- Electric scooters have the potential to transform transportation, but they’re plagued with safety issues.
- Current laws meant to protect riders and pedestrians, like helmet laws and footpath regulations, are ineffective and only lead to more confusion.
- Training first-time riders, opening up footpaths, and creating clear and consistent laws could lead to fewer fatal accidents and pave the way for e-scooters to exist peacefully in cities.
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Electric scooters have the potential to change how we move. But they’re also woefully dangerous.
Since 2018, at least 29 people have died in e-scooter accidents, the majority of them riders. Thousands more have been injured.
E-scooters are more inherently dangerous than other vehicles because they’re lighter and smaller than anything else on the road. This makes them less stable and more vulnerable to potholes and cracks in the road. And as the smallest vehicle on roads, e-scooter riders stand to be the loser in any accident with another vehicle.
Cities have attempted to mitigate these hazards by passing laws requiring riders to wear helmets and protective gear. But adding helmets to rideshare systems presents a major infrastructure challenge. And rideshare users, who often choose rideshare for its convenience, are unlikely to want to carry around their own helmets in the off-chance they might use a scooter later.
These laws have faced pushback from scooter and bike advocates, who say mandatory helmet laws will make it less likely for people to use bikes or scooters. And the limited protection that helmets provide doesn’t make it easier for e-scooter riders to share a road with two-ton metal beasts that can, and want to, go much faster than e-scooters can.
Moreover, the laws governing where riders are allowed to go are unclear and counterintuitive. A 2018 Consumer Reports survey found that over a quarter of riders were unsure of what traffic laws to follow.
Many cities recently banned e-scooters from footpaths, requiring riders to ride in the street instead. But riding on roads is much more dangerous for riders. While motor vehicle accidents account for only 10% of e-scooter injuries, they account for 24 out of 26 reported rider deaths since 2018.
Footpaths are much safer than streets for riders, but it’s illegal to ride an e-scooter on footpaths in many cities because of the danger to pedestrians. Therefore, e-scooter riders are faced with a seemingly unsolvable dilemma: endanger themselves or endanger others.
So is the e-scooter revolution doomed?
What might make scooters safer
Standardising laws, infrastructure, and promoting educated riding may prevent a scooter-pocalypse. E-scooters are currently available to anyone with a smartphone and a credit card, but the low barrier of entry may be endangering first-time and inexperienced riders. But mandatory training for new riders may be key to protecting both riders and pedestrians.
Moped rideshare company Revel offers free two-hour training classes for new riders as well as a short training video. The company also provides helmets in two sizes with each rental, which are sanitised several times a week – a potential solution to the helmet problem.
Requiring training for first-time e-scooter riders could also significantly reduce the likelihood of accidents. A CDC study in Austin found that first-time riders accounted for a third of all e-scooter injuries tracked by the study. Mandatory education for inexperienced riders would lead to safer riding practices and address pedestrians’ concerns about sharing footpaths with unruly riders.
Another simple solution for many cities is to treat e-scooters as bicycles. In 2019, Calgary passed new e-scooter laws allowing riders to ride e-scooters on footpaths, pathways, and bike lanes. In contrast to many American cities, which force riders to stay on the road, Calgary prohibits riders from being in roads at all. Helmets are strongly encouraged rather than mandatory, and riders can be fined for interfering with pedestrians.
In many places where bike infrastructure doesn’t yet exist, footpaths may be the safest place for e-scooter riders. Opening footpaths to e-scooters would lead to to fewer fatal injuries, since it would distance riders from motor vehicles, the cause of almost all rider fatalities.
Eventually, if the proper steps are taken, e-scooters will simply occupy another niche in our transportation ecosystem.
But before that can happen, e-scooter laws need to work for riders, not against them. The sooner cities realise that, the more painless that transition will be.
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