Transit has been undergoing a period of incredible change recently, especially in large cities. The trend that started with rideshare services like Uber and Lyft has expanded to include bike and scooters, too. While many people are enjoying the new freedom that e-scooter companies Lime and Bird provide, there’s a dark side to these devices, too.
After all, these e-scooter companies are following in Uber’s footsteps in almost every way. They expand into cities without notice to avoid regulation. Their safety records are lax at best. And most importantly, they provide no training to anyone on their service.
The problems that have sprung up from e-scooters aren’t quite the same as those caused by rideshares, though. Instead of increasing traffic and the risk of assault, e-scooters are increasing the risk of serious injury and death for their riders and others on the road.
Nationwide, there have been at least 29 deaths resulting from e-scooter accidents. Several deaths were the result of an e-scooter rider hitting a pedestrian, but the vast majority were caused by a motor vehicle hitting the e-scooter rider. E-scooter injuries also sky-rocketed by more than 80% just from 2017 to 2018. Those numbers only look to be increasing. So why are e-scooters such a threat to their riders’ health?
Unregulated E-Scooters and E-Bikes Pose Grave Risks
One of the key rules for success in the new app-based transport economy appears to be “expand first, ask permission later.” Uber did it first, and e-scooter companies took the hint. Bird and Lime both dropped their scooters in cities like Santa Monica without notifying regulators. While there were no requirements for these companies to notify the city, the sudden appearance of the scooters left legislators scrambling.
While e-scooters first appeared in 2017, it wasn’t until spring of 2018 that cities like San Francisco put regulations into place on the devices. It took until 2019 for these programs to exit their early phases and become permanent. Even today, there are still questions surrounding how e-scooters should be handled in the legal sphere.
The result of legislative confusion is that e-scooter companies have free rein when it comes to their scooters. Some of these scooters can exceed 25 miles an hour, leaving pedestrians in the dust. Without regulations as to where e-scooters can be ridden, people are just as likely to ride them on sidewalks and trails as they are to use the roads. The result can be an accident that sends one or both people to the hospital.
Spotty Safety Supplies For E-Scooter riders
E-scooter companies provide one thing; access to e-scooters. They do not supply safety equipment to go with them. Even when laws require helmets for e-scooter riders, many people ride the scooters bare-headed anyway, despite safety laws.
In fact, the law has recently been changed. Prior to 2019, it was required for all electric scooter riders to wear helmets. Now it’s only required for people under the age of 18. The problem is that regardless of regulations, people aren’t wearing helmets.
That’s a serious safety risk. Serious head injuries account for nearly half of all e-scooter accidents, and 15% of injuries included a traumatic brain injury (TBI). This is worse than a simple concussion – TBIs can have lifelong consequences, including seizures, mental disabilities, and trouble managing daily tasks.
Helmets have been proven to significantly reduce the risk of head injury in all types of accidents. In the case of TBIs, helmets cut the risk in half. Helmets also lower the risk of death in an accident by more than 40%.
E-scooter companies are leaving their customers open to injury by failing to provide helmets. Unless helmets are required and easy to access, riders are unlikely to use them. Since e-scooters are designed in part for impulsive travel, thanks to their dockless nature, they are inherently more likely to result in helmet-free accidents and serious injuries. In fact, in a recent study on e-scooter accidents, only one person out of nearly 200 riders wore a helmet.
Collisions from Competing Commutes
Finally, most fatal e-scooter accidents are the result of a car or truck hitting the scooter rider. Many e-scooter riders are forced to use the scooters in the road due to blocked bike lines or crowded sidewalks. In other locations, like San Francisco, it’s illegal to ride e-scooters on the sidewalk That puts riders directly in the way of the most dangerous threat – cars.
Keeping motor vehicles and bicyclists too close together has been known to lead to injuries for years. That’s why California cities have been working on building new bike lanes. E-scooters are just as vulnerable, though.
The trouble is that e-scooters are small, move quickly, and don’t have great visibility. Many e-scooters provided by rideshare companies have lights that are misaligned, too low, or not very bright. Even scooters that have adequate reflectors and lights are much less noticeable than an entire bike or a car. It’s all too easy for an e-scooter rider to swerve to avoid a pothole and get hit by a driver who wasn’t paying attention.
Staying Safe with E-Scooters
E-scooters are dangerous, there’s no way around that. Your first few rides carry the most risk, with a third of all rider injures happening on their very first trip. Nearly two thirds of injuries will happen in the first ten trips you take. Without training to ride these scooters, they’re simply not very safe.
There are a couple common-sense precautions you can take to avoid injuries on an e-scooter, though.
- Wear a helmet for every trip.
- Avoid riding after dark
- Keep your ears open and avoid wearing headphones
- Only ride during dry conditions
- Keep an eye out for cars behaving erratically
E-scooters are dangerous, and legislation is still trying to play catch-up. It’s important to take your safety into your own hands if you choose to ride an e-scooter. Watching for cars, pedestrians, and potholes will help you avoid accidents. If you do end up in a serious accident, though, it may not be your fault. It’s all too easy to end up injured on these scooters while following all the rules.