Yes it’s a Segway. Or – to give it it’s full title, a Segway Personal Transporter. A relatively common sight in many US cities and, I am told, European ones as well. Unless you happen to live in England that is, where I doubt very many people have seen one at all.
Probably, like me, you noticed the launch back in 2001, the hype surrounding the first video clips of it in use and, if I recall correctly, pictures of George Bush using one. And then, as far as us Brits go… nothing. I suspect most of us old enough to remember probably placed it in the same category as the Sinclair C5 and promptly forgot about it again. If you still don’t know what I am talking about then wikipedia as always, offers a quick memory refresh.
I have to admit that I had forgotten all about them. But that changed back in October when, encouraged by my son who had tried one, Mrs Swordfish and I booked a Segway tour of Washington DC and for me at least it was an instant ‘poop poop’1 moment. I was in love with a machine.
With a top speed of around 12 miles an hour and a range of about 24 miles per battery charge, the Segway is truly a remarkable ‘vehicle’, perfect for those quick, short trips where you know you shouldn’t take your car but always do. They are amazingly easy to master and control and are incredibly manoeuvrable. And they are, simply, great fun!
And they are also illegal.
Our beloved government – the ones who promote using public transport over the car, who want us all to be ‘greener’ and care about the environment, who steal more cash from us for driving higher CO2 emission vehicles in the thinly veiled fight against global warming – invoked the Highway Act of 1835 – yes you read that correctly – confining the Segway to private land use only.
The 1835 Highway Act – to put it simply – bans wheeled vehicles from public pavements. In 1835 this meant a horse and cart. The Segway is not allowed on public roads because it is neither a car or a motorbike and therefore can not be taxed or have a license plate. And in a country where the building of cycle pathways has actually been pretty good you can’t use a Segway because it is motorised.
The 1835 Highway Act did not, of course, envisage the rise of the automobile or the motor bike. It did not envisage the bicycle either. Curiously, all three date from about 1885 a full 50 years after the Act arrived on the statute books. Steam powered vehicles might have been a small problem but in 1835 I doubt many people had seen one and Traction Engines were not really developed until around 1850-1860. Invoking such an archaic law in the year 2002 is ludicrous, short-sighted and beyond belief. If I didn’t know better I would suspect the ulterior motive of tax revenue. Nah… couldn’t be.
There is an active but sadly ill-supported campaign to get the humble Segway legalised in the UK – even if only on cycle pathways. This would simply require a small change to legislation such as happened for the ’scooters’ used by the handicapped that are allowed to go just about anywhere their owners want them to go. Well cycle ways, pavements, and minor roads at least.
I implore anyone reading this – whether you like the idea of the Segway or not – to sign the petition at the campaign website. Do it because it is the right thing to do. Do it because we have had enough of stupid, archaic laws being used to strip away our freedoms. Do it because technology like the Segway needs to be championed if we are ever to move beyond petrol driven vehicles.
But most of all – please do it because I want one.
(1 In case you don’t know, ‘poop poop’ comes from Kenneth Graham’s children’s novel The Wind in the Willows and was the sound made by the first motor car seen by Mr Toad (the horn of course) who was instantly bewitched and sat, on the side of the road in a daze intoning the mantra ‘poop poop’.)