Riding on a scooter gives Ruth Lichtwardt a sense of freedom that she would take over a car trip any day.
"It's the closest thing to flying you can do on the ground," the 48-year-old Lawrence resident said.
She has driven scooters since 1983.
Currently, she has a Honda Metropolitan that she uses to get up the hills to the Kansas University Union bookstore where she works, to her home near Lawrence Memorial Hospital and downtown.
Lichtwardt doesn't take any chances on the road, but that wasn't always the case. When she started driving scooters, she never wore a helmet.
"When I had my previous scooter, I didn't use to (wear a helmet) at first and I had a couple of minor accidents like flipping on sand," she said. "It made me realize how vulnerable one's head is, so I got a motorcycle-grade helmet."
Now, you could call her a model scooter driver. She wears a helmet, drives defensively and has a motorcycle license, which isn't required for driving a scooter or other motorized vehicles with an engine capacity less than 130 cubic centimeters, but is recommended for learning the rules of driving on two wheels.
While the benefits of the increasingly popular motorized scooters may be obvious, such as high gasoline mileage, the laws surrounding them may be more vague, and safety on the road is always an issue, Lichtwardt said.
The name scooter is often used interchangeably with mo-ped, but by definition, a mo-ped has a pedal start engine. In Kansas, the Department of Motor Vehicles uses the name mo-ped, but motorized scooters fall under the definition of "motorized bicycles." The department requires the mo-ped or scooter to have a motor that doesn't produce more than 3.5 horsepower, a cylinder capacity less than 130 cubic centimeters and a design speed that can't go more than 30 mph. If the vehicle's cylinder capacity is more than 130 cubic centimeters, it is considered a motorcycle.
For a scooter in Kansas:
¢ Registration is required and costs about $20. Kansas University also requires a parking fee and registration for mo-peds, which is about $20 for each.
¢ Owners must have motor vehicle liability insurance coverage.
¢ All drivers must wear eye protection.
¢ Drivers must be at least age 15.
¢ Drivers under age 18 must wear a helmet. Mike Degraw, owner of Subsonic Scooters, 624 N. Second St., said "it's crazy helmets aren't required." He said he practically forces them on people or gives them away.
¢ A driver's license or a moped operator's license is required.
Scooters offer transportation solutions to people whose driver's licenses have been revoked, except for those who have a DUI.
Julian Myers, 25, a KU freshman from Lebanon, Ore., has had his license suspended for three years. He was caught driving without insurance and then caught three times for driving with a suspended license. He drove a bicycle around for a while, but "that's a lot of work," he said. He bought his scooter in February and has about six months left on his suspension, but he said he plans to continue riding his scooter.
He lives near the intersection of Iowa and Sixth streets and said he's had to learn to be aware of other cars because he's worried other drivers aren't aware of him.
Lichtwardt drives defensively, too.
"I've seen a lot of cars that act as though you aren't there," she said. "They pass you in the same lane; some of them may not see you. I believe that the most common motorcycle accident is cars that turn into motorcycles in the turning lane."
Jae Laderth, co-owner of Fineline Cars and Bikes in North Lawrence, 1001 N. Third St., advises customers to pretend they are invisible on the road.
"Imagine what a car would do if you weren't there," he said.
He also suggests they take the motorcycle license test at the DMV, which is about a mile north of his store in the former Tanger Outlet Mall, 1035 N. Third St. To receive a motorcycle license, drivers must pass a written exam and obstacle skill test. The obstacle course includes a course weave, slow balance, quick stop and obstacle turn.
"People who ride scooters have to be responsible," Laderth said. "They have to worry about everyone else on the road."