Judge to rule in test case over Segway scooter

A JUDGE will deliver his verdict next week in a test case involving a factory worker from South Yorkshire who rode a Segway scooter on the pavement.

Philip Coates, 51, is the first person in the UK to be charged with riding the electric upright two-wheeled Segway scooter on a public footpath.

He was on a shopping trip from his home in Cudworth, Barnsley, when he was reported to the police by a retired policeman who still works part-time as a civilian.

Prosecutor Gavin Hotchkiss told Barnsley Magistrates' Court yesterday that Coates was seen riding his Segway at 1.50pm on February 12 last year by the ex-policeman, Raymond Fleur, on the pavement at Pontefract Road in Lundwood, Barnsley.

"The rider was not using his feet to control or manoeuvre the vehicle whilst it was in motion," said the witness in a statement.

"There were no other pedestrians around but I consider the use of this vehicle to be dangerous as it took up most of the pavement and any pedestrian might have to step out into the road."

The ex-road traffic officer with West Yorkshire Police added: "It is extremely dangerous to other road users."

PC Colin Mackie, in another statement read in court, said he had also seen Coates riding his Segway on the pavement.

When interviewed by the police, Coates said the machine only had a top speed of 12mph and added that he did not know he could not legally ride a Segway on the footpath.

He said he used it to ride between his home in Cudworth and Barnsley on the pavements and told police: "I believe Segways are legal as many MPs use them in London."

After attending a second interview at Cudworth police station he even got on his Segway upon leaving the station and rode home through the local streets.

Coates, of Park Avenue in Cudworth, denies riding a motor vehicle on the pavement, contrary to section 72 of the Highways Act of 1835.

His defence is challenging the designation of the low-energy, no emissions machine as a motor vehicle.

Coates's solicitor Victoria Molloy, submitted written evidence to district judge Michael Rosenberg. The defendant was not called to give evidence during yesterday's half-hour trial.

Mr Rosenberg adjourned his judgment, which he will give in court next Tuesday.

He said: "This is the first prosecution of its kind in the country for an alleged offence of this nature.

"It is a legal issue for both prosecution and defence which could at the end of the day be taken further and I accept that. It is in essence a test case."

Coates bought the 5,000 Segway scooter after trying one out during a holiday in Florida.

He said after he was charged: "They are perfectly safe and I even let my mum, who is 86, have a go on it."

He said that he first used it to go to work and, later, for five-mile shopping trips into Barnsley town centre.

Segways are currently legal in more than 30 US states and also in Portugal, Sweden, Germany and the Czech Republic.

Coates's case has been championed by former Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik, who has ridden a Segway to the Houses of Parliament.

He is among those campaigners who want the law to be changed so that the machines can be ridden on footpaths.

When Coates arrived for a previous hearing at Barnsley Magistrates' Court in July last year, Mr Opik arrived on his own scooter to stand by him.

Speaking after that hearing, Mr Opik said he had pointedly ridden his scooter on both the pavement and the road to put himself in a position to take the "legal heat" – but nothing had been done.

Tragedy put transport device in news

Last year, Segway scooters hit the news when the multi-millionaire owner of the company that manufactures them, Yorkshire philanthropist Jimi Heselden, died while out riding a Segway which plunged off a 30ft cliff and into a river.

The 62-year-old, a former miner turned wealthy entrepreneur, was found in the river Wharfe at Boston Spa, near Wetherby, not far from his home in Thorp Arch.

A Segway, believed to be an off-road version of the electric scooter, was found close by.

Leeds-born Mr Heselden left a wife, Julie, and five children when he died in September.

He made his fortune when his firm Hesco Bastion developed the "blast wall" basket, which protects soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, as a replacement for traditional sandbags.

In 2009 he led a British team which bought the US-based Segway firm, which makes and distributes the scooters.