Back when the Segway was known as Ginger or IT, there was a lot of talk about how this revolutionary device might transform the modern city. Needless to say, things didn't quite go as planned. In fact, instead of cities reorganizing themselves to accommodate the Segway, some have just banned it because it doesn't fit in with the overall transportation picture. The start of the new year in the Netherlands brings a ban on the device. Because it doesn't fit into any specific category of vehicle, there's no way for an owner to get one registered for road travel. The whole thing sounds like classic bureaucratic reasoning. A spokesman for the Transport Ministry notes, when discussing the differences between it and other road-legal vehicles, "It doesn't have a brake, you brake by leaning back, and that's clearly not permissible." Sounds like a case of going by the letter of the law, as opposed to the spirit of it. Obviously, it shouldn't matter whether it stops by leaning back or from squeezing a brake on the handlebar, but apparently the way the law has been written, there's no room for such subtlety. The whole matter might just be chalked up as one more disappointing event in the history of the Segway, and because it never really took off, the implications of the law won't be felt by very many. From a broader perspective, however, we really can't anticipate the effect of something like a minor wording issue in the law -- in this case using the word "brake" as opposed to the more wordy "mechanism for stopping the vehicle" -- has on the development of new technologies. In some cases the effect is clear, like when a technology is either banned or made legal. But there are bound to be many instances, which we'll rarely hear about, when the law prevents the innovation in the first place. And for Segway itself, which has been hoping to resuscitate its fortunes and perhaps even go public, the event is just another reminder about how little success and impact the company has had.
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