Riders are raving about how convenient, fun and inexpensive they are. With the ability to drop them off anywhere and the shear enjoyment of a warm breeze blowing across your face on your way to work, riders are really excited about them.
They are indeed a wonderful way to get around in crowded urban centers. And the urge to jump on one can be overwhelming.
However, they come with serious risks and dangers that you should be aware of before jumping on and scooting off into the sunset.
Cities have moved to take a range of actions against them, from outright outlawing them, to regulating and putting serious restrictions on them. Restrictions range from the total number of scooters allowed to regulations controlling where they must be dropped off.
Many of the regulations focus on pedestrian safety, the safety of those who might get hit by a scooter rider. But few regulations have focused on the safety of the riders themselves.
The Scooter Safety Record
There have been hundreds of scooter accidents reported from around the country in just a little over a year since they were first released. And there have been some deadly accidents as well. In fact, riders are six times more likely to die on a shared scooter than on a shared bike.
Just in the last month, three scooter riders have been killed. Carlos Sanchez-Martin, 20, was hit and run over by an SUV driver as he rolled around on a Lime scooter in Washington, DC. in September. His death came on the heels of a September 3rd death of 24-year-old Lime rider, Jacoby Stoneking in Dallas. And on August 19th, 21-year-old Jessica Summers was killed while riding on a private e-scooter.
Many Accidents are Related to Mechanical Failures
Most disturbingly, many of these accidents are related to mechanical failures. And maintenance is something the scooter companies like Lime and Bird have direct control over.
In a Washington Post report, “Some former mechanics and riders say a core problem is that the companies are doing a poor job of maintaining the scooters.”
The Post reports that Fahin Kamrany, a former Bird mechanic in Santa Monica, plans to sue the company because he says they pressure their mechanics to repair at least three scooters a night and are threatened with job termination if they fail to comply. However, there are times, according to Kamrany, when it’s impossible to complete a repair because spare parts that are needed from China are in short supply.
The 57-year-old Ms. Kamrany was responsible for performing required diagnostic tests of the scooters she was supposed to repair. During one such test, she fell off a scooter because it had defective brakes. She sustained a serious head injury, “a broken clavicle and $15,000 worth of medical bills.”
She told The Post that she, “encountered many scooters that had bad brakes or a sticky accelerator. If you pressed the accelerator, it would become stuck in that position, and you’d be unable to stop the scooter from racing forward at full speed.”
And in fact, those sticky accelerators have been the cause of several recent serious accidents around the country.
It’s the nightmare scenario. Like a scene from one of those 1950s movies that show a car traveling down a winding mountain road when suddenly its brakes fail. When you’re on a scooter and the accelerator gets stuck in the full-power position, it’s every bit as dangerous for the rider as the car hurling down the mountain road with no brakes.
Imagine weaving in and out of dense urban traffic and your accelerator is stuck on full power, propelling you along at 15 miles per hour! From the rider’s standpoint, it’s too fast to jump off, so they’ll try to fix the problem before they hit something. But since these are rented scooters that most riders aren’t too terribly familiar with, they may not even realize that the problem is a stuck accelerator. Panic sets in and it’s just a matter of time before they hit something or something hits them.
And when that happens, a rider without a helmet is in serious danger. Many of these passengers have ended up in the hospital with very serious injuries. And more than a few haven’t survived.
One online commenter who lives in Key West, said scooters have been a very popular mode of transportation there for decades. He said they are known among locals as accidents waiting to happen.
This August in Los Angeles, 47-year-old John Montgomery’s scooter ride home from work quickly turned into a nightmare. He flew off the scooter at full speed – 15 miles per hour. “It launched me in the air and I landed on the sidewalk on my face and my wrists”, Montgomery related to TMJ4. He ended up in the hospital with a broken jaw, fractured wrists and permanent damage to his hearing.
Dr. Sam Torbati of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center who treated Montgomery said, “We’re seeing head injuries, we’re seeing facial injuries, we’re seeing patients who injure their shoulders, their wrists…” But one thing we’re not seeing much of is riders wearing helmets.
Bird Pushes for No-Helmet Legislation
Kamrany, the former Bird mechanic told The Post, “if you lose control and get ejected into the air at 15 miles per hour and land on your head in the street, that’s enough force to kill you – and almost nobody on these scooters is wearing a helmet.”
So, you would think the scooter companies would be doing everything in their power to get all their riders into helmets. In fact, helmets are just the start. People riding scooters in urban traffic should really wear elbow and knee pads along with helmets to be as protected as possible. And since there are so many wrist injuries, wrist guards should be a must as well.
Of course people just want to take these for a quick skip, jump and hop across town. They don’t want to spend more time gearing up for the ride than the ride itself is going to take. That’s surely understandable. However, if they were made aware of the dangers and the high likelihood of an accident relative to other modes of transportation, they might think twice before riding unprotected.
You would think Bird, Lime and the other scooter companies would make safety Priority #1. It surely will not be good for business if news stories constantly come out showing their customers having very serious accidents.
But for now, the companies seem to be paying more lip service to safety than actually doing something substantial to help their customers ride safely.
While publicly, Bird offers free helmets to its riders, behind the scenes they’re putting impossible conditions on their mechanics that incentivizes their mechanics do a less than perfect job.
It’s not hard to imagine mechanics in this situation, simply marking an unfixable scooter as good to go so they can meet their quota and keep their job. Bird should know that putting a requirement like that on them would adversely affect safety.
Publicly Bird talks a good game when it comes to safety but behind the scenes they supported legislation in California during the summer that would remove all requirements for adult riders of stand-up scooters to wear helmets.
Streetsblog said that, “According to various sources, the dockless e-scooter companies were concerned that a helmet requirement would kill their business.” And in fact Bird was the sponsor of the bill that has now passed and makes it completely legal for adults to ride scooters without helmets.
Dozens of Injuries Reported to California Law Firms
In just the last six months, dozens of injuries from the Santa Monica and Los Angeles areas alone have been reported to personal injury law firms across California.
One such firm, McGee Lerer, has posted stories and photos of scooter accidents that have occurred, over the summer of 2018. It’s very difficult to read through this page and look at the photos. It’s something you never want to see.
But we need to be aware of just how dangerous these things can be. Several of the stories reported by McGee Lerer involve stuck accelerators where the scooters took off at full speed and there was no way to stop them. Other stories speak of brake failures that made it impossible to stop the scooters in time. These types of accidents speak directly to the poor quality of maintenance they are given by the companies that rent them. And in the case of Santa Monica and Los Angeles, Bird and Lime are the primary scooter companies whose scooters have been involved in these accidents.
And some of the injuries were sustained by innocent bystanders who were hit by scooters.
It’s amazing to see how many serious accidents occurred in just a few short months over the summer in just one small California town – Santa Monica.
Before you take your first scooter ride we would strongly recommend that you make yourself aware of the dangers involved in scootering. We know it’s an amazing mode of transportation, but it really is far more dangerous than the companies promoting it want you to believe.