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    Fad on wheels rolls to school

    Many schools accommodate one of this year's hot items, but not all can. After a scooter recall, safety also is a concern.

    [Times photo: Amber Tanille Woolfolk]
    Matthew Vest, a fifth-grader at Azalea Middle School, has ridden his Razor scooter every day after school since he got it a month ago.

    By JOUNICE L. NEALY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 18, 2000


    It's a pattern school principals know well:

    Consumer craze hits kids. Kids bring craze to school. School deals with the consequences.

    These days, with mini-scooters all the rage, many school-age riders are using their new wheels to get to school. Administrators say they are handling it much as they did skateboards and in-line skates: They are striking a balance between accommodation and safety and waiting for the buzz to die down.

    Although scooters first rolled on campuses last school year, administrators in the Tampa Bay area are expecting to see more of them after the holiday break. By and large, students are not allowed to ride them in the hallways. Once they reach school grounds, the scooters must be collapsed.

    "We'll lock them up. We'll treat them like the bicycles," said Tim Owens, principal of Shores Acres Elementary School in St. Petersburg. "They won't be able to bring them to class. I have kids that Rollerblade, too."

    The fold-up, foot-powered aluminum scooters are now in one of the hot merchandise categories, according to NDP Group, a market research firm. Ranging widely in price from about $40 to more than $100, they are as popular this season as robotic dogs. Sales could easily top $100-million by the end of the year.

    "If you go in any mall, you'll see scooters being sold from drug stores to department stores," said Reyne Rice, director of NDP's toy services division.

    But there have been safety concerns.

    This month, the American Medical Association issued a warning about the scooters after the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that 9,500 scooter-related injuries sent riders, almost all of them children, to emergency rooms this year. The AMA is recommending that physicians counsel patients to wear helmets and knee and elbow pads.

    The next day, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled 100,000 scooters and later put them on its "dangerous dozen" list of recalled toys. The two brands, Kent Kickin' Mini Scooters and Kash 'n Gold Racer X20 Scooters, were recalled for various safety problems after six children were injured.

    Despite the recall, scooter fans still are pushing on.

    "This is a Razor and it's like the best one they have. This wasn't one of the ones recalled," said 10-year-old Matthew Vest of St. Petersburg. "I do tricks and stuff." His stunts include wheelies, a 90-degree turn and a 180-degree turn. "And I can ride with one hand and no hands," he said. Matthew fell once, "but it wasn't the scooter's fault. It was my fault."

    Matthew's mother said she was not worried about the safety of the scooter, an early Christmas gift to the youngster. "My son's really big, so if that sucker was going to break, it would have broken by now," said Dawn Vest. "He scoots to and from school," and Matthew's teacher allows him to store the scooter in the classroom, she said.

    But not all campuses can accommodate the transportation fad.

    Tyrone Middle School principal Marshall Brown said his school has no lockers to store the scooters, and students can't carry them around.

    Many schools across the country faced similar physical constraints with skateboards. But inventors may have an answer. In June, a California high school installed skateboard racks, locking devices similar to metal bicycle racks.

    However, at Tyrone Middle in St. Petersburg, "an easy way to monitor is to not have them," Brown said.

    There are also liability issues.

    "I agree they're not safe, although I used to ride them when I was a kid," Brown said.

    Some administrators who allow scooter commuters are using their popularity to promote safety.

    "We do have children wear helmets, just like (for) bicycles," said Donna Ares, assistant principal at Hunter's Green Elementary in Tampa.

    At Sand Pine Elementary School in Pasco County, "if you decide you're going to Rollerblade to school or ride a scooter, then once you get on the premises, you must put it away," said principal Ginny Yanson. "If it's a mode of transportation, we're letting them do that. Basically, it's a fad. They do it a few days, and most of them leave it at home after that," she said, adding that it was the same with inline skates.

    Yanson said her son wanted to ride his inline skates to school. The only problem is that they live in Tampa, and he carpools with his mom to Sand Pine.

    So a couple of days last school year, she dropped him off about a block away from the school and let him skate to campus.

    "That lasted a few days," Yanson said.

    - Information from Times files and the Los Angeles Times was used in this report.

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