- The Washington Times - Friday, September 26, 2003

The company that makes Segway Human Transporters has put the brake on the motorized scooters because they can suddenly run out of power, causing riders to fall off.

Segway LLC and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a voluntary recall of about 6,000 machines yesterday.

The Manchester, N.H., company has received three reports of riders falling off their scooters, including one person who suffered a head injury that required stitches, according to a joint statement from Segway and the federal safety agency.

The power problem occurs under certain operating conditions, especially when the batteries are running low, the statement said.

“This can happen if the rider speeds up abruptly, encounters an obstacle, or continues to ride after receiving a low-battery alert,” the statement said.

The Segway is a much-hyped, two-wheeled scooter that resembles an electric wheelchair, except the rider stands instead of sits. Gyroscopes automatically balance the weight of the rider, who grips a handlebar and leans forward to make the machine go and backward to slow it down or stop.

The machines can travel as fast as 12.5 mph. They went on sale in March for $4,950.

Beginning today, Segway owners can visit an “upgrade center” in the Washington area to have the machine’s software upgraded. Owners should call 877/889-9020 for details.

If a Segway owner cannot make it to the center to have his or her scooter fixed, the company will visit the home to perform the upgrade, spokeswoman Carla M. Vallone said.

“Our objective is 100 percent compliance with the recall, and we will do whatever it takes to ensure that,” she said.

Segways have been one of the 200 best-selling electronics products at the Web site operated by Amazon.com Inc., a company spokesman said. Amazon will ship only Segways that have been upgraded, the spokesman said.

Product recalls have become more frequent in recent years. The Consumer Product Safety Commission opens investigations after receiving complaints from consumers or alerts from manufacturers. Companies typically recall products voluntarily, but occasionally the agencies must order the action.

“I’m not overly concerned about the recall,” said John Harrington, a District resident who has used a Segway to get around town since March. He operates a Web site, www.dc-segways.com, for local Segway enthusiasts.

Mr. Harrington has never fallen off his Segway. Only riders who operate the machine “irresponsibly” run the risk of falling off because of low power, he said.

President Bush took a Chevy Chase-style pratfall off his father’s Segway in June while vacationing in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Mr. Bush failed to flip the “on” switch so the self-balancing mechanism did not work, according to published reports. News photographers lingering outside the Bush family compound captured grainy images of the president’s spill.

Later, a USA Today columnist suggested Mr. Bush meant to fall off his Segway, theorizing it was part of a clever conspiracy “to save the oil industry from a technology that could sap its power.”

Segways have run afoul of public officials in some cities, who have called them a threat to pedestrian safety. San Francisco has outlawed the machine on its sidewalks.

However, some police departments and the U.S. Postal Service began using Segways after their introduction in December 2001. Disabled people also have started using them.

“It’s very unfortunate. I hope that the problem will be resolved soon,” said Linda Royster, executive director of the Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington.

“I would have had one myself but I don’t have that kind of money,” she said.

Proponents of the machines predict they will change the way Americans travel because they use less power and produce less pollution than automobiles.

An Alexandria resident who uses a Segway ran afoul of Metrorail officials in April, when she briefly let go of her machine and it fell off the platform and landed on the tracks. Workers retrieved the machine within a matter of minutes, a Metro spokesman said.

The scooters have also rolled into pop culture.

Justin Timberlake rode one during the 2003 MTV Movie Awards in June, and the machines were featured in “Agent Cody Banks,” a film released earlier this year.

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