Friday, May 30, 2008

Segway, Safety, Sense, and Jolly Old England

Segways in England got back in the news this month. They've been banned for some time, it seems, and not the House of Lords is considering letting them back on that sceptered Isle. The Brit ban on Segways isn't quite as daft and Luddite as it seems. A couple years ago, they had a bit of a fright over the smart scooters.

Of the 23,500 Segways made, back in 2006, six had malfunctioned and hurt their riders. That's serious. The manufacturer recalled all of the Segways, fixed the software problem, and moved on. England, with admirable caution, banned Segways.

(I got my calculator out: 6/23,500 is about 1/3,917. That's really cautious. Particularly considering that the problem had been fixed. Of course, it wasn't my head that was bumped.)

Reading about the Segway SNAFU, I realized that I'd run into a situation like this before: the 'red flag laws' that protected people from those dangerous automobiles, back in the 19th century.

Segways, British Lords, and a Florida businessman in the news; and a look into protective legislation from the Victorian Age:
  • "Segway hits reverse as scooters are recalled"
    Guardian (UK) (September 14, 2006)
    • "It was billed as a device that would change the world, with the cities of the future designed around its revolutionary capabilities.
    • "But the Segway electric scooter now seems to be heading the way of the Sinclair C5, after its manufacturers announced that all 23,500 models would be recalled today because of a software problem that causes it to throw off its riders.
    • "Segway said that a problem with the self-balancing scooter's internal programs could cause its wheels to unexpectedly switch into reverse.
    • "The company had received six reports of Segways failing to operate, causing injuries to the heads and wrists of several riders...."
  • "UK Segway ban could soon be lifted" (May 21, 2008)
    • "Segway, the two-wheeled mobility device, could soon be making their way to UK roads if a new legislation is passed in the House of Lords.
    • "According to the BBC, Conservative transport spokesman Robert Goodwill has asked for the ban on the vehicles to be overturned, saying the government is 'dismissive' of the mode of travel.
    • "If the ban is lifted, Segway users could soon be allowed to use cycle lanes up and down the country.
    • "In a trial that TechRadar would have loved to have witnessed, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Redesdale tried a Segway and commented: 'It took me a few minutes to learn how to use it and I was very impressed with it.
    • " 'The vehicle's safety mechanism was particularly good and was demonstrated by the fact that I drove straight at the noble Earl, Lord Attlee (with his consent) and failed to do him any damage at all - unfortunately!' ..."
  • "Billy’s Rentals secures new Segway permit"
    The Island Reporter (Sanibel, Florida) (May 30, 2008)
    • "Earlier this week, Planning Commissioners voted 4-3 to grant Billy Kirkland, the owner of Billy’s Rentals on Sanibel, a continuous conditional use permit allowing him to conduct Segway tours on the island.
    • "Since receiving his first conditional permit granted by the Planning Commission in 2005, Kirkland has been required to reapply for a new permit every 18 months.
    • "During Tuesday’s meeting, he requested that his permit would be approved without the need for renewal, and said that he has spent in excess of $7,000 in fees submitting applications to the Planning Department.
    • "The Segway tours have met strong opposition from some members of the Commission as well as the public, who deem the motorized devices unsafe and unfit for the shared use paths on the island.... "
I'm reminded of the good old days (before my time), when the automobile was new. Back in those days, public figures were just as cautious as they are today, of terrifying new technologies.

For example: "...England first brought regulation to bear on motorised transport in 1861, under the Imperial Locomotives on Highways Act 1861 - amended 1865 and designed to deal with steam-driven agricultural and industrial traction engines travelling on highways - in which the notorious 'Red Flag' clause stipulated that a person with a red flag must proceed the vehicle at a distance of sixty yards. ..." ("Keeping Order: Motor-Car Regulation and the Defeat of Victoria's 1905 Motor-Car Bill"
(Public Record Office Victoria (Australia)(

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