Are electric scooters safe? To find an answer, we might want to remove electric from the question for a moment, and ask whether scooters, in general, are safe.
Let’s face it: scooters have always been at least a little dangerous. Even in the early days of folding Razor scooters — at the turn of the millennium, long before the motorized scooters of today — kids experienced severe injuries, shocking parents and paramedics alike with broken elbows and knocked-out teeth.
But once scooters became electrified, the potential for danger reached a new level. If riders struggled to control their scooters at 5 miles per hour, the risk for injuries only multiplied when speeds reached 15 miles per hour.
The past few years has seen one scooter company after another elbowing their way into cities and towns around the world. Featuring fun, single-syllable names, like Bird, Lime, Spin, and Jump, these companies just showed up on sidewalks unannounced, without asking municipalities for permission.
It’s now commonplace to see scooters lined up outside of bars and entertainment districts, promising the freedom to see and do more, and hop from one bar to the next. Scooters and alcohol have become intertwined. The result is a Molotov cocktail, leaving riders shaken and stirred.
Many Things Can Go Wrong
The problem with making scooters available in entertainment-oriented areas, where there are a lot of bars and restaurants, is that these are the places where people shouldn’t be riding them! Many things can go wrong. Aside from alcohol use, contributing factors for a scooter accident include:
- Nighttime conditions, where streets and sidewalks do not have adequate lighting to operate a scooter safely.
- Scooters being stationed in areas that are not equipped to display, or “stage,” scooters.
- Scooters’ small wheels can easily get caught in sidewalk cracks, potholes, and concrete curbs.
- Scooters can malfunction. Brake failure has been widely reported.
- Scooter rides terminating at geofenced areas — boundaries that scooters cannot surpass. It’s possible to ride up to a boundary at 15 miles an hour, and feel like you are hitting an invisible wall. The scooter dies, but momentum forces you to keep your balance, to stay upright.
Added to this, new riders often have a simple lack of appreciation for the sheer power that scooters have. They can accelerate very quickly!
Clearly, there are a host of different things that could cause someone to fall from a scooter and get injured, without ever coming into contact with anyone else — or anything else, such as an oncoming car.
Watch Negretti & Associates’ Jonathan Negretti on AZTV 7’s Daily Mix show, discussing scooter accident liability, and how the fine print found in scooter companies’ terms-of-service agreements can impact riders.
A Failure to Warn
It can be argued that there is a disconnect between how scooter companies portray the use of their scooters and how consumers actually ride them.
To illustrate, imagine being with a group of friends on a weekend night out. You encounter a few scooters in a row, and your friends would like to go for a ride. However, you aren’t yet a customer of that scooter brand. To unlock and ride one of these scooters, you have to sign up first.
So, you download the company’s app. On the app, you may see only a quick tutorial about how to ride a scooter. Rider training is minimal. You then encounter a user agreement, where you’re asked to consent to all kinds of provisions and stipulations — thousands of words, which may take half an hour to read. Will you read the user agreement word for word? Probably not. After all, you want to get on your scooter and ride along with your friends! So, you click “I Agree.”
And off you go. Good luck.
How are scooter companies allowed to expect people to read the user agreements in full, so that they thoroughly understand the risks that they are taking? Do riders realize that, by clicking on “I Agree” as the user agreement appears in the app, they are forfeiting their right to file a lawsuit against the company, if something tragic were to happen during their ride?
This scooter crash test video demonstrates the severity of head impacts that can result from a scooter-and-car crash. As they say, Don’t be a dummy!
Negretti & Associates was recently hired by a client whose husband was in Los Angeles, at a bachelor party. He was riding a scooter with his friends, and tragically, he fell off the scooter and died, due to his injuries. The argument that we’re pursuing is what we call in the product liability world “a failure to warn.” There is a lack of proper education regarding these scooters and the app itself.
Is it right to allow anyone age 18 or older to instantly sign up for a scooter and ride through our streets — with very little oversight or education?
Would it not be wise to regulate electric scooters like motorcycles? To be able obtain a motorcycle license, a rider must pass a certified motorcycle safety course, which involves written and riding evaluations.
Without proper education on how to ride a motorcycle, it would be very dangerous to jump on a motorcycle and go tearing down the street. Yet, that’s what we are seeing with electric scooters.
Municipalities Are Finally Pushing Back
Fortunately, cities are starting to regulate scooter usage, tightening rules on where scooters can be staged. Some municipalities have banned scooters outright, arguing that they are looking out for the safety of their citizens. Citing stricter regulations, Lime has ceased operations in Arizona entirely. Yet, this may have more to do with Lime’s internal financial difficulties, as a company.
At the same time, we are witnessing larger-scale and more productive conversations about scooter safety. For example, Scottsdale, Arizona recently completed a year-long study, inviting public comment. City officials really tried to understand whether scooters are good fit for the city, and what kinds of regulations should be put in place. We will see more of these studies as more scooter brands enter the marketplace.
Cities are still trying to get a grasp of how to manage scooters. Each city seems to have its own set of rules, from loose oversight to complete prohibition. A patchwork of laws is the result.
A Need for Public Education on the Dangers of Scooters
The severity of injuries that people are experiencing in scooter accidents is staggering and frightening. People are suffering horrific injuries — ones that can affect people for the rest of their lives.
Practically every scooter-related call that we receive at Negretti & Associates involves a broken bone. No one is calling us with minor injuries from falling off their scooters.
In January 2019, The Arizona Republic published a story talking about the number of scooter accident cases that happen in Tempe, Arizona — around Arizona State University — where scooters are very popular. The article referenced how a member of a nearby hospital’s ER staff created a “days without injury” sign regarding scooter accidents. The sign read zero. It had been zero days without injury for approximately 100 consecutive days.
Ultimately, the problem is that scooter companies are putting their scooters out there, and essentially telling their users “good luck.” Anyone over the age of 18 is given free rein to ride them. No license or permit is required.
If people were educated on how to properly ride scooters — especially how to remain vigilant and agile, to anticipate accidents and avoid injury — and be required by law to wear helmets, there would be far fewer scooter accidents.
We have warnings on cigarettes. We have seen TV commercials that show how people can be harmed by smoking over time. For scooters, we don’t have a commensurate video or public awareness campaign that publicizes the injuries that people have. If more people could see those injuries, more of us would think twice about riding scooters, and possibly not ride them altogether.