Mini-motos leave a trail of death and destruction in their wake

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The Independent Online

They were among the "must have" presents for many teenagers this year. But parents were warned yesterday that the craze for miniature motorcycles can have dangerous and sometimes disastrous consequences.

In Wiltshire, police were appealing for witnesses to an incident on Christmas Day in which two dogs were killed, apparently by children illegally riding what have become known as "mini-motos" on playing fields.

The incident comes in the wake of rising complaints to local authorities about the nuisance caused by the small motorcycles being used in public places and a warning from the Home Office that such activity could result in teenagers receiving Anti-social Behaviour Orders (Asbos) for using them on public land.

Although mini-motos, under two feet high, have been commercially available for some years, their popularity stems from the drop in prices caused by cheap imports from Asia, which can cost as little as £150 through a wide variety of mail order or internet outlets. Imports have risen from about 7,000 in 2001 to 70,000 last year, with total sales of around 100,000. Some of those imported are simply copies of leading brands, which normally sell for around £1,000.

The Motor Cycle Industry Association yesterday repeated warnings that parents should ensure that the mini-motos they bought conformed to safety standards and that children and teenagers were aware of the law, which means that all drivers using them on public land must be over 16 and wearing a crash helmet. Driven by petrol engines of up to 50cc, some can reach speeds of 50-60mph.

Craig Carey-Clinch, spokesman for the association, said that people should buy from reputable dealers, where they would receive advice on proper usage, the law, correct clothing and know that the cycle conformed to British safety standards. He added: "Mini-bikes are designed for young people to enjoy their first experiences of motorcycling and it is imperative the machines are safe and used in the correct environment."

In Wiltshire, Christine Ford, 62, described yesterday how her two lurchers, Blue and Derby, which she had raised from puppies, died when she took them for a walk on the evening of Christmas Day on playing fields near her home in Bradford-upon-Avon.

She said: "I let Blue and Derby off their leads and they ran off into the darkness. The next thing I heard was a crashing sound far away and Derby yelping. I ran towards the sounds where I saw Derby lying flat-out on his side and not breathing. Blue was trying to lift his head and was in a lot of pain.

"I had to hold back the tears as I tried my best to care for them, but I knew Derby was already dead. I heard the motorbikes and I suppose they must have scarpered before I arrived." Blue was put down later that night. She added: "I feel like I have lost two friends or family members ... it's soul-destroying to see them die in this way.''

Wiltshire police said they believed the dogs were killed by "very young children" illegally riding mini-motos on playing fields and appealed for witnesses to the incident. "We would remind parents these mini-motos are completely unlawful for use on land to which the public have access or on roads,'' said a force spokesman.

Last week, Hazel Blears, the Home Office minister, warned parents that they had to think twice before buying mini-motos, because unauthorised use by their children could lead to the machines being confiscated and the children receiving Asbos. She said: "Vehicles like mini-motos are not toys but are often regarded as such. Owning one carries certain responsibilities, including using them sensibly and only on private land. It is not acceptable to ride these vehicles in parks or on pavements and other public highways.''

Dangerous toys?

Puffaball

On exposure to a match, these soft rubbery balls became a flaming mass of molten plastic. They have been withdrawn.

Elastic Jelly Yo Yo Balls

In June 2003, two girls from Middlesborough were hurt when the toys - jelly balls attached to a long strap - wrapped around their necks. Since banned.

Crackle Jacks

When thrown in the air, these magnetic stones, right, made a crackling sound. But they fragmented easily - producing razor sharp shards.

Novelty Slippers

In 2002, a woman dislocated her shoulder after tripping over her Christmas pudding-shaped slippers and falling down stairs. Novelty slippers have been blamed for some of the worst domestic accidents on staircases.

The Happy Kid Toddler Ball and Manchester United's Christmas Bear

The Happy Kid Toddler ball had an easily detached valve while Manchester United's bear disappeared from the team's megastore after the plastic eyes were found to dislocate easily. Both products posed a choking hazard and have been withdrawn from sale. Kunal Dutta