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High Gas Prices Mean More Scooters On The Road -- But Are They Right For You?

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There's been a lot of discussion the past few weeks about gas prices and the effect they're having on vehicle sales. One the one hand, we've seen studies indicating that fuel efficiency is now the leading factor in new car purchases -- data that jibes pretty well with the increased popularity of fuel-efficient cars during the 2008 gas spike.

On the other hand, we've seen slightly contradictory data showing that shoppers pay more attention to a vehicle's pricetag than its efficiency (or eco-friendliness, for that matter). So really, which is most important now: mpgs or price? A third set of data says...well, it's both.

The data comes by way of the Motorcycle Industry Council, and it shows that sales of motorcycles and scooters have increased in direct correlation to gas prices. Sales during the first quarter of 2011 were up 50% over 2010 (which could partially be attributed to the improving vehicle market, but not entirely). Furthermore, replacement tire sales are up 30%, meaning that more people are riding their two-wheeled vehicles.

Why the sales boom? The study doesn't go into detail, but we know that motorcycles and scooters are both fuel-efficient and (generally) less expensive than their four-wheeled kin. Many models are eco-friendly, too. All three of those factors are attractive to consumers.

So what's the big deal?

Should you consider purchasing a scooter yourself? And what impact is the popularity of scooters and motorcycles likely to have on you, your commute, and the planet?

Well, as we mentioned the other day, scooters can be a fun, fuel-efficient way to get around town. Those that use gas require far less of it to operate, and newer models have fairly low CO2 emissions, too. (Other models, however, can be big polluters.) And let's not forget, they're significantly cheaper to insure.

Unfortunately, scooters and motorcycles are also more dangerous -- not just for owners, but also for those in the cars alongside them. Auto drivers aren't always looking for motorcycles in their side-view mirrors when they change lanes, and many new scooter drivers lack the experience they need to make them safe fellow commuters.

Will scooters and motorcycles become a significant presence on America's roads? As fuel prices rise, we'll see more of them around (though some experts think gas prices have peaked, which could mean that current sales of two-wheelers will start slipping). And over the long haul, as more of the planet's population moves to urban environments, scooters and motorcycles will likely become more popular modes of transit. But they're still not great fits for every lifestyle, especially for anyone with a family to cart around.

Bottom line: expect to see more of them on the roadways, but not as many as you'd see in other parts of the world. Not yet, anyway.

[Consumer Reports via Bengt]

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Comments (10)
  1. I love scooters. They drive a lot of scooter in France. Not so sure about Germany. Speaking of Germany, how about this guy who trades oil:

  2. I disagree with your statement that scooters are more dangerous for other drivers. I'm sure the statistics will prove me out. How many people in cars are killed or injured as a result of colliding with another car versus accidents involving cycles. And if you say that people take more risks on scooters and bicycles try riding on a twisty country road and count the number of times cars put themselves in danger by crossing double yellow lines to pass. People on bicycles, scooters and motorcycles are generally safer drivers because it's their lives on the line.

  3. @Tom: True, there are more auto passengers killed in traffic accidents, but that's because there are far more cars on the roads than motorcycles. All things being equal, however, the National Safety Council says that the mileage death rate for motorcyclists is about 37 times higher than for auto passengers. See and for starters.

  4. Agreed, good article btw. What I'm disputing is the statement cycles are a bigger threat to people in cars than other cars are. Common sense tells me that when I'm driving my car I'm more likely to be injured or killed by another car colliding with me than by a cycle. And I was expecting you to take issue with my statement that people on cycles are safer drivers than cars. Just look at how many don't wear helmets, insanity. However, I stand by my statement, in my experience I've found that cyclist are more attentive. That's more an indictment on the typical motorist than anything else.

  5. @Tom: Sadly, in my experience, I haven't found motorcycle or scooter drivers to be safer at all. Then again, I live in Louisiana, where we have a long history of fighting helmet laws. Clearly, what seems logical to the rest of the world doesn't hold here.
    I know that I've read a couple of reports about new scooter drivers being a hazard, too -- as much if not more so than teenage car drivers because they're dealing with the added problems of balance and restricted peripheral vision. I'll keep looking for citations.

  6. I used to own a moped (You could get your mopeds license at 15 in MI) but haven't driven one in years. I also used to drive about 20 hours per week but now I live in a major city and ride a bicycle 20 hours per week. I don't have statistics to back up my outlandish claims but I've noticed that when I'm in my car I don't have as good of a sense of my surroundings as when I'm on my bike. I've also found that my biggest issue is accelerating from a full stop. I have found it safest to employ the California Stop. Slow to 5-10 mph, look both ways and if there's traffic unclip and stop. Otherwise get through the intersection as quickly as possible. I'm sure when others see this they say "Look at that cyclist blowing through that stop-menace."

  7. Not to make this a conversation of two, but on a side note, I'm totally stoked to see you use the expression "California Stop". I've used my dad's variant -- "Hollywood Stop" -- on here several times before, and no one seems to know what I'm talking about.

  8. Richard, you aren't getting what Tom is saying.
    You wrote that motorcyclist / scooter riders are more dangerous for not only themselves, but for other drivers. This is blatently false and there is no info to back up your claim.
    If I'm riding my motorcycle safely and someone turns in my right of way (the number one way motorcyclist are killed), the chance of the car driver being hurt, let alone killed, are nearly non-existant.

  9. @Steve: I hear what you're saying, and I'm not trying to lay blame for scooter accidents entirely on scooter drivers. However, concerns are constantly being raised about the inexperience of motorcycle and scooter drivers contributing to crashes. (See for example: That, combined with the special challenges that come with two-wheeled vehicles -- including exposure to the elements and limited visibility due to helmets -- means that they're more difficult to learn to drive safely. And that doesn't even begin to broach the topic of auto drivers, many of whom aren't looking for motorcycles or scooters when they change lanes.

  10. Hi,
    I won't agree with this post, because it is purely depends on the population interest. When gas price increases there is a chance for eletric scooters to come on to the road.

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