When is a thing with wheels and a motor a mobility device, and when is it a motorised vehicle?
That was the question police had to grapple with when they pulled over a pub owner riding his Segway on a Kerikeri footpath.
Police say Neal Summers' Segway is a motorised vehicle so is barred from the footpath. Mr Summers, on the other hand, says it is a disability mobility device - like a mobility scooter but with two wheels - so he is allowed to ride it on the footpath, as he was yesterday during a spot of lunchtime shopping.
A brief stand-off ensued between the Kaikohe Hotel owner and police before he was invited to the station for a discussion about land transport rules. Told to leave his Segway outside Paper Plus, Mr Summers made the 500m journey in a police car instead.
He told the Advocate he had artificial knees and a metal rod holding one femur together after being run over by a mobile home in the US in 1980. As a result he used the Segway when he needed to get around town.
"It's a handicapped mobility device, that's what it was designed for. The police are trying to tell me it's not, that it's a motorised vehicle," he said.
He had already twice been ticketed in Kaikohe for operating a motor vehicle on a footpath, but was "absolutely not" planning to pay the fines.
Yesterday he was fined another $150 for driving on the footpath, $200 for being unable to provide evidence of an inspection, and $100 for use of an unregistered motor vehicle. He was also issued 15 demerit points.
Mr Summers said he had already hired a lawyer to fight the Kaikohe tickets, and went to see Northland MP John Carter yesterday in a bid to clarify the law.
Auckland police and Rugby World Cup organisers have bought three Segways each, and they are also used by security firms to get around large venues. It has a top speed of about 20km/h but Mr Summers estimated he was travelling about 4km/h when pulled over yesterday. Mr Summers said he felt he was unfairly singled out by police.
The Advocate found conflicting information on the status and legality of Segways, but the New Zealand Transport Authority's Andy Knackstedt said they did not meet the requirements of a vehicle class and could only be used on private property - not on footpaths and roads. New Zealand's "relatively few" Segways were used mainly for niche purposes, such as tours or leisure, rather than transportation. They were allowed on the Wellington waterfront because that was a large open area which was neither road nor footpath.
Segways are available for hire in Paihia during summer but are no longer used on footpaths.
The Segway PT ("personal transporter") is a two-wheeled, self-balancing electric vehicle made in New Hampshire, US. Users make the Segway move forward by shifting their weight forward on the platform, and backward by shifting their weight back. Computers and motors in the base of the device keep it upright.
The rules on using Segways vary widely. In most states of the US they are allowed on footpaths (Los Angeles police use them on patrols); in Japan they are treated as motorbikes so must be fitted with brakes, signal lights and a license plate; in Portugal anyone over 18 can ride them on footpaths. In the UK they are classified as powered vehicles subject to traffic laws, effectively banning them everywhere but private property.