2016 ushered in a new era for California skateboarders: as of January 1, they can share any roadways that allow bicycles. The new law reverses the 1977 ban that restricted once-popular gas-powered skateboards.
Skateboards have come a long way recently, both in terms of the law and the technology associated with them—like, for instance, the suddenly ubiquitous hoverboard.
From hooligans to trendsetters
California assemblywoman Kristin Olsen of Modesto introduced the new transit bill, which includes other forms of motorized, wheeled transportation that contribute zero emissions. Olsen was inspired by a tour of Intuitive Motion, which manufactures electric skateboards featuring efficient, high-capacity batteries and quiet, brushless motors.
When California’s ban was initially created in the ’70s, makeshift, gas-powered skateboards were suddenly everywhere, pushing aside the familiar gravity-driven variety. Not only did skateboarders take liberties with public passageways (just as regular skateboarders have often been known to do), but the smelly, noisy, gas-powered skateboards were generally offensive to everyone who was not riding.
“Ten years ago, the target demographic for skateboarders was ages 8 to 25,” says Barbie Keck of Transcendent Athlete Management and Xtreme Spots. “The skateboarders had a tainted reputation of being hooligans because they would trespass on private property to find good ‘playgrounds’ to practice their craft.”
Fast-forward to today, and the nation’s perspective of the skateboarder is markedly changed. “Now these kids have grown to adulthood and become young professionals,” says Keck. The skateboard has changed right along with its rider. And thanks to high-tech advances, modern electric skateboards are clean, safe to ride, and as quiet as a bicycle.
“For far too long, skateboarding has been criminalized,” says Tim McFerran, president of the World Skateboarding Federation and CEO of World Skateboarding Grand Prix. “For kids in underprivileged communities globally, skateboarding is not just a form of recreation but it’s a means of transport—and often the only means of transport for kids and youth to get to/from school and work.”
“Southern California was the birthplace of skateboarding,” McFerran asserts, “so it makes sense that the state would lead the charge to make it legal for skateboarders to use public roadways.”
What about hoverboards?
Hoverboards, which don’t really hover and are distinct from skateboards, are also legal under the new California law. These conveyances are actually self-balancing electric scooters (like a Segway without the long handle). Hoverboards were one of this past holiday season’s hottest gifts—in more ways than one: across the nation, reports of hoverboards erupting into flames drew widespread concern. According to NBC Nightly News, the scooters can catch fire while charging, likely the result the manufacturers (all hoverboards are currently made in China) using cheap lithium-ion batteries. Experts caution shoppers to put off hoverboard purchases until the Consumer Product Safety Commission can determine the cause of their fiery malfunction.
“Legal” means something different in every city
As the glitches in the product are worked out, so are the rules and regulations in cities worldwide. The California Office of Traffic Safety advised that, because sidewalks are the jurisdiction of cities and counties, the rules of how electric skateboards and hoverboards may be used will vary greatly, even from one neighborhood to the next.
In New York City, the “unregistered vehicles” have been banned from streets and sidewalks but can be enjoyed in public parks. But in California, skateboards may be legally ridden on streets, bike paths, and bike lanes as of Jan. 1, 2016…as long as riders are at least 16 and wearing a helmet.
It’s a good start. Any means of transportation that cuts emissions in the U.S. is a valuable addition to the planet. Says Keck, “Laws should allow every non-carbon-foot printing mode of transportation the right to share the road with the rest of the commuting community.”
Image courtesy of Lenscap Photography / Shutterstock.com
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