Tunnel Vision: Inescapable Irony of Segway Death

September 29th, 2010 by Kim Lenz

The news was sad and yes, very, very ironic.

James Heselden, owner of the Segway firm, died Monday in what appears to be an accident while using the futuristic scooter. He was 62.

Heselden, one of Britain’s richest men, was found dead at the bottom of a cliff after in West Yorkshire, England. A Segway was found near his body.

I had tucked away in my mental story ideas folder an inkling to write a column about the Segway electric-powered standup scooter at some point for Tunnel Vision. I was planning to riff off the fact I had blanched at doing a press release when the Old Dominion University Police Department announced it was purchasing a handful of the devices for patrolling campus. My rationale for refusing? I thought Segways were pretty funny looking. Not so funny today.
They’re still odd looking machines, but you know what? I read some about the machines today, and they’re actually pretty cool.

And from an environmental standpoint, you’re doing pretty well on the Segway Personal Transporter. According to the company website, the Segway PT is 11 times more efficient than the average American car, and more than three times more efficient than even the highest-mileage scooters.

As a zero-emissions vehicle, the Segway PT uses an electric charge, which the company brags causes “14 times less greenhouse gas emissions than driving a car.”

Once charged, the vehicle can travel as fast as 12.5 mph, for a total distance of 24 miles, on a single charge. To fully charge a Segway PT takes between eight and 10 hours.

In addition to wondering if I would look silly (quite possible), I also have always wondered if it’s easy to stay balanced upright on two wheels. My mother would tell you I had enough difficulty doing that on a bicycle growing up, with the scars to prove it.

I guess I needn’t have worried. According to the website, the Segway PT is designed to balance itself and the operator. “Step on and your instinct will be to steady yourself, as you would on anything with two wheels,” the website says. “But almost immediately you’ll realize that the Segway PT is balancing for you, almost like it has become an extension of you.

“Just lean forward a little and you’ll see that the Segway PT isn’t moving on its own; it’s moving in response to you and what you tell it to do.”

It’s at this time, the website brags, that operators experience their first Segway Smile. “The Segway PT is more that a product; it’s an experience unlike anything you’ve tried before. Riders become empowered pedestrians that cover more ground, work smarter, become more productive and move more intelligently. This knowledge manifests itself in an ear-to-ear grin.”

Hey, I didn’t write this stuff.

I can get behind the cost savings and lesser environmental impact in a second, however. And my next logical question, “Where can I take this?” was answered by the website, with a link to the statutes of the Virginia General Assembly.

“A person riding a bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device (such as a Segway), or an electric power-assisted bicycle on a sidewalk, or across a roadway on a crosswalk, shall have all the rights and duties of a pedestrian under the same circumstances,” reports statute 46.2-904 of the Code of Virginia.
You cannot take a Segway on an interstate or county road in the state, but you can’t take bicycles on most of them, either.

That didn’t stop me from fantasizing about driving 12.5 miles per hour down Interstate 64 to the Tunnel, with traffic backed up behind me all the way to Toano.

That would cause me to Segway Smile.

Brendan O’Hallarn writes Tunnel Vision for WYDaily. If you have a transportation issue you’d like to talk about, write Brendan at brendan@wydaily.com.

One Response to Tunnel Vision: Inescapable Irony of Segway Death

  1. Anonymous

    September 29, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    I saw a guy ride by me in a crowded DC metro station. He too was wearing that smug Segway smile. I wonder how many other people there want to “accidently” put an elbow into that smile? :-*

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