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City bike rental system, public kick scooters on the street

Sincerely Stefanie: Scooter Safety

As flocks of electric scooters pop up in cities across the country, scooter rental companies need to rethink the safety issues that come with their service.

On Saturday, Aug. 18, a pedestrian utilizing a rented electric scooter was struck and killed in Cleveland, Ohio. This is only one of many emerging incidents that has caused rental companies to pull scooters from busy city streets.
The service works as such: A scooter rental company plops down a handful of motorized scooters in a large city and expects responsible riders to operate the vehicles. However, the novelty of the service draws inexperienced riders and, coupled with limited bike lanes and distracted/impaired driving, this is an accident waiting to happen.

Rental company Bird provides instructions about where to use scooters, mainly:
• Care for pedestrians. No riding on sidewalks unless local law requires or permits — it endangers members of our community who want to walk freely. We’re all in this together, so let’s be good neighbors and look out for one another.
• Ride in bike lanes or close to the right curb.

Many people using the scooters disregard these instructions, choosing to ride on the sidewalk. This creates safety issues for pedestrians as well as the driver.
Bird also mentions that free helmets are available. However, they must be requested through the app and the user must pay shipping. The helmets take about a week to arrive, and unless the rider is willing to wait to use the scooter, this completely negates the purpose of having personal protective equipment available.

A safer solution would be to have a central location or attendant who would encourage or require helmet use and provide proper instructions. While the bottom line is important, rider safety should be a priority.

The company’s rules of the road say:

  • You must be 18+ years old with a valid driver’s license.
  • Bird is fun with friends, but only one rider per Bird is permitted.
  • Follow all traffic rules including street signs and stop signs.
  • Use caution at crosswalks.

While these seem like obvious precautions, rental companies are missing key safety issues by assuming riders are just going to stop and read these instructions before operating a scooter.

The city of Santa Monica, Calif., where Bird is headquartered, reminds riders about the state’s laws:

  • You can only ride if you have a valid driver’s license or instruction permit.
  • Wearing a helmet is required for all ages.
  • You must ride by yourself, and not with any passengers.
  • You must ride on the road, never on the sidewalk.
  • You may not park on the sidewalk in the way of pedestrian traffic.
  • You must not ride at night unless the motorized scooter is equipped with proper lighting equipment, including a front light source which is visible from the front and sides, and reflectors.

While Bird currently is valued at $2 billion, how much value are these emerging companies actually putting into safety? The company already pulled its scooters from some cities, citing permit issues.

If scooter rental companies cannot do the research to see how traffic patterns are affected or work with city officials to go through the proper steps, how do inexperienced riders know that these companies are putting safety first?

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