City Desk

The Answers Column: How Are Segways Regulated in D.C.?

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.

Have a question about Wilson Building intrigue? D.C. history? Restaurant openings? That weird thing on your block? We got you. Direct your questions to answers@washingtoncitypaper.com.

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

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  • mikey

    You mean cyclists are stuck behind slow moving vehicles that are slowing down their lanes?? Welcome aboard.

  • Mrs. D

    It's not so much about a single segway rider. One or even a few can easily be passed, just like passing a lone biker or a couple of bikers in a car. A group of 10-15 or more is much trickier. Most of the tour groups are the equivalent of 3-5 car lengths or more. They also tend to just stop in the bike lane to stare at stuff. THAT should be prohibited. Stopping in a travel lane should be prohibited except in emergencies (equally applied to cars, bikes, and segways). It's one thing to slow down behind slower traffic and then pass when safe, another to come upon a group at a dead stop and try to get around them in otherwise moving traffic.

  • tntdc

    Segways can only be used on private property in Britain?

    I'm dying to know what brought that on.

  • Art

    LOL @ mikey!!! Excellent point.

  • Jamie

    "when it forces bicyclists into the street to avoid such groups it is unsafe"

    What makes segways different from anything else in the bike lane? Do all cyclists travel at the same speed?

    Anyway, if a cyclist doesn't feel comfortable passing something else that is legally occupying their lane, they are always welcome to just slow down and travel in line, as cars are accustomed to doing on the vast majority of city streets when there's another vehicle in front of them.

  • anons

    Gotta love it when the bike folks have the temerity to start whining about people being in "their" way.

    Here Shane, I fixed your gem of a comment in two differnet ways.

    "It can be frustrating to have cyclists blocking the sidewalks en masse, and when it forces pedestrians into the street to avoid such groups it is unsafe"

    or

    "It can be frustrating to have cyclists blocking the lanes, and when it forces drivers into other lanes to avoid such groups it is unsafe

  • marc

    I feel a segway should be allowed the same laws as bicycles.

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