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In-line Skating May Be Legally Out of Line on Roads

January 18, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ It’s a twist on the bumper stickers that say, ″If you don’t like my driving, stay off the sidewalk.″

In-line skaters who can hit 20 mph face laws that order them onto the sidewalk, and ban them from roads.

The laws are not generally enforced, but they are on the books. And, while skating etiquette calls on skaters to act like pedestrians when they are on the sidewalks, most prefer to skate at street speed, on streets - where, they feel, they belong.

″What we call ‘toy skate’ ordinances were passed to keep children on conventional roller skates off the streets,″ said skater David R. Cooper. ″That makes sense.″

What doesn’t make sense is applying these rules to in-line skates, said Cooper, chairman of the government relations committee of the International In-line Skating Association, a Minneapolis-based sports industry group.

The association says in-line skates are safe. Figures from American Sports Data, a company that tracks sports demographics, show that in-line skaters are less likely than bicycle riders to suffer minor injury, it says.

″Serious injuries resulting from in-line skating are even more unlikely and are among the lowest figures of any major sports activity,″ the group says.

In-line skates, commonly called Rollerblades after the brand name, can go faster than traditional skates, which have paired wheels in the front and back.

In-line skates, with wheels aligned one behind the other, let a skater act more like a cyclist in terms of speed, maneuvering and braking, Cooper said.

Also, while traditional skates are often childrens’ toys, many in-line skaters are adults, said Cooper, who skates to his Ford Motor Co. computer job in Dearborn, Mich.

Laws, as well as federal park regulations, generally have not kept up with changes in skating since the mid-1980s, the association says. The rules treat skaters as pedestrians. Skaters want to be vehicles, obeying rules of the road.

The difference can lead to citations, such as the one Nancy Doble/Paul of Greenehaven, Ariz., got in a federal recreation area at Lake Powell.

Last March, she and her family were skating on the largely deserted roads and enjoying the scenery when a park ranger ″wrote me up a ticket for $50,″ said the 52-year-old artist.

″Here I am doing this heinous act of Rollerblading in a national recreation area,″ Doble/Paul said. ″I felt they treated me as though I had held up the First National Bank. I was an overt dangerous criminal.″

Doble/Paul fought the ticket and won.

That’s how these cases typically turn out when the citation is challenged, said R. Kent Correll, the association’s general counsel.

″We’re batting a thousand,″ said Correll, a New York City lawyer who specializes in sports.

Officials who don’t understand in-line skating change their positions once the situation is explained, Correll said.

But it would be better to change the rules so in-line skaters can roll on the roads, Correll said. The association is lobbying the federal government to do so, he said. And some communities, such as Minneapolis, have adopted in- line skate ordinances that he considers progressive.

Others may still have old laws. Generally, traffic codes bar skaters from state roads, Correll said. If county and city governments have a law that addresses skating, it typically prohibits skaters from using those roads as well, he said.

Some officials are reluctant to change the law for fear of liability lawsuits growing from accidents, Correll said.

″We’ve been told that the people who wrote their insurance refused to provide coverage for in-line skating,″ he said. ″There is a gap in coverage based on the fact that a normal insurance company had no way of assessing the risk factor.″

However, insurance is available from at least one company, Correll said.

END ADV for Release Mon. Jan. 18

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