Top: John S. Allen's home page
Up: Expert witness


THE SEGWAY --
CORPORATE LOBBYISTS
WRITE THE LAW

2003, John S. Allen

As of the spring of 2003, the Segway electric scooter is doing poorly in the market. An article In Wired magazine describes the market situation of the Segway in detail.

Pedestrian and bicycling activists as well as experts on traffic law and crash prevention are now more concerned about the trail of legal precedents the Segway leaves behind, than about the Segway itself. Here is what one bicycling activist says:

Given the serious potential for bad precedent from use of this thing according to the hodgepodge of statutes and ordinances shoved through by its own proponents (as well as the insulting anti-bicyclist comments from its inventor), I can't say I'm sorry. We can only hope we don't have to deal with any bad precedent from the little bit of use it is getting--and that we can eventually get the statutory precedent off the books.

Sarah Etter,
sarahcycles *at* attbi.com,
researcher into
bicycle law precedents

Research on bicycles has shown a greater hazard of collision with motor vehicles when they are ridden on sidewalks than in the street as vehicles. See, for example, the survey of research elsewhere on this site. The main problem is of collisions at intersections and driveways. There are also hazards of collisions with pedestrians. Similar results can be expected for any wheeled device which travels above walking speed. In spite of all this, the Segway scooter, described by its creators as an "electric personal assistive mobility device" has been marketed for use on sidewalks, and lobbyists are succeeding in getting laws enacted which define it as a sidewalk device.

The Segway, with it's odd side-by-side wheel configuration and computerized auto-balancing, has a "gee whiz" factor, but it travels at speeds similar to those of a bicycle and poses similar risks -- except that Segway is heavier, can not turn as sharply when traveling at speed, and can not negotiate sideslopes as a bicycle can. I have addressed the maneuvering characteristics of the Segway in a PowerPoint presentation which I gave at the 2002 Pro-Bike conference. There is a very detailed presentation on the Segway's maneuvering characteristics on the humantransport.org Web site.

The Uniform Vehicle Code, the model for traffic law in the United States, defines bicycles as vehicles. The Uniform Vehicle Code is amended by a cumbersome committee process. It has nothing yet to say about the Segway.

Segway lobbyists have charged into the gap with their own proposals for laws. The developers of the Segway have not heeded the literature on the risks of sidewalk operation of wheeled vehicles. The widespread popular misconception that sidewalk riding is safe may make it easier to sell the Segway, but sets a bad precedent.

The Segway laws of New Hampshire, the Segway's home state, provide a fine example of what can occur when corporate lobbyists set about to rewrite the traffic law to suit their own purposes. The Segway laws not only anomalously define the Segway operator as a pedestrian -- these laws also set no meaningful standards for equipment (lights, reflectors, brakes), allow Segway users to park on the sidewalk so as to impede pedestrian traffic, and have other significant failings.

The comparison follows, in a three-column table with EPAMD (Segway) law provisions on the left, corresponding provisions of bicycle law on the right, and comments in the middle column. A review of Segway laws state by state is also available on the Internet.


New Hampshire EPAMD law Comments New Hampshire bicycle law
269:1 Definition. In this chapter, "electric personal assistive mobility device" or "EPAMD" shall mean a self-balancing, 2 non-tandem-wheeled device The narrow definition of the Segway places it in a special non-vehicle category all its own, separate from other scooters and all other wheeled devices. The bicycle is defined as a vehicle and subject to the normal traffic law, with a few additional special provisions.. 259:6 Bicycle. – "Bicycle' shall mean every pedaled vehicle propelled solely by human power upon which any person may ride, except child's tricycles and similar devices.
designed to transport only one person, While the EPAMD is "designed to transport only one person", the Segway legislation, unlike the bicycle legislation, includes no prohibition against unsafe use practices -- too many people aboard, etc. 265:144 Riding on Bicycles. –

I. A person propelling a bicycle shall not ride other than upon or astride a permanent and regular seat attached to the bicycle.

II. No bicycle shall be used to carry more persons at one time than the number for which it is designed and equipped.

III. No person riding upon any bicycle, coaster, roller skates, skateboard, sled or toy vehicle shall attach the same or himself to any vehicle upon a roadway.

IV. No person operating a bicycle shall carry any package, bundle or article which prevents the driver from keeping at least one hand upon the handlebars.

solely powered by an electric propulsion system, with a maximum speed of less than 20 miles per hour. Further wording which sets the EPAMD aside as subject to special and unusual rules which do not apply even to other motorized scooters.  
269:2 Applicable Law. – An EPAMD shall not be considered a "vehicle' within the meaning of the law of this state.

 

The Segway's speed and operating characteristics define it as a vehicle under section 259:122, except that it is specially defined as not being one. Therefore, the normal rules of the road do not apply to the Segway. They do apply to bicycles. 259:122 "Vehicle" shall mean:

I. Except as provided in paragraphs II and III, every mechanical device in, upon or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a way, excepting devices used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks;

II. [Repealed.]

III. When used in the provisions of RSA 264 [equipment provisions], the same as paragraph I of this section, but not including bicycles and mopeds.

265:143 Application of Motor Vehicle Laws to Bicycles.

I. Every person propelling a vehicle by human power or riding a bicycle shall have all of the rights and be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle under the rules of the road, except as provided in paragraph II and as to special regulations in this subdivision and except as to those provisions which by their nature can have no application.

II.(a) Any peace officer, wearing a distinctive uniform, operating a bicycle during the course of his or her duties is exempt from the provisions of this subdivision, except as those provisions relate to driving under the influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs, if the bicycle is being operated under any of the following circumstances:
      (1) In response to an emergency call.
      (2) While engaged in a rescue operation.
      (3) In the immediate pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law.
   (b) This paragraph shall not relieve a peace officer from the duty to operate a bicycle with due regard for the safety of all persons using the public way.

265:144 Riding on Bicycles. –

V. Persons riding bicycles 2 or more abreast shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic and, on a laned roadway, shall ride within a single lane.

VI. Bicyclists intending to turn right or left shall not be required to give a continuous hand or arm signal if the hand is needed in the control or operation of the bicycle.

VII. A person propelling a bicycle may pass a slower-moving vehicle in the same lane provided such movement can be made with reasonable safety.

269:3 Equipment. An EPAMD shall be equipped with front, rear, and side reflectors; The provision for the EPAMD is rudimentary. Unlike with bicycles, no standard for design or performance of the reflectors is specified. Unlike with bicycles, there is no provision to allow a peace officer to inspect an EPAMD. Also, unlike with bicycles, there is no prohibiting the EPAMD from use if the equipment is in unsafe condition.

A cube-corner reflector works within only a limited range of entrance angles. (See explanation on another page.) The Segway's tilting backward and forward would render a front or rear cube-corner rear reflector invisible when the Segway is braking or accelerating, or climbing or descending a steep slope.  As the Segway's tilting does not follow the slope, any compensatory mechanism would require a slope sensor. Glass-bead reflectors do not have the angle limitation, but on the other hand, the Segway law says nothing about the type of reflector required.

265:144 Riding on Bicycles. –

VIII. Any bicyclist shall stop upon demand of a peace officer and permit his bicycle to be inspected.

IX. No bicycle shall be operated unless the steering, brakes, tires and other required equipment are in safe condition.

266:86 Every bicycle operated upon any way during darkness shall be equipped with ... a red reflector on the rear of a type approved by the director, which shall be visible from a distance of 300 feet to the rear when directly in front of the lawful upper beams of headlamps on a motor vehicle. A lamp emitting a red light visible from 300 feet to the rear may be used in addition to the red reflector. Every moped driven upon any way during darkness shall be equipped with one headlamp which meets the specifications for headlamps established in RSA 266:31. Taillamps and stop lamps are required on mopeds.

266:87 Pedal Reflectors and Reflective Equipment Required.
I. No person shall operate a bicycle, except for a bicycle equipped with clipless pedals, or moped unless such bicycle or moped has pedals equipped with a reflector of a type approved by the director which conform to 49 CFR 571.108 Table 2 and which shall be visible from the front and rear of the bicycle or moped from a distance of 200 feet during darkness.

II. No person, during darkness, shall operate a bicycle equipped with clipless pedals unless the operator is wearing either reflectorized leg bands on the lower exterior of the operator's legs or some other type of light reflective equipment on the exterior of either the operator's legs or shoes.

a system that when employed will enable the operator to bring the device to a controlled stop; The Segway law requires a brake, but unlike the bicycle law, sets no standard for its performance. 266:88 Brake Required. – Every bicycle and moped shall be equipped with a brake or brakes which will enable its driver to stop the bicycle or moped within 25 feet from a speed of 10 miles per hour on dry, level, clean pavement.
and, if the EPAMD is operated between 1/2 hour after sunset and 1/2 hour before sunrise, a lamp emitting a white light which, while the EPAMD is in motion, sufficiently illuminates the area in front of the operator. A headlamp is essential for visibility even in areas with overhead lighting where the headlight is not needed for illumination. The Segway law sets no standard for the distance at which the headlamp must be visible. The bicycle law sets a standard for visibility, and none for illumination, but the need for illumination is self-enforcing. The Segway's tilting forward and backward would have to be compensated in order for a headlight to maintain constant aim. No mechanism has been provided to accomplish this. As the Segway's tilting does not follow the slope, such a mechanism would require a slope sensor. 266:86 Headlamp Required at Night. – Every bicycle operated upon any way during darkness shall be equipped with a lamp emitting a white light visible from a distance of 300 feet in front of the bicycle...
269:4 Operation Permitted on Sidewalks and Roadways. – An operator of an EPAMD shall have the rights and duties of pedestrians prescribed in RSA 265:34-40. This provision flies in the face of volumes of research showing bicycling on sidewalks to be hazardous.  
269:5 Special Rules for Operation.

I. A person operating an EPAMD on a sidewalk or roadway, shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with, and shall yield the right-of-way to, persons traveling on foot.

II. No EPAMD shall be operated at a speed greater than 15 miles per hour.

The requirement for "due care" is appropriate. On the other hand, the claims to revolutionize transportation are absurd for a vehicle which is limited to pedestrian speed on pedestrian rights of way, and has a battery that is exhausted in 20 miles or less. In practice, 15 mph is too fast to exercise "due care" on a facility shared with pedestrians.  
269:6 Parking. –

I. An EPAMD may be parked on a sidewalk unless prohibited or restricted by an official traffic control device.

II. An EPAMD shall not be parked on a roadway in such a manner as to prevent the movement of a legally parked motor vehicle.

III. In all other respects, any person operating an EPAMD shall conform with provisions of law regulating the parking of vehicles.

IV. All violations of parking restrictions shall be deemed the responsibility of the owner of the EPAMD. The owner shall be presumed to be in control of the EPAMD at the time of the parking violation, and no evidence of actual control or culpability need be proved as an element of the offense.

The EPAMD parking rules are copied  from those for bicycles, except that the prohibition against parking on a sidewalk so as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of pedestrian traffic has been omitted. 265:152 Bicycle Parking. –    

I. A person may park a bicycle on a sidewalk unless prohibited or restricted by an official traffic control device.

II. A bicycle parked on a sidewalk shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of pedestrian or other traffic.

III. A person shall not park a bicycle on a roadway in such a manner as to obstruct the movement of a legally parked motor vehicle.

IV. In all other respects, bicycles parked on a way shall conform with provisions of law regulating the parking of vehicles.

269:7 Hazardous Materials. – No person shall carry or transport on an EPAMD hazardous materials. Here is the one provision of the EPAMD legislation that is more stringent than for bicycles. But what's the point? Who would ever use a Segway, or a bicycle, to transport hazardous materials -- and if someone did, wouldn't there be other laws to prohibit this?  
269:8 Additional Regulations. – A city or town shall have the authority to regulate the operation of EPAMDs within its limits. The provisions of RSA 269:3, 269:4, and 269:5 shall not supersede the provisions of any local ordinance. This provision allows cities and towns to regulate use of EPAMDs, but not to regulate how they may be parked on sidewalks (269.6). 265:148 Sidewalks Outside Compact Area. – Upon petition of 5 or more legal voters, the selectmen of a town or the mayor of a city, upon notice and hearing, shall have the power to include within the foregoing provisions, sidewalks outside the compact part of the town or city that are built or improved by said town or city or by the abutters; but in such case, notices to that effect shall be posted near said walks at least one week before they shall be so included.

265:149 Ordinances and Bylaws. – Any city or town shall have the power to make ordinances, bylaws or regulations respecting the use and equipment of bicycles, except mopeds as defined in RSA 259:57, on its ways, provided that any such ordinances, bylaws or regulations enacted with respect to such equipment shall be at least as stringent as the requirements of RSA 266:85-89. Any city or town may require that bicycles, except mopeds as defined in RSA 259:57, be licensed and may charge reasonable fees for such licensing.

269:9 Violation. – Any person who violates any provision of this chapter shall be guilty of a violation. Unlike with a bicycle, there is no confiscating the EPAMD for improper use, and no limitation on prosecution. But more to the point, the EPAMD's, user is defined as a pedestrian and so the entire range of provisions that apply is different, as already described.. 265:150 Penalty. – Any person violating the provisions of RSA 265:145 or any ordinance, bylaw, or rule made under the provisions of RSA 265:149, shall be deprived of his bicycle or moped by the law enforcement agents until such provisions and requirements have been complied with.

265:151 Limitation of Prosecution. – Prosecutions under this subdivision shall be instituted within 60 days from the time the offense was committed.

265:153 Penalty. – Any person violating the provisions of this subdivision or of any ordinance, bylaw or rule made under the provisions of this subdivision shall be guilty of a violation.



Top: John S. Allen's home page
Up: Expert witness

Contents 2001, John S. Allen
This page may be republished, with attribution
Last modified 12 December 2003