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Preteens on scooters and minibikes are in danger by not knowing street rules.



Published: Sat, August 13, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Preteens on scooters and minibikes are in danger by not knowing street rules.

SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- Amanda Nicole Scott, 13, almost died in April when the motorized scooter she rode against her father's orders crashed into a car in Coconut Creek, Fla. She survived after spending 10 days in intensive care at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Hollywood, Fla.

Ivan Hernandez, 14, wasn't as lucky. He died in June when the borrowed minibike he rode in Pompano Beach, Fla., also against his father's wishes, crashed into a car.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in June reported that 10,000 emergency room visits nationally during the previous year were for injuries involving the motorized devices. Most of the injured were younger than 15.

"We have enough drivers driving badly. I wouldn't want my 13-, 14- or 15-year-old out there on a Go-Ped or minibike competing with them," said Judge Gisele Pollack, who is based in Hollywood, Fla. "The vehicles aren't much bigger than the kids, but most importantly, kids don't know the rules of the road."

Pollack estimates she presides over five to 15 such cases a week, with the youngest offenders around age 11.

Legal procedure

Florida judges who hear traffic cases want something done about motorized scooters, known as Go-Peds, and the new gas- and battery-powered motorized bikes called pocket bikes, pocket rockets and minimotorcycles, which have been popular only since Christmas.

Judge Sharon Zeller, also based in Hollywood, says many parents buy the devices believing they are toys. They don't know a regular driver's license is required, which means kids younger than 16 can't legally use them. And they don't know the state won't register the minibikes and scooters, so they can't be used on public roads and sidewalks.

So when underage kids are caught riding them outside of private property, police can cite them for driving without a license or driving without a vehicle registration, running a red light or failing to stop at a stop sign.

"We have been enforcing the law emphatically for two years," said Joel Cantor, legal adviser for Hollywood police. "We often get complaints about the noise, but it isn't unusual for motorists to tell us how they had to veer out of the way of one of these pocket rockets."

The first time a kid is stopped, he said, the officer warns the youngster and parents, but "if it's the third, fourth or fifth offense, the officer will confiscate the bike and make the parents pick it up, besides issuing a citation."

For those kids who are charged, judges are faced with limited options. They can lecture them, order community service or fine them up to $500 plus $226 in court costs, which could mean a criminal record.

"I don't want to give a 12-year-old a criminal record," said Zeller, who prefers to order 20 hours of community service when appropriate.

Legislative response

She and Pollack have approached Hollywood City Commissioner Peter Bober for help in creating laws to deal with the situation and both plan to talk to others.

Bober called the minibikes "a major problem all over the city, but it isn't a simple issue. You have to protect kids, but you don't want them to have criminal records."

The judges want to see laws requiring full disclosure from sellers and education for buyers.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time, parents say they don't know a license is required," said Zeller.

In some cases, parents know the danger and forbid their kids from riding them. However, peer pressure kicks in, said John Scott of Coconut Creek, Amanda's father.

"She wanted to be cool for her friends. She didn't want to be a nerd or uncool," he said, adding he and wife Shawna "hate" motorized scooters and cycles. "I told [Amanda], 'You don't have to do that to be accepted.'"

However, she did not heed his warning and on April 29, she was airlifted to the intensive care unit at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Hollywood.

"As far as I'm concerned, she's a walking miracle," Scott said. "No one thought she would make it."

Although her friends went to the hospital to see her, "the next day they were back on their scooters," he said.




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