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CONTACT 13: Are scooters on Las Vegas streets a necessary nuisance?

Posted at 10:45 PM, Nov 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-12 02:34:28-05

They're stolen on a daily basis, cause crashes that kill and are often operated by people who have no business being on the road. 

For more than a year, Contact 13 has been tracking scooters on valley roadways. Are they a necessary nuisance or downright dangerous?

The images of 18-year-old Maggie Mortensen, bandaged and bed-ridden, are burned in her mother's mind.

"Went up to the hospital and seen her on a breathing machine," said Marlene Stevens. "I almost collapsed on the floor."

Left in critical condition with severe road rash, a fractured skull and a brain bleed, Maggie is lucky. 

She and her boyfriend, who was driving the scooter, didn't die. 

Contact 13 has documented far too many scenes of mangled scooters and lost lives. 

The danger has been growing as more of the two-wheeled vehicles take over valley roads.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has seen six fatal scooter crashes so far this year, which means, on average, someone is dying every other month. 

People crash on scooters about every other day with 175 collisions in LVMPD's jurisdiction so far this year.

LVMPD Director of Intergovernmental Services Director Chuck Callaway explains, "On these vehicles you don't have to have a helmet and you also don't have to have insurance. So if you were to put your child on there with you."

You'd be doubling down on danger. 

What's worse, scooters are often piloted by people who aren't allowed to drive.

"If somebody can't get a driver's license then they really shouldn't be on the road," said State Sen. Mo Denis.

Take Maggie Mortensen's boyfriend, for example. He did not have a driver's license.

LVMPD has written 178 tickets to unlicensed moped drivers so far this year.

"I think that's one of the biggest misconceptions is people think that -- they've lost their license potentially in a DUI or maybe they never got a license -- but they think they can operate a moped on the roadway legally without a license and that's not the case," Callaway explained.

Contact 13 saw dozens upon dozens of scooters at Ewing Brothers Towing that had been impounded because they were involved in DUIs, crashes, or they were stolen or abandoned. And that's just one of many tow yards with similar scenes across the valley.

LVMPD has seen 497 thefts this year. And according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, Las Vegas ranks number two in the nation for stolen scooters and motorcycles -- second only to New York City. 

"I think individuals feel like they're just a nuisance on the roads," Denis said.

But Denis says they're a necessary nuisance -- cheap, fuel-efficient and easy to park.

"There are some individuals that no matter what, this is going to be the best mode of transportation for them."

Denis co-sponsored a new law that took effect Nov. 1. It requires mopeds to be registered, inspected and get license plates. 

Law enforcement hopes that will make them and their drivers safer and easier to track, but it won't cut down on frustrating scenes playing out all across the valley.

"With an actual moped, since they can't go above 30 miles an hour, obviously they should stay on streets where the speed limit is 30-35," Callaway said.

But they don't. They drive on major valley roadways where they simply can't keep up, often disregarding surrounding drivers.

"They have the potential to obstruct traffic, slow down vehicles and then other drivers get frustrated and try to cut around them and maybe cause accidents," Callaway said. "So it's a very serious issue."

No one knows that better than Marlene Stevens.

"I don't think they have any business being on the road because of how dangerous they are. And what could happen to... Like my daughter."