Dockless Electric Scooters
Information in this blog is from a whitepaper by Berkley Technology Underwriters.
“Personal transportation devices” is a collective name for means of taking people for relatively short distances at relatively slow speeds, for the “first mile/last mile” of a journey. They are primarily used in congested urban areas. The newest and probably most controversial of these devices is the electric scooter.
First introduced in Santa Monica, CA in September 2017, electric scooters are now in cities worldwide. By the end of 2018 over 85,000 e-scooters were available in the U.S. alone. According to the National Association of of City Transportation Officials, 38.5 million of 84 million trips by personal transportation devices were by e-scooters.
Supporters of e-scooters cite their accessibility, low cost of use, improved transportation options, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and less traffic congestion. Opponents are concerned about lack of regulation, parked scooters blocking pedestrians and wheelchairs, irresponsible users both while operating and parking, and most important riders creating danger both to pedestrians and themselves.
There is no national data on e-scooter related crashes. The largest study was published by Consumer Reports in February 2019. 110 hospitals in 47 U.S. cities reported over 1,500 injuries since 2017 ranging from cuts and bruises to fractures and major head injuries. A UCLA study of two California hospitals found head injuries and fractures accounted for 72% of all injuries. The same study found more injuries to electric scooter users than to bicyclists or pedestrians. There have been 12 fatalities, all but one from collisions with motor vehicles.
The incidence of head injuries is principally due to lack of helmet use (in one study, only 4-6% of riders used them). Unlike cyclists, the majority of scooter users do not plan their rides.(E-scooter riders might encourage helmet use if they were available for sale or rental at docking stations.)
Another concern is scooter condition and maintenance. The problems include manufacturing defects and rider abuse.
A Mineta Transportation Institute study found that regulations for personal transportation devices are often poorly defined, contradictory or absent. Existing infrastructure is not designed for, or able to accommodate, rules or riders. According to the Consumer Reports survey, 27% of riders are uncertain of traffic laws, and only 26% of them use bike lanes.
Insurance for users depends on whether scooters are used for business or personal trips. If use is work related, injuries during the work day would be covered by workers compensation while injury to third parties could be covered by the employer’s General Liability insurance. Injuries resulting from personal use would be covered by personal health or accident insurance. Coverage for injury to third parties is more problematic; automobile policies generally don’t cover two wheeled vehicles and homeowners or renters policies may also exclude them. Users should check their policies and if needed ask their agent or broker for extended coverage.
In view of these conditions, responsibility for safe use and operation of e-scooters falls mostly on the user (if employers know their employees are using e-scooters, they should set guidelines).Good practices include:
- Inspect scooters before operation, and report damaged scooters to the company.
- Unless permitted by local ordinance, do not ride on sidewalks. Use bike lanes where available.
- Wear a helmet.
- Obey traffic laws. In case of doubt, follow cyclist rules.
- Park in designated areas if available, never on private property. Do not block entrances, driveways or sidewalks.
One final thought: the safest personal transportation “device” is still the human foot.