NZ Herald article misrepresents Segway safety

Yesterday’s NZ Herald featured an article about how staff at Auckland Real Estate business James Law Reality are using a pair of Segway Personal Transporters (PTs) to get between appointments on time. Sadly, the Herald misrepresented a number of issues regarding the safety of Segway PTs and inaccurately reported a number of facts. We take this opportunity to address each of these issues below.

But first, here are some positive excerpts from the article. These demonstrate how an Auckland business is benefiting from the massive increases in staff productivity that only Segway PTs can provide.

“The CBD traffic is a nightmare and finding a parking in the inner city is an even bigger nightmare,” said Mr Law. Not only can agents get to clients faster, it removes their worries about parking infringements if meetings laster longer than expected.

“With the Auckland Council plans of having more footpaths and making driving more difficult, it makes business sense that we find an alternative means to get around,” Mr Law said. “We decided on Segways because they are environmentally friendly, and can be used on all terrains, from roads to sidewalks.”

The Auckland draft masterplan revealed city planners wanting to reduce the 34,385 vehicles that come into the inner city each weekday…plans to do that include malling parts of Queen St and having more walking paths and “shared spaces” similar to Elliot St.

This photo is from the NZ Herald (taken by Greg Bowker)

We now address the parts of the NZ Herald article where they got it a bit wrong. In fact, certain key elements of the story were so inaccurate and/or misleading that we find it extraordinary that they ever got past fact-checking and the watching eye of a newspaper Editor such that they made it into print in New Zealand’s largest daily newspaper.

Here’s what they got wrong, and the facts behind each bullet point in the Herald’s sensational “Segway Danger” sidebar.

1. Regarding George W. Bush’s “famous fall” from a Segway PT – what actually happened is that Bush tumbled over the front of a stationary, deactivated Segway PT when he stepped up onto it. The Segway PT’s ability to self-balance on two wheels is something quite extraordinary to experience, but the device does need to be turned on to work its magic!

It would have been easy for the Herald to check its facts before erroneously claiming Bush “…fell off a Segway at a high-powered meeting.” As reported correctly by the BBC: “The machine went down when he stepped onto it at his family estate in Kennebunkport, Maine, but he managed to leap to safety, landing on his feet.” An incident that didn’t result in any kind of injury (except perhaps to pride) while on holiday at the family property doesn’t read as quite as an exciting DANGER as “a fall while at a high powered meeting” but at least it is the truth.

2. The death of Segway company owner and philanthropist Jimi Heselden was a tragic accident, yet the Herald chose to report it sensationally as: “[He] died while riding a Segway that plunged off a cliff.”

The findings of the UK coroner last year were that Jimi died when he accidentally backed up too far to the edge the cliff, after stopping and moving politely to make way for a person running their dog on a leash towards him. We covered the story with accuracy in our report ‘Politeness found as cause of Jimi Heselden’s tragic accident‘ that references an original article published by the Mirror newspaper in the UK. Unlike the Herald, we weren’t so insensitive as to speak of plunging death under these circumstances.

3. Yes, it is both amusing and true that someone fell off a Segway PT that had been modified to carry a television camera at the Melbourne Cricket Ground last year. But it was not cricket commentator Ian Healy as claimed by the Herald, and no one got hurt at all. Here’s what really happened (as we reported here – includes link to the video clip of the fall):

Yesterday, Australian cameraman Joe Previtera was filming at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. He was gliding through the oval filming to live TV when he failed to see a cricket helmet that had been left on the ground. The turf tyre fitted to his customised Segway x2 hit and rode up over the helmet, spilling him on the ground (link includes video) – much to the amusement of the audience both at the MCG and worldwide watching on TV. The Segway PT was undamaged, the rider unhurt, but a part on the SteadyCam mount needed minor repairs. It is fair to say that, in the course of doing his job, he made the reasonable assumption that the oval would be free of obstacles and had all of his attention concentrated down the viewfinder. An experienced Segway PT rider can ride up and over a “bump” of this size as long as they see it coming. They anticipate how the PT will react and bend their knees and shift their weight accordingly. Segway PTs are used in the television and movie industry as quick, convenient “camera dollies’” capable of capturing a wide variety of shots and angles no other single method can achieve.

We say this real story does not belong under the Herald’s heading “Segway Danger” and we say the paper should take the effort to be a bit more honest to its readers in terms of editorial style in future. Even a cameraman walking with his eye glued to the viewfinder would likely have tripped and fallen had he stepped on a cricket helmet when he reasonably expected the path of his tracking shot to be clear of obstacles. In terms of funny workplace accidents it made for great TV and a popular YouTube clip, but tacking it onto a story about Real Estate agents commuting around town is drawing a long bow.

4. It was correct to report that an American was recently awarded $10 million by jury for an accident involving a Segway PT where the rider fell and hit his head, resulting in a brain injury, but it is well-known the US system of finding fault and awarding damages for medical injuries often results in unexpected and extraordinary outcomes. It strikes us as unfair not to include a little bit of context and some key facts about the circumstances of this accident: the rider John Ezzo intentionally covered his face by putting his hooded sweatshirt on backwards and pulling it up to ride the Segway PT blindfolded, and he was not wearing a helmet.  In this case, it seems the jury appeared to overlook the importance of personal responsibility when operating a transportation device.

Here at Segway New Zealand we encourage riders to always use good judgement, and to be familiar with and follow the safety recommendations set out in the User Materials and Safety Video. You can review all of these online at www.segwaysafety.com

5. The main Herald story stated “A United States study in 2010 found Segway scooters responsible for increasing the number of accidents.” It appears this was simply a lazy lifting of the headline from UK newspaper The Telegraph and presenting it in a way that blatant misrepresents the findings of the study (hint: it does not claim Segway PTs are responsible for increasing the number of accidents that occur at all – but then you’ve probably guessed that already).

The sub-heading of this Telegraph story does reveal the study discovered a somewhat obvious fact: that “Accidents involving Segway scooters are on the increase” as the total number of Segway PTs in use increases (in the same way as the number of people having accidents in motorcars in 2012 is higher than in 1912).

US media offered better quality reporting of this study conducted by researcher Dr Mary Pat McKay. She assessed accident reports of 41 people admitted to a hospital in Washington, DC. – most were novices and only 3 were wearing helmets (which are not required by law under the rules for Segway PT use in Washington, D.C. but are recommended under most circumstances).

“All of the injuries were sustained by riders simply falling off, mostly from striking an inanimate object such as a bench, tree or pole,” she said, and urged riders to “….pay close attention to what is in front of and around them when riding.”

That is, watch where you’re going.

Which is exactly the same advice we give to people using every other transportation device – cars and bikes, mobility scooters and powered wheelchairs, skates and skis, boats and planes.

Incredibly, the Herald makes no mention of the many safety studies that demonstrate and conclude the Segway PT to be a safe, stable device suitable for use by persons with normal mobility and also those who are mobility impaired – and entirely appropriate for use in busy pedestrian spaces, and also in bicycle lanes and on urban roads. Six of these studies can be found here.

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  1. #1 by Kimbo on February 9, 2012 - 9:24 am

    Valid points – In respect to the James Law Realty story,which should have been positive and upbeat it was a typical NZ Herald story – More a beat up and possibly a set up ? Then again the NZ Herald is always long and conjecture and short on researched facts.

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