Scooter drivers need helmet and licence, says court

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The Independent Online

Drivers of an increasingly fashionable type of motorised scooter must wear helmets, hold valid driving licences and third-party insurance and pay tax for the vehicles, the High Court ruled yesterday.

Drivers of an increasingly fashionable type of motorised scooter must wear helmets, hold valid driving licences and third-party insurance and pay tax for the vehicles, the High Court ruled yesterday.

Two judges held that the vehicles were "intended for use on the roads" and were therefore subject to all road-traffic laws. The ruling comes despite a warning issued by distributors of the vehicles, which advises users not to take them on the roads. Yet the judgment in effect bans the scooters from public pavements and streets because it is impossible to get insurance for them,

"The temptation to use Go-Peds on the roads is considerable, notwithstanding their limitations," said Lord Justice Pill, sitting with Mr Justice Bell in London. "They provide a ready means of getting through traffic on short journeys on busy urban roads and, for that matter, on less busy suburban roads," he added.

The judges had allowed an appeal by the Chief Constable of North Yorkshire against the decision of Harrogate magistrates to acquit a man driving such a scooter while disqualified and with no insurance.

Michael Saddington, a restaurateur of Middlesbrough, was pursued by police in Harrogate earlier this year after failing to stop at traffic lights. He had borrowed the vehicle from a friend and was followed until he stopped outside a pub, picked up the 22.5cc machine and went inside.

After questioning him, officers discovered he was disqualified from driving. Mr Saddington pleaded guilty to failing to stop at the lights and failing to stop for the police and was convicted of failing to wear protective headgear. But he was cleared of the other offences after the magistrates ruled that the scooters were not intended for road use, and thus not subject to the usual tax and licensing schemes applied to motor vehicles.

Yesterday's ruling was to decide the legal issues involved and did not affect Mr Saddington's acquittal. It was an important case, Mr Justice Pill said, because a large number of such scooters were now in circulation, and in many cases the vehicles were more sophisticated than the Go-Ped driven by Mr Saddington.

Overturning the magistrates' decision, he said: "In my judgement the conclusion must be that general use on the roads is to be contemplated.

"A Go-Ped, which is considered to be a mechanically propelled vehicle, is one intended for use on the roads within the meaning of the statute. A driving licence and third-party insurance are required."

The scooters are capable of speeds of up to 20mph and the police had urged the judges to rule that they should be classified as motor vehicles so that their use could be controlled in the interests of public safety.

But Richard Reed, representing Mr Saddington, said they were "far removed" from the definition of a motor vehicle as they had an inadequate form of steering, no clutch, lights, reflectors, suspension, seat, horn, speedometer or mirrors, and had been designed chiefly for "sport" and for use on private land.

The ruling means that John Prescott, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, will now have to decide whether the vehicles should be classified as motorbikes or mopeds.

After the hearing, Mr Saddington's lawyers said that no insurer would cover the scooters because they were unclassified and did not have "type approval".

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