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To Scooter or Not to Scooter?

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There’s been a lot of dialogue about gas prices and the effect they’re having on vehicle sales. On the one hand, we’ve seen reports showing that fuel efficiency is now the main factor in new car purchase decisions – reports that complement the increased popularity of fuel-efficient cars. On the other hand, there are some contradictory reports that indicate shoppers pay more attention to a vehicle’s price than its fuel efficiency. So really, which feature is more vital: the MPG or the price? Well, it’s both.

For those who are most focused on Miles Per Gallon, motorcycles and scooters have great appeal. The Motorcycle Industry Council reports that since the first quarter of 2011, scooters sales have increased by 50% over 2010 (partially credited to the improving vehicle industry). Additionally, replacement tire sales were up 30%, indicating more people are riding their two-wheeled vehicles.

This boom in sales is largely because scooters are both fuel-efficient and (usually) less expensive than their four-wheeled cousins. Many models are eco-friendly, too. Let’s also remember that they are cheaper to insure. All three of these factors are incentives to consumers. But while scooters can be a fun, fuel-efficient way to get around, they are also more dangerous than a car or truck.

Most people have the perception of motorcycles being dangerous or risky to ride. But the scooter seems more friendly, possibly even more safe, since drivers don’t go near as fast on scooters. But just how do they compare to motorcycles, and how safe are they?

A scooter is a lot easier to ride than a motorcycle. It is lighter, more controllable and sits on an easy-to-deploy center stand — not a kickstand. A scooter has no gears to shift, or clutch; this is a great feature for hilly areas. A scooter is even easier than learning to ride a bicycle.

Just like motorcycles, scooters are sometimes hard for other drivers to see. Auto drivers don’t always look for (or just don’t notice) motorcycles and scooters in their side-view mirrors when changing lanes. Drivers may have a more difficult time estimating the speed of a moving scooter, since they do move slower than motorcycles. Also, many new scooter drivers lack the experience they need to make them safe commuters.

Unfortunately, statistics on scooters alone are not available. But here are some stats from the US Dept. of Transportation on motorcycle safety:

Each year the U.S Department of Transportation releases statistics on motorcycle fatalities using FARS, the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. Currently the most recent statistics available are from 2009. Facts from that report include:

  • 4,281 motorcyclists died in crashes in 2009.
  • 22% of motorcyclists that died in 2009 did not have a valid license.
  • 55% of fatal motorcycle crashes in 2009 involved another vehicle.
  • More than half of motorcyclists killed in 2009 were wearing helmets. In states that require helmet use, 85% of fatal crashes involved helmeted motorcyclists.
  • 90% of motorcyclist killed in 2009 were male.
  • 30% of fatal motorcycle crashes involved a driver with a BAC greater than .08.

Most motorcycles and scooters are hit in the front, and almost always, the other driver “didn’t see the scooter/motorcycle. Clearly, it is very important for scooter drivers to pay full attention to other vehicles at all times, and do everything they can to be seen. There are safety steps and precautions one can take to remain as safe as possible on the highways. But the bottom line is that you are more vulnerable on a scooter than in a car or truck, which has sides, a roof, airbags,and seatbelts. So what you gain in money saved on gas, you potentially lose in safety. Thus, the decision whether to drive a scooter is a personal one, and must be given serious consideration.

As fuel prices rise, we’ll see more and more scooters on America’s roads. And in the long run, as more people move to urban areas, scooters will likely become a popular style of transport.  So, keep an eye out for increasing “scooterists”, and if you are a scooter driver, “Be Safe – Be Seen!”

 



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