Man acquitted of Segway charges

By Lane Nichols

Neal Summers rode his Segway on a footpath. Photo / APN
Neal Summers rode his Segway on a footpath. Photo / APN

A landmark court decision has cleared a former Far North hotel owner over riding his Segway on a footpath, with the judge ruling the two-wheeled motorised machine is a mobility device.

The protracted case has attracted national attention for its potential to set a legal precedent for the classification of Segways, and where they can be ridden.

But it remains unclear whether other users could still be prosecuted for riding Segways on public footpaths.

Former Kaikohe Hotel owner Neal Summers was pulled over by police and later prosecuted for riding his Segway - an upright motorised scooter - on a Kerikeri footpath in June 2011.

He was charged with operating an unregistered motor vehicle on a road, not displaying evidence of a vehicle inspection, and driving a motor vehicle on a footpath.

His conviction was quashed a year later on appeal in the High Court at Whangarei, when a judge rescinded his $1150 fine and 15 demerit points.

Mr Summers had argued he relied on his Segway as he found walking difficult because he had two artificial knees as well as a metal rod holding a femur together.

The case went to the Court of Appeal last year, with police and the New Zealand Transport Agency arguing that under the Land Transport Act, Segways' power output exceeded 1.5kW and could therefore not be classified as mobility scooters.

They also argued a mobility device had to have been designed and constructed for use by people who needed mobility assistance due to a physical or neurological impairment, not simply adapted for someone who was disabled.

However, in a just-released Court of Appeal decision, Judge Simon Maude found Mr Summers not guilty of the charges.

The judge said that on the balance of probabilities, the Segway had been designed and patented for multiple uses, "including beneficial use by the physically and neurologically impaired".

He was also satisfied its power output was likely to be less than 1.5kW.

"In my view this is not a situation, as suggested by [the Crown prosecutor] analogous to a car which by chance a disabled person can drive. The 2001 patent refers specifically to the Segway's use by the disabled with much marketing subsequently directed to the disabled. That I suspect is not the case for, for example, a Toyota Corolla motor vehicle."

But in terms of whether the decision set a precedent for other Segway cases, the judge was more cautious. For other Segways to meet the mobility device exemption, "the vehicle used plainly will also need to be constructed with the same maximum power output constraints".

It was therefore not possible for the judge to determine whether all Segways were exempt.

A Northland police spokeswoman said no decision had been made about appealing the decision.

"Police accept the court's findings. Police make decisions based on the relevant legislation and circumstances at the time of any offence. The safety of the public is paramount and police will continue to take action to ensure all road users are safe."

An NZTA spokesman said there was probably still a "grey area" and individuals were ultimately responsible for finding out what was required to legally operate a low-powered vehicle.

- APNZ

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