How are Segways regulated in D.C.?

Segways are not considered motor vehicles in the District; they fall under the category of “personal mobility device.” They follow D.C. bicycle laws, which means Segway users aren’t required by law to wear a helmet and aren’t required to use bike lanes except in the Central Business District (which covers the National Mall, McPherson Square, Penn Quarter, and George Washington University).

Shane Farthing, the executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, says Segway users are not generally considered a problem for bicyclists, despite regulations that prohibit Segway use on sidewalks in the CBD. But concerns do occasionally pop up.

“As we’ve succeeded in getting more bicycling infrastructure around the major tourist sites…the Segway tour groups have also found that infrastructure to be good for their groups,” Farthing writes in an email. “It can be frustrating to have Segways blocking the bike lanes en masse, and when it forces bicyclists into the street to avoid such groups it is unsafe.”

There are some exceptions to the similarities between bike and Segway regulations. Most notably, you must be over 16 to ride a Segway. Segway users are not allowed to wear headphones except for hearing aids or devices that are inserted in only one ear; bicyclists are allowed to wear headphones (though they probably shouldn’t).

When Segways were added to D.C. transportation laws in 2002, they were classified as Electric Personal Assistive Mobility Devices and exempt from motor vehicle laws. The Personal Mobility Device Act of 2006 redefined Segways as PMDs and required that they be registered, either with a serial number, registration tag, or registration plate.

Though regulations on riding and registering a Segway are fairly easy, using the devices carries some risks. A 2010 study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine found that people hurt on Segways were more likely than pedestrians hit by cars to be admitted to the hospital. Forty percent of admitted patients went to the ICU because of a traumatic brain injury. The study followed 41 people who came to the George Washington University Hospital’s ER for Segway injuries. Most of the injured folks came because they had fallen off the device when they encountered an obstacle.

Regulations on Segway use in other countries vary. Segways are prohibited from use on public roadways in the United Kingdom and are only allowed to be used on private property. (A 51-year-old British man was prosecuted in 2011 for riding his Segway on a public pavement.) They’re allowed in most other European countries and are used mostly for tourism and police purposes, much like in D.C.  Some, like the Netherlands and Germany, require Segway users to hold insurance.

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Due to a reporting error, the article originally reported that Segways are required to use bicycle lanes in the Central Business District. They are not.

Photo via Flickr user ~MVI~ (shivering in bonn), Creative Commons license