Walking is so passé. With the advent of the sharing economy, traveling from points A to Z has become there’s-an-app-for-that easy. Quick, convenient, and with real-time data, you can ride-hail, bike-share, e-scoot, or simply not miss that never-on-time subway anymore.
But what to do when personal mobility leads to personal injury? In as little as two years, e-scooters have propelled in popularity at an astronomic rate. Led by Bird and Lime (both launched in 2017), the industry has tallied global rentals in the tens of millions. However, with skyrocketing usage comes a surprising number of accidents.
The Price of Convenience
Unlike bicycles, which have dedicated lanes as well as long-established ordinances to follow, the lines of the law are blurred when it comes to scooters. Are helmets required? Can you ride on the sidewalk? Is traveling against traffic (like pedestrians) allowed?
Cities are playing legislative catch up, with some outright banning e-scooters—from sleepy seaside Goleta, California to mega-metropolis New York City. But injuries mount, with many riders suffering more than a simple scrape or bruise.
According to an informal survey by Consumer Reports, more than 1,500 scooter-related hospitalizations have occurred in the U.S. since the services began and prior to major expansion. And recent news reports have attributed e-scooters to traffic fatalities. But short of an ER visit, injuries are likely to go unreported making actual scooter-related accidents difficult to calculate.
In additional to offering information guides and instructional videos, scooter-share companies Bird, Lime, and Scoot have also established safety campaigns to promote rider etiquette, educate regarding local laws, and provide free helmets. Although not required in many cities, helmets are undoubtedly recommended. After all, e-scooters are essentially motorized vehicles that can travel up to 15 mph.
The rider rules are simple and straightforward, but worth reiterating:
Before you go
- Be at least 18 years of age.
- Have a valid driver’s license.
- Dress appropriately (e.g., helmet, covered footwear, pants, long sleeves).
- Perform a visual and operational safety check.
During your commute
- Ride solo. This is a scooter, not a sidecar.
- Keep hands on the handlebars so, sorry, no stunts.
- Heads up, eyes open, and ears unplugged. Stay alert.
- Keep off sidewalks and other pedestrian-heavy areas.
- Travel on roads, using bike lanes and permitted pathways when available.
- Obey all local traffic laws, including stop signs.
Ending your journey
- Secure the e-scooter in an upright position.
- Park in well-lit, public areas.
- Do not block driveways, doorways, or walkways.
Should you encounter a problem with your e-scooter, report the issue ASAP. As app-based services, quick reporting is paramount. Damaged or faulty vehicles will be taken offline, preventing another user from renting the equipment and having a problematic riding experience. Approved mechanics will then pick up the reported scooter for immediate repairs.
All accidents must be reported as well, regardless of whether they are the result of a mechanical issue or user error. This data can be utilized to further safety education, make operational adjustments to the scooters, or even lead to complete redesigns.
What about accidents that cause significant injury to yourself and/or others? Is litigation possible? Unfortunately, if it’s a rider-only accident, unless you can prove gross negligence, chances are you can’t sue. Or you can, but given the current, little-regulation environment, you’re not likely to win the case.
Per the user agreements of Bird and Lime, for example, the rider not only states that they are “competent vehicle operators” but also that they “assume all responsibilities and risks for any injuries and/or medical conditions.” You also waive your right to participate in class-action lawsuits.
So, by downloading the app and taking an e-scooter for a spin, however short the ride, you absolve the companies from any and all injuries, even if you adhere to all safety guidelines. At the same time, if you collide with another vehicle, pedestrian, or property during your ride, you would be considered at-fault and responsible for any damages, not the e-scooter company.
This is not to say e-scooters or any shared-equipment service will be going away soon (or possibly ever) because bringing mobility options to millions on a global scale is not only a convenience but can offer an economic and quality of life benefit as well. But by being better informed of our local laws, user rights, and personal responsibilities, the better that sharing economy can be.