Maryland football player Pete DeSouza's scooter accident raises safety concerns on college campuses

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 5, 2010; 6:00 AM

The walk from Kenny Tate's dorm on the south side of the University of Maryland's 1,250-acre campus to Gossett Team House, the Terrapins' football facility, takes 15 to 20 minutes.

On a scooter, it takes just six minutes. And in the life of a college student, particularly a time-starved college athlete, that extra 10 minutes can be a godsend.

"That could be the 10 minutes you get a bite to eat," says Tate, Maryland's starting free safety who has clocked the time savings on his own scooter. "Or that could be the time you need to talk to your teacher right after class."

Efficiency is one appeal of the motorized scooters that are popping up like kudzu on sprawling university campuses around the country, Maryland included.

Economy is another. At $600 for a bare-bones model to a few thousand dollars for a state-of-the-art edition, scooters are a cheaper alternative to cars, particularly because they get roughly 100 miles per gallon and don't require tags or insurance.

Then there's the "cool" factor: Scooters are less potent than a Harley-Davidson yet a cut above a bicycle with a bell.

But concerns have been raised over the safety of scooters, particularly after Maryland football player Pete DeSouza suffered severe injuries in an accident last month.

Through no fault of DeSouza's, according to campus police, the 6-foot-7, 310-pound offensive lineman's scooter was hit by a car that turned into its path as he motored back from study hall the night of Oct. 21. The collision broke both of DeSouza's legs, requiring multiple surgeries that are expected to sideline him for six to nine months. And it could have been far more catastrophic had DeSouza's backpack not ridden up above his shoulders and cushioned his head when he was flung to the pavement.

The crash has prompted debate in the University Senate, which is considering requiring scooter users to wear helmets on campus - a measure that is encouraged but not mandated by state law.

It also sparked controversy five days after DeSouza's accident when the Maryland student newspaper, the Diamondback, ran an editorial cartoon that attempted to highlight the issue of scooter safety. In the cartoon, a female student says to a helmeted football player, "I didn't think there was a game today."

He replies: "There isn't. But I'm afraid to hurt myself on a scooter."

Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen criticized the cartoon as "insensitive," and the paper was deluged with calls and e-mails from outraged readers who shared that view. Both the cartoonist and editor-in-chief apologized.

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