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Another look at scooter mayhem

From the Associated Press:

Photo: Josie Norris /San Antonio Express-News

As stand-up electric scooters have rolled into more than 100 cities worldwide, many of the people riding them are ending up in the emergency room with serious injuries. Others have been killed. There are no comprehensive statistics available but a rough count by The Associated Press of media reports turned up at least 11 electric scooter rider deaths in the U.S. since the beginning of 2018. Nine were on rented scooters and two on ones the victims owned.

With summer fast approaching, the numbers will undoubtedly grow as more riders take to the streets. Despite the risks, demand for the two-wheeled scooters continues to soar, popularized by companies like Lime and Bird. In the U.S. alone, riders took 38.5 million trips on rentable scooters in 2018, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials.


Data on injuries or fatalities linked to scooters is hard to come by because the industry is so new. In Austin, Texas, public health officials working with the Centers for Disease Control counted 192 scooter-related injuries in three months in 2018. Nearly half were head injuries, including 15% that were traumatic brain injuries like concussions and bleeding of the brain. Less than 1% of the injured riders wore a helmet.

Bird, one of the largest scooter-sharing companies, dropped its scooters on the streets of Santa Monica, California, in September 2017 and within a few months riders were showing up at the emergency room, according to Dr. Tarak Trivedi, an emergency room physician in Los Angeles and co-author of one of the first peer-reviewed studies of scooter injuries. The following year, Trivedi and his colleagues counted 249 scooter injuries, and more than 40% were head injuries. Just 4% were wearing a helmet.

“I don’t think our roads are ready for this,” Trivedi said.

Bird and Lime both recommend that riders wear helmets, and they’ve handed out tens of thousands for free. But last year, Bird successfully fought a California proposal that would have required helmets for adults, maintaining that scooters should follow the same laws as electric bikes that don’t require adult helmets.

Bird says helmet requirements are off-putting to riders and could lead to fewer scooters on the road. Almost counterintuitively, the company argues that it’s better to have more riders than less because it forces drivers to pay attention to them.

“There’s a safety in numbers effect, where the motorists know that there’s people out on the street, so they act accordingly,” said Paul Steely White, director of safety policy and advocacy for Bird.

Getting people to wear helmets is a challenge. Riders don’t want exposure to lice or germs that could be found in shared helmets, and many make a spontaneous decision to scoot while they’re already out and about.

You can add this to the Austin study, which is now beginning to paint a consistent picture. Here’s the problem as I see it: Scooters on sidewalks are a danger to pedestrians, while scooters on roads are a danger to themselves, with worse potential consequences. They’re all right on bike paths and bike trails, as long as those are not used by pedestrians, but there aren’t enough of them to support the scooter business model. I don’t know how they’re supposed to fit into an urban street system. There’s something to be said for the “safety in numbers” effect – the same is known to be true for bicycles – but how many scooters will there need to be to get to that effect, and how long might that take? I just hope that we can figure out some better strategies to minimize the damage until we get there.

(That definitely means making helmets mandatory. I mean, come on.)

Talk to them about helmet laws

Last month, I noted that some police departments will be lobbying the Legislature to require motorcyclists to wear helmets, which would effectively repeal a law from 1997 that granted them the ride to ride bareheaded if they had sufficient insurance. I figured that wouldn’t happen without a fight from the motorcycle enthusiasts, and sure enough, they’ve made their way to Austin this week to play defense on that issue, among other things. They also have their own legislation in mind.

Pegasus, a lifelong motorcyclist and vice president of the Texas Motorcycle Roadriders Association, said her organization came to discuss a bill concerning a driver’s failure to yield the right of way to another vehicle. She, along with many other concerned bikers, said she believed the majority of motorcycle accidents occur when distracted drivers fail to yield the right of way to motorcycles.

Under Texas law, a driver who causes serious bodily injury or death to a victim is punishable by a maximum fine of $4,000 and 30 days or up to a year in jail.

“I’m tired of people killing motorcyclists and not being held responsible,” Pegasus said. “That’s bullshit. Driving is a privilege and a responsibility that needs to be upheld.”

Pegasus endorsed higher penalties and prison sentences for anyone guilty of harming a biker by failing to yield the right of way.

“Cyclists have many rights that we don’t have. Why? Because they lobbied,” she said. “These people represent hundreds of people around the state. We’re gonna get heard.”

Now those will be hearings worth attending. Oh, and it’s good to hear from Sputnik again, too. Good luck, y’all.