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Scooters part 2: Dangers and pluses

As gas nears $3 per gallon, more look to motor scooters for fuel savings.  But there also are  potential dangers. MSNBC's Denise Ono explains.
F.Birchman /

Fuel efficiency probably is forefront in the minds of most potential scooter owners, but many riders are quick to point out the dangers.

A report issued earlier this year by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration says that although highway fatalities in general are down, motorcycle-related deaths topped 4,000 in 2004, an 8 percent increase over the previous year.

Agency spokesman Rae Tyson said there isn’t solid data to explain the increase, but he noted that the numbers loosely follow the increase in bike sales. He also noted another factor: “We’ve found a sharp increase in fatalities in states that have repealed their helmet laws."

The federal transportation bill signed by President Bush in August includes funding for the first comprehensive study in 30 years of the cause of motorcycle fatalities.

NHTSA figures showed that collisions — 50 percent with another vehicle, 25 percent with a fixed object — were the cause of two-thirds of all motorcycle fatalities. Tom Lindsay, a spokesman for the American Motorcycle Association, said that more than a third of all motorcycle crashes involve a motorist entering a cyclist's right of way.

Tyson said motorcycles and scooters can be safe, but riders "need to realize that there are a whole set of dangers and precautions they need to take."

John Smith, an avid scooter rider from Richmond, Va., said he’s worried that a sudden rush to buy them will mean a lot more unsafe riders. “The dirty secret of the 50cc scooters is that many of them are very easy to hot-rod," he said.

Another potential hazard is that scooters are generally smaller and quieter than motorcycles, making them "tremendously easy to overlook by preoccupied drivers," Smith said.

Bober, the scooter rider from Wisconsin, said, “I especially would like to see more people safely attired on scooters. The 125cc-250cc scoots are the workhorse errand runners, and it would be nice if the industry could do something to help people get out of the moped mindset.”

Parking perks
Back to the benefits of riding scooters. They can use HOV lanes, cutting down on commuting time, and parking is easier and cheaper.

Marc Dostal, who works at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, said parking is always tough near the tourist attraction. He bought a scooter for his commute, and parks his bike in the alley next to his office.

For Bryce Ludwig, a student at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, parking costs were the deciding factor. “I can park my scooter at any bike rack on campus for $20 a semester instead of the $85 a semester for a car,” he said.

Sportique Scooter's Baker said parking plays a major role in his shop’s sales as well. “Parking on the sidewalk or at a bike rack is legal for a 50cc scooter in Denver. That’s attractive to a lot of people.”