Accidents Waiting to Happen: Shared Bikes and Scooters

blue bicycles for rentIt has been a summer of sharing – bikes and scooters, that is.

Nine hundred shiny, red Jump Bikes with electric motors are zipping around the streets of downtown Sacramento, West Sacramento, and Davis. South Lake Tahoe has an army of bright green LimeBikes and now 250 e-scooters furnished by the same company. Reno-Sparks, Nevada also recently welcomed 1,000 LimeBikes.

About 80 U.S. cities now have rental e-scooters or e-bikes, and local governments are scrambling to classify and regulate them appropriately. Companies have entered markets by simply dropping hundreds of motorized scooters and bikes in targeted areas, then negotiating with city councils later, explaining it is easier to ask forgiveness later than to get permission in advance.

The popular pay-as-you-go motorized vehicles travel at up to 15 miles per hour (mph) and can be unlocked for a nominal fee (around $1) with a smartphone app and used for just a few cents per minute.

When logging into the rental apps, they do recommend wearing a helmet, but riders usually choose not to. Helmets are not provided with the rentals. Riders of shared scooters and bikes claim that it’s not convenient to carry helmets around between rides.

Current California vehicle code does not require motorized scooters or bikes to be registered, licensed or insured.

Benefits of Shared Bikes and Scooters

Shared bikes and scooters have significant public appeal and potential community benefits.

  • E-bikes and e-scooters are fun, cheap, and convenient ways to travel short distances in urban areas.
  • They promote an active, healthier lifestyle.
  • Easy-to-access rentals encourage more bike and scooter riders, which push cities to create safer bike lanes and more routes.
  • Scooter and bike sharing can reduce short-trip car use, reducing emissions, traffic congestion and parking demands.
  • Bike and scooter sharing increases spending and economic activity at nearby retailers.

New Legislation: AB 2989

On September 19, Governor Brown approved AB 2989, which loosened requirements for operating electric scooters to be more competitive with electric bicycles. The law will take effect on January 1, 2019.

Scooter operators must still have a valid driver’s permit or license, but, when the law takes effect, adults will no longer be required to wear a helmet.  Local authorities will also have the discretion to allow riders to use these scooters on highways with speed limits up to 35 mph as well as higher speed-limit roads when the scooter is operated within a Class IV bikeway.  Despite being allowed on these higher speed-limit roads, riders will still only be able to travel at a maximum of 15 mph even after the law takes effect.

Passengers in addition to the operator are not permitted. The scooters are not to be ridden on sidewalks or left in positions that obstruct an adequate path for pedestrian traffic.

Bird, one of three companies who own and rent scooters in San Francisco, lobbied for the bill. The company is the industry’s biggest player with a value estimated at $2 billion. Other scooter share providers in California include Lime and Spin.

Rental e-scooters have not yet made it to Sacramento, but Bird and other companies are actively working with city officials to bring them to the local market. There is an ordinance in place that requires the installation of 1.5 racks for every rental scooter or bike introduced in Sacramento.

Risks of Shared Bikes and Scooters

While electric scooters and bikes may be a valid contribution to transportation solutions, they present safety hazards when used carelessly. Potential for serious injury is astoundingly high, with unprecedented legal ramifications. 

  • Bicycles and scooters are being ridden in pedestrian areas recklessly and at high speeds.
  • Improperly parked bikes and scooters block streets, sidewalks and pedestrian routes, cluttering walkways for pedestrians and creating tripping hazards.
  • Slow-speed scooters and bikes are operating on the same roadways as fast-moving cars – a recipe for disaster.
  • Rental vehicles do not come with helmets, and users are reluctant to wear protective gear.
  • While 15 mph isn’t comparatively fast for a car, an impact at that speed on a scooter or bike can result in significant injuries.
  • Traveling on a bike or scooter at 15 mph leaves little reaction time if a pedestrian or car cuts in front of the rider.
  • Users frequently break the law, including underage riders, riding on sidewalks, allowing additional passengers, not obeying traffic laws, and operating vehicles under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Potential Injuries

While technology can be fun and benefit transportation advancement, it is imperative to remember that human lives are at stake.

Many scooter and bike rental users have been riding without helmets, even before AB 2989 was introduced.

Bird claims to encourage riders to wear helmets and says it has given away 40,000 helmets in 2018. Spin explains that it is “sensible” to allow e-scooter users to ride without a helmet, even on streets with higher speed limits, acknowledging that the majority of riders disregard safety guidance.

The bill referenced a study of 6,000 bike-related injuries that found riders wearing helmets had a 52-percent lower risk of brain injury and a 44-percent lower risk of death.

There is little information yet on the safety issues involved with motorized scooters. A team of San Francisco trauma specialists are working to track injuries that result from e-scooters and other newer personal transportation options, such as hoverboards, electric unicycles, and Segways.

Multple serious scooter injuries requiring long-term treatment have already been reported in Santa Monica, where Bird first introduced its scooters. The city sued Bird last year, but the scooters returned to the Santa Monica’s streets after the company paid more than $300,000 in fines.

On June 12, an 18-year-old female crashed while riding a Lime e-scooter on Emerald Bay Road, according to the California Highway Patrol (CHP). She suffered moderate injuries and was arrested for driving under the influence.

On September 20, a Texas man reportedly died after falling off a Lime scooter while not wearing a helmet.

Who is Liable in a Shared Scooter or Bike Accident?

If you are in an accident involving a shared scooter or bike, who is liable for your damages? The answer may not be simple. 

  • Rental user agreements agreed to when downloading the app typically release the rental provider from responsibility for either injuries to a scooter rider or injuries the scooter rider causes.
  • Standard automoble insurance plans may not cover accidents involving recreational vehicles, such as shared bikes or scooters and may even have specific exclusions for vehicles “having fewer than four wheels.” Uninsured motorist policies also may not cover these types of accidents.
  • There is no requirement for the rider of a shared scooter or bike to have liability insurance, like with a car.

If you suffer injuries from a collision with a shared scooter or bike, it is important to consult an experienced lawyer as soon as possible. Prompt accident investigation and review and analysis of insurance policies are essential.

Call the Arnold Law Firm at (916) 777-7777 for a free, no-obligation evaluation of your case.