Self-Balancing Scooters Shaky Under Australian Law

03/10/2015 7:16 PM AEST | Updated October 3, 2015 19:16

They're the toys taking over your social media feed, but buyer beware -- riding one could land you a mammoth fine.

The new self-balancing scooters have become the plaything of choice for the rich and famous, with fans in Justin Bieber, John Legend, Kendall Jenner and Cara Delevingne.

Sydney man Kane Vato, however, claims he was reprimanded by police and slapped with a $637 fine for riding one outside his home recently.

Vato, of Surry Hills, told The Huffington Post Australia police stopped him while riding on a city street and threatened with a $2100 fine for riding such a device as it was uninsured and had no licence plates.

Vato said he was testing out his new scooter on the footpath outside his house several weeks ago when a police officer informed him of the alleged offences.

"I didn't even know it had to be registered. As far as I'm concerned, this is a toy. I didn't know it was even able to be registered," he said.

The officer let him off, but Vato last week received a $637 fine in the mail for riding an unregistered vehicle.

He intends to fight the fine in court. Some Australian-based retailers claim their devices can reach speeds of 20km/h, with a motor power of 700 watts. After several hours charging, the devices are said to have a range of 20km.

"I thought it was a joke. The [scooter] is so slow. To get such a big fine on a first offence, for riding a kid's toy, is ridiculous," he said.

"I approached the company I got it from and they gave me all these facts and information about why it's not an offence.

"They said it's not possible to register the vehicle. There needs to be clarity from the brands selling them, and from the government."

In several jurisdictions around Australia, the devices are illegal in some circumstances. HuffPost Australia contacted police and transport departments around Australia to determine the legality, or otherwise, of such devices:

NEW SOUTH WALES: "[the devices] are classified as a type of motor vehicle and subject to applicable laws relating to vehicle standards, registration and licensing. Currently the device does not comply with minimum safety vehicle standards, therefore it cannot be registered, which means it cannot be used on road or road related areas in NSW. The device may be ridden only on areas that are not designated a road or a road related area such as off road or on private grounds. If in breach of registration and road rules, users are subject to a fine. Transport for NSW is developing rules and standards that surround these motorised personal transport devices, particularly in ensuring the safety of... users and other road users" - Transport for NSW spokeswoman.

VICTORIA: "For two-wheeled vehicles, such as the self balancing hoverboard, if the power available from the motors exceeds 200 Watts then the vehicle would be considered a motor vehicle and required to comply with all motor vehicle laws, including registration, vehicle standards, road rules, helmets and licences. It is unlikely that a hoverboard would comply with these requirements, and therefore users should not buy them to travel on roads or road related areas. Under Victorian law, once a vehicle equipped with a motor is classified as a motor vehicle it must be registered and insured under the Transport Accident Commission's compulsory third party insurance scheme. These vehicles should only be used on private property" - VicRoads spokesperson.

QUEENSLAND: "Hover board users are classed as pedestrians. Hover boards do not have to be insured or registered in Queensland, and licence plates are not required. They can be used on footpaths, nature strips, bicycle paths and shared paths, except where signed otherwise. They can only be used on the road for up to 50 metres if there’s an obstruction on the path or nature strip. Motorised foot scooters, powered by an electric motors with a combined power output of up to 200 watts, are speed limited to 10km/h on level ground, are considered WRDs [wheeled recreational devices]. They can be used in the same place as PMDs. During daylight hours they can also be used on roads with a speed limit of 50km/h or less, which do not have a dividing line or median strip. Enforcement is the responsibility of the Queensland Police Service (QPS), and they can issue a penalty infringement notice for breaching the [road rules]." - Transport and Main Roads QLD

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: "While the device does fall under the definition of a motor vehicle in the Road Traffic (Administration) Act 2008 (WA), it does not meet Australian Design Rules standards, so cannot be licensed. For this reason, these devices are not allowed on roads, pathways or shared-use paths, or other public areas (as per the Road Traffic Code 2000). They can only be ridden on off-road areas and private property" - WA Department of Transport

Chris Hamlin, owner of Sydney-based retailer SelfBalancingScooters.com.au, said his company had informed customers the devices were not to be ridden on NSW roads or public paths but admitted the laws nationwide were not crystal clear.

"One of the most important things it that they are intended for inside use. They're not meant for commuting," he said.

"It varies from state to state. You're advised to talk to your local council and find out. In NSW, they are not to be used on roads or public areas like foot paths. We do outline this to customers, it's all in a disclaimer we send out, but it is still a grey area."

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