INCREASING popularity of motorized scooters putting more youngsters in emergency rooms

Wednesday, August 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Zipping along on motorized scooters is putting more people into hospital emergency rooms, the government says, noting that more than a third of those getting hurt are younger than 15.

The warning for parents and consumers comes a week after a 6-year-old boy from California died from head injuries he suffered when he fell from a motorized scooter.

In the first seven months of this year, 2,250 people have been treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to the scooters, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said Wednesday.

``These scooters can be fun, but they have to be taken quite seriously,'' Ann Brown, the agency's chairwoman, said in an interview. She said the number of injuries is on track to surpass last year's estimate of 4,390, which was more than triple the number of people hurt in 1999.

The scooters, motorized relatives of the popular foot-propelled, fold-up versions, range from rechargeable electric models that travel at 10 mph to gasoline-powered vehicles that go more than twice as fast. While some models have seats, riders usually stand on a platform holding a handlebar with brake and throttle controls.

On Aug. 15, Colton Siomkin, 6, of San Juan Capistrano, Calif., died six days after being found lying injured next to a scooter. He had been riding it despite state laws prohibiting children under 16 from using motorized vehicles.

The safety commission said there have been two other deaths involving motorized scooters: an 11-year-old boy from Pennsylvania and a 46-year-old man from California _ both died after colliding with other vehicles.

Brown said all three who died hadn't been wearing helmets. She said riders of motorized scooters should wear the same protective gear recommended for people using the foot-powered versions: a helmet and knee and elbow pads. Such equipment can cost less than $35.

Brown also said children under 12 should never ride motorized scooters and parents should be cautious when using kits that put motors on nonpowered scooters, making them potentially dangerous for kids.

Steve Patmont, inventor of the Go-Ped scooter and president of Patmont Motor Werks of Livermore, Calif., said his company recommends that riders should be at least 16.

``These are not toys,'' he said. ``If you're too young to take responsibility for your own actions, you can find yourself in a bad place in a hurry with a motorized device of any kind.''

Patmont's company is the biggest U.S. manufacturer of motorized scooters. It sold about 100,000 last year, with some models costing up to $1,000.

Last summer, the safety agency reported a surge in the number of injuries related to foot-powered scooters. More than 40,000 people were treated in emergency rooms for injuries involving scooter accidents last year and 85 percent of them were children younger than 15. The most common injuries were broken hands and arms.

The number of injuries has continued to rise this year, with 68,530 in the first seven months compared with fewer than 3,000 for the same period last year, said agency spokesman Mark Ross.

Communities and schools across the country have adopted or proposed rules requiring helmets or restricting scooter use.