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GoPeds race around in gray area of the law

It's killing Kyle Fulkerson that he can't ride his motorized scooter with his friends. From his front yard, he watches them zoom by on their gas-powered skateboards with handlebars, what most people call GoPeds.

"It's not fair," says the 10-year-old blond-haired boy.

For nearly four weeks, he has been forbidden to ride his GoPed, which he paid for with money he got from birthday presents and mowing lawns. His mom, Patti Fulkerson, hasn't let him ride ever since a sheriff's deputy told Kyle he was breaking the law. The deputy said GoPeds were not allowed on public roads unless the driver had a license.

"He told him to pass the word on to his friends," Mrs. Fulkerson said.

He did, but his buddies are cruising. As for Kyle, his $900 scooter sits in his home on Crestview Street.

"Obviously, I am not popular in my house right now," said Mrs. Fulkerson, 31. But, she adds, she can't allow her son to do something illegal.

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Or is it? Is riding a GoPed without a license against the law?

The question is baffling everyone from law enforcement officials to 12-year-old boys to the state Attorney General's office.

The law is unclear.

Essentially, there is a conflict between two state statutes. Last summer, lawmakers amended Chapter 316, specifically excluding motorized scooters from the definition of motor vehicles. However, Chapter 322 was not amended, and under this definition the operator of any self-propelled motorized scooter is required to have a driver's license.

A July 8 opinion from the Attorney General's Office says motorized scooters are not subject to the equipment and safe driving requirements of a motor vehicle but that the "Legislature may want to readdress the issue and clarify its intent regarding the operation of GoPeds in Florida."

"It's a challenge to do enforcement when it comes to this," said Sgt. Terri Dioquino, who oversees the Selective Traffic Enforcement Program for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

But like most law enforcement agencies in the county and across the state, the Sheriff's Office follows the advice of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which states that GoPeds, or motorized scooters, are not designed for operation on public roads. But if they are on streets, a driver's license is required.

In addition, many law enforcement agencies are relying on an opinion from the Second District Court of Appeal that concluded that a GoPed driver is required to have a driver's license.

Deputy Adam Sarlo, the community policing officer in Seminole, says he gets daily calls about kids riding GoPeds on streets and dodging in and out of traffic.

They're too noisy, the callers tell him. (Think an invasion of killer bees.) They're too dangerous, say others. (Normal speed is about 18 mph, but some go as fast as 30 mph.)

"The amount of complaints we've received has basically forced us to apply strict enforcement," Sarlo said.

Fines can vary from $46 citations to whatever a judge decides, Dioquino said.

"I'd rather see a group of GoPeders than a gang of little thugs," said Jimmy Corbitt, a manager at Action Wheel Sports near Kenneth City, which has been selling GoPeds for about 10 years. The store sells about 200 GoPeds a year.

Corbitt says he tells all his GoPed buyers, who must be 18 and older, that the scooters aren't legal on public roadways and should be used only on private property. But he also points out the state law that says they're not a motor vehicle.

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GoPeds have been around for more than a decade and are especially attractive among ages 10 to 14.

"Now its seems like they're everywhere," said Pinellas Park police Sgt. Mark Berger.

New ones cost from $450 to $1,200. Add more fancy parts and the price goes up.

Riding time is after school on weekdays and on weekends. But if kids aren't supposed to ride GoPeds on streets or on sidewalks, where then? In their driveways?

Try telling that to the dozen or so boys who ride GoPeds on the streets where Kyle lives, a neighborhood between Seminole Boulevard and 113th Street. They admit they've all been told by deputies not to ride on the streets. But they do it anyway.

"We're just kids trying to have fun," said Sean McCue Johnson, 15, who proudly says his GoPed is worth $1,300 because of its extra features, including air-filled tires, a bigger engine and disc brakes.

Kyle's dad, Kent Fulkerson, doesn't see the harm in letting the boys ride their GoPeds. He says they obey traffic rules, wear helmets and don't ever leave the neighborhood. And most pay for their own gasoline.

"If they want to take this away, these cities have to start building places for these kids to go," Fulkerson, 33, said.

Linda Sellers, who lives in the same neighborhood as Kyle and his friends, says she realizes the GoPed riders just want to have fun. But she worries about their safety.

"They barrel up and down the street as fast as they can go," she said. "They're just not very safety-conscious."

Sherman Smith, legal adviser for the St. Petersburg Police Department, says officers essentially treat GoPed riders the same as bicycle riders. GoPed riders who run stop signs or travel on the wrong side of the road could receive warnings and possibly citations.

"But nobody wants to write an 8-, 10- or 12-year-old kid a ticket," Smith said. "We try to approach it with a lot of common sense. We try to keep them safe instead of simply issuing citations."

Smith says he thinks it was an oversight by the Legislature when it amended only one of the statutes. He and others in law enforcement hope to get some clarification on GoPeds, but it doesn't appear state lawmakers will address the issue this session.

"At this point, I don't care what the law says," said Mrs. Fulkerson. "Just get it over with."

Motorized scooters line a wall at Action Wheelsport at 5310 66th St. N. GoPeds have been around more than a decade and are especially popular with kids ages 10 to 14. New models cost $450 to $1,200. Add fancy parts and the price goes up.