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PUTT-PUTTING `GO-PEDS’ POSE PUZZLE FOR POLICE

SHARE PUTT-PUTTING `GO-PEDS’ POSE PUZZLE FOR POLICE

Two years ago, Scott Halton was the only person in his Sandy neighborhood who owned a Go-Ped.

"People thought we had made it ourselves," he said.But today, the half-skateboard, half-scooter vehicle has become a hot-selling item at Utah outdoor specialty stores. So hot that police are struggling with an appropriate way to deal with those who ride the vehicles. Safety is a real issue.

The California Go-Ped had its origins about 10 years ago when Steven Patmont, a former airline pilot, began to experiment with a new form of transportation in the garage of his Pleasanton, Calif., home.

Today, although he doesn't advertise, Patmont's California Go-Ped company, based in Livermore, is getting ready to expand for the fifth time, he said.

"I can't make them fast enough," said Patmont, or "Dr. Go-Ped" as he is informally called, during a recent phone interview.

Half of the Go-Peds his company produces are shipped overseas. And domestic demand has continued to increase since the Go-Ped hit the market in California and Florida, he said.

But as Go-Ped users increase, so do questions about the vehicle's proper use in today's complex and often congested transportation system. The main concern with the Go-Ped in Utah is that it lacks safety features that are legally required of other motorized vehicles.

To avoid the legal issues, some have suggested that Go-Peds be treated like toys. But others think that's an understatement.

"Anything that can propel anyone at 20 to 30 miles per hour we can't consider a toy," said Sandy police Sgt. David Lundberg. "Anything that is motorized has to be registered to be legal on a highway or a sidewalk. And you can't legally register a skateboard because they don't meet proper safety requirements."

Go-Peds have a braking system, and extra safety features - like reflective tape and front headlights - can be easily added, said Tom Campbell, manager of the Foot-hill Village Sports Den.

But although it is left to the officer's discretion, Lundberg said, Sandy police officers will treat Go-Peds like any other motorized vehicle.

"Our policy is that any time we find an unlicensed vehicle in use on the roadways, we do anything to get that vehicle off (the road)," he said.

Other police departments agree that Go-Peds can be unsafe but have not reached a conclusion as to the legality of their use.

"They fall between a lot of lines," said Shane Jones, a member of the Salt Lake Police Community Support Division.

"We want to take a look at all the available options and try to select the one that is going to emphasize safety," said Salt Lake police Lt. Phil Kirk. And while the issue is being researched, officers "probably wouldn't do a lot" about ordinary Go-Ped users, he said.

Most local distributors agree that Go-Peds are a dangerous vehicle, but no more than bicycles, skateboards or cars can be to inexperienced users. Mitch West, manager of Stinkys - a Sugar House retailer that sells about 40 Go-Peds each month - said buyers go through a 20-minute class on safety tips and "everything else they need to know about the product."

"From what I have investigated, and I have called extensively, the Department of Motor Vehicles does not consider anything under five horsepower a motor vehicle," West said.

Without enhancements, a Go-Ped engine has 1.2 horsepower and, depending on size and weight of the rider, can go up to about 19 miles per hour. With certain costly enhancements, the vehicle can speed up to about 34 miles per hour, West said.

"The problem is that there are no laws," said J.J. Slack, manager of West Valley's BC Surf & Sport. An officer may not do anything and the next one may ask Go-Ped users to get off the road.

This dilemma is not unique to Utah.

Patmont admits that Go-Peds were not meant for street use but for open, nonpublic locations. Nor are they made for young children. "It was designed for adults," he said.

Not that Go-Peds are that easy to come by. A basic unit along the Wasatch Front costs about $550. Accessories can increase the cost up to $1,500.

More significantly, many distributors require buyers to sign a document releasing the seller of any liability in case of personal injury while using a Go-Ped. And most retailers require individuals to be at least 18 to sign the document.

But that doesn't deter parents from signing in behalf of their children. Retailers said most of the Go-Ped users along the Wasatch Front are children between 10 and 14.

Halton originally bought a Go-Ped as a birthday present for his 8-year-old son, Jeff, though he admits Go-Peds are "definitely not safe enough for a child that age" without supervision or the right protective gear.

Even so, as an economical and convenient form of transportation, Go-Peds are not likely to go away soon. Patmont is even working on a new, noiseless electric model. "This is just another form of transporting human beings," Patmont said. "Hopefully, Utah will find a way to use them without having them be a nuisance."