What began as a popular form of transportation and entertainment largely for visitors to Miami Beach has become enough of a nuisance that further regulations on the use of Segways and similar vehicles are headed to the city.
Segways are a brand of two-wheeled, battery powered, self balancing personal transportation devices.
“I’m not sure when they started to become popular but the first ordinance to regulate them was passed in 2012,” said Ronald Starkman, director of the South of Fifth Neighborhood Association (SOFNA). “Before then, the City had little ability to regulate them because of State law. The State of Florida subsequently changed the law to give loical authorities the ability to regulate for public safety concerns.”
Starkman said the 2012 ordinance passed an 8 mile-per-hour speed restriction (controlled by an electronic governor) and also set limits on where the vehicles could be operated. However, he feels the ordinance “turned out to be inadequate.” As use of Segways has increased, so too has the carnage left in their wake, prompting need for additional regulation.
“The complaints are voluminous and the lawsuits are unfortunately plentiful,” said Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco, who has led the charge for additional public safety based restrictions. “I put a call out to neighborhood associations to provide me with specific accounts of accidents from residents and my email filled up with stories of injuries and hospitalization, both children and the elderly. I am also aware of several serious personal injury suits resulting from Segway accidents in our city.”
The combination of vehicle operators who might be trying out a Segway for the first time and a pedestrian city such as Miami Beach makes for a dangerous situation, critics feel.
“They are everywhere,” Grieco said. “In the parks, on the beach walk, weaving in and out of children outside Monty’s, etc. There are little or no checks on these things: no registration process, no enforcement of minimum liability insurance, etc.
“Riders are supposed to obey traffic laws, but rarely do,” the commissioner continued. “They are currently allowed on sidewalks, but are supposed to… hold on, I’m laughing… yield to pedestrians. The lessors of the Segways and other similar modes of transport have not done their part to self-govern, so now it’s the City’s turn.”
Activists presented SunPost with numerous digital images of the bloody aftermaths of numerous Segway accidents – including ones in which it was the operator clearly harmed. SunPost cannot identify operators and has opted not to print the disturbing images.
“Except for a certain elected official I know, I don’t know anyone that owns one, do you? Any regulations we are amending are not intended to negatively impact people’s ability to utilize Segways for commuting,” Grieco said.
Starkman says his impression is that operators are “overwhelmingly” visitors.
“Some people say that bicycles can cause accidents and damage as well,” Starkman said. “However, most people are familiar with operating bicycles. In this case, most visitors have never used Segways before, unlike with bicycles. The natural psychology is for operators to want to see how fast the vehicles can go. Combined with bicycles and pedestrians in walkways – it causes problems.”
Change is in the wind, though.
Starkman said that a new ordinance is in the works. He said Commissioner Jonah Wolfson proposed an initial piece of legislation to increase regulations but that SOFNA and others felt it was not strong enough. A new ordinance is in the works and awaiting a second reading for passage.
“The new ordinance adds to the areas where Segways are prohibited,” Starkman said.
Grieco is confident the new regulations will help the situation.
“We are in the midst of amending the current ordinance to prohibit Segways and like modes of transport in all of South Pointe Park, the BayWalk South of Fifth, and the Beachwalk south of 15th street,” Grieco said. “We may go further with it, as there was some discussion of limiting use to small tour groups.”
Beach resident Gregory Jay said he has tried Segways, but prefers his bicycle.
“In the right environment and if you know what you’re doing, they seem like they would be safe with the right rules and regulations too,” he said. “Still, I’ve seen a lot of irresponsible use of them all over the place.”
Grieco said he does not believe additional regulations would punish residents or local businesses.
“I have not heard from one commuter that uses a Segway, and I do not think that if there are folks out there using them for said purpose that they are cutting through the parks or beach walk on the way,” Grieco said. “As for the businesses, one of which is owned by a long-time friend, they had their chance to self-regulate. This is about protecting folks from danger and injury, period.”