Scooter rage: City's big wheels are ready to ban the urbanly mobile from the streets

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The Independent Online

Never has a craze driven quite so many people crazy in such a short space of time. Micro-scooters, the aluminium status symbol for the urbanly mobile, may well be a nationwide sell-out, but they are also officially aggravating, hazardous, and possibly even illegal. In the City of London, where the rights of the monied and fashionable normally take precedence, a ban now seems certain.

Never has a craze driven quite so many people crazy in such a short space of time. Micro-scooters, the aluminium status symbol for the urbanly mobile, may well be a nationwide sell-out, but they are also officially aggravating, hazardous, and possibly even illegal. In the City of London, where the rights of the monied and fashionable normally take precedence, a ban now seems certain.

So many complaints have come in from walkers on the City's crowded streets that the City of London Corporation felt impelled to find ways to ban the new menace. Joe Weiss, the City's director of highways and transportation, said yesterday: "We have looked to see whether these scooters are covered by existing by-laws. We think they are, and they will be banned from the City's walkways."

For a lot of hospitals, doctors, safety campaigners, parents and pedestrians, a national blacklisting of the latest scourge of the pavement cannot come too soon.

The craze for micro-scooters, the lightweight foldable version that bears little resemblance to the original children's toy, has taken off in Britain over the summer with sales rocketing to 8,000 a week. For children, these new sleek silver models are the latest desireable gadget, overtaking in-line scates and Pokemon. But more remarkable is the way micro-scooters have been taken up by trendy adult city dwellers as a quick way to get to work. From Covent Garden in London to New Street in Birmingham to Rose Street in Edinburgh, gadget-crazed commuters are weaving their way through innocent pedestrians at alarming speeds on their state-of-the-art scooters.

But this has raised concerns about safety. After a series of accidents, government departments and councils are looking to stop micro-scooters from being used on busy pavements. The Department of Transport said yesterday that the use of the scooters on the pavement was probably illegal. "It's a grey area of the law," a spokesman said. "It would appear that these scooters are covered by the same 1835 Highways Act that prevents cycles being ridden on pavements. But, obviously, in the case of children you would not expect them to use the road. Enforcement would be a matter for the police to consider in light of local circumstances."

In America, the "sidewalk scourge" craze has raged longest, with some 9,500 people being taken to hospital with injuries. Nine out of 10 of the casualties are children. Roger Vincent of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said that the last official statistics showed that in 1998 some 2,200 people were injured in accidents involving children's scooters. "If you consider that was before the craze started here, and we hear that many adults are using these new scooters, we are expecting a big rise in the number of accidents."

The craze has raised similar safety concerns to the recent fad for in-line skating, Mr Vincent said. "In both cases, people can go quite fast and if people have an accident the consequences can be serious. As you will recall, there were at least two people killed in the roller blading craze. The most well known was where a roller blade crashed into the cyclist in Hyde Park.

"In the last couple of days, we have had reports of quite serious injuries sustained by people using these scooters. In one case, a man caught the edge of a paving stone and came off at quite a speed. In another case, a scooter ploughed into wet cement around a manhole and the rider sustained nasty injuries."

Reports are growing from hospitals of both adults and children with broken arms and legs after the scooters' careering tiny white wheels were unable to cope with Britain's dilapidated pavements.

What sets the micro-scooter apart from the sturdy red Mobo steel scooters beloved by earlier generations of children is that they are made from lightweight aircraft metal and can be folded and easily carried. This new technology does not come cheap, with an average cost of around £90 a piece

The list of celebrity users is growing. Robbie Williams has one, actors Jude Law and Sadie Frost ride theirs together and Harrison Ford bought a couple for his children. Even Angela Rippon has been spotted using one to get to her new job as head of the English National Ballet in London.

The micro-scooter was designed by Wim Ouboter, a Swiss inventor, and appeared on the market less than two years ago. But demand for Ouboter's scooters have outstripped his production. There are waiting lists at stockists and a burgeoning black market. Children are said to have been mugged and scooter shops raided by burglars. Such success has led to a host of micro-scooter imitations, but not all are meeting safety standards of the original.

In addition to street accidents five children have been injured in recent weeks unfolding one brand of the micro scooter. In one case a young girl had part of her finger sliced off. All the children had the 900 RTT micro scooters which have now been banned by trading standards officers.

Ray Moore, a Brighton and Hove trading standards officer, said: "A 10-year-old girl in Slough had the whole top of her finger sliced off and she needed surgery.

"A 15-year-old East Sussex boy was injured just after buying the scooter when part of the folding mechanism trapped his middle finger."

More than 25,000 900 RTT micro-scooters have been sold in the UK since July but Olop Leisure Group, the importer, and Woolworths, whom they were supplying, were banned from selling them after accidents.

Mr Moore said he was still trying to find out what other shops had sold the scooters and feared some were still being used.

Brighton and Hove trading standards carried out tests on the product after the 15-year-old complained about the 900 RTT scooter he bought from Woolworths in Brighton.

They issued a six-month suspension order which bans Olop from selling the scooter.

In Northern Ireland the craze has taken a slightly different turn with the preference being for the motorised scooters. Children as young as seven have been reported using these scooters which are capable of 20mph.

Mr Vincent urged Britain's scooter riders to take greater care on the roads and pavements. "We would advise people using these scooters to use helmets and protective gear," he said.

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