivers have a chance of getting killed more than 35 times higher than that of a car driver, according to NHSTA Traffic Safety Facts 2007. In fact, because of technological changes required by the government and the need to stress safety in sales, vehicle injuries and deaths are decreasing statistically. Unfortunately, according to the Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), motorcycle and scooter deaths are going the opposite direction.
  • Scooters are attractive because they offer significant mobility in urban areas. They are also reasonably cheap to operate. They are hardy machines and typically go a number of years before needing repairs. And repairs themselves are minor in cost compared with the same kind of repair on a car. So for a budget-minded rider a scooter makes sense.
  • The cost of injury is often overlooked in the price of a scooter. In a sudden stop or side impact, scooter drivers are fully exposed to contact. The first expense tends to be contact-type bodily injury, which tends to be the highest for those who don't wear armor and a helmet when riding. Cement, objects and other cars can do significant damage to a body at speeds of 20 mph or more. Most scooters can reach 45 mph.
  • Car accidents can and do result in significant injuries but at a much lower rate than scooter accidents. Most car accident victims suffer bruises and maybe whiplash, but most walk away from their accidents. A typical scooter injury can cost between $7,000 to $31,000 just for the immediate hospital care. Wearing a helmet can reduce costs to between $3,000 and $18,000. The significant difference is a full-face helmet with a face cover versus half-shells and other smaller variations that are open face in design. Open-face helmets generally result in significant face damage requiring jaw repair, nose repair, replacement of lost teeth and cosmetic surgery.