The 1970s and 80s predicted hoverboards as the personal transportation vehicle of choice, but so far transportation technology hasn’t been able to escape the wheel. However, a new flashy futuristic form of transportation has taken over the streets and sidewalks for that matter of just about every major city in America: the e-scooter. You’ve seen them in TV Commercials, you've seen them on the streets, in the bike lanes, on the sidewalks, and in just about every urban area in the US, but perhaps you haven’t been seeing them as much as you used to. Electric scooter companies blindsided the market and caught on like wildfire, oftentimes far too quickly for city officials to have the proper infrastructure to accommodate them, and now some cities are stopping the services altogether.
It's no secret why these scooters have taken over: they're fast, they’re sleek, and they always seem to be there when you need one. Why walk for twenty minutes when a scooter can get you there in five? But what has followed in the wake of this scooter takeover has been nothing short of chaos. Riders flying down sidewalks, using the scooters underage, and some cities have even seen multiple riders on the same scooter. And while that's both frustrating and dangerous enough as it is, much more dangerous behavior is being exhibited as well. Riders disobeying traffic laws, going the wrong way on one-way streets, and most importantly: nearly every person using these scooters is riding without a helmet.
These safety concerns have caused cities and countries around the world to take drastic measures in order to gain some control over what's going on. France and the UK implemented one-year bans on rideshare scooter services as well as Singapore, which enacted a trial ban on e-scooters after 6 riders died in one year. Here in the US, several cities have taken similar measures.
Both Miami and LA have had serious issues with scooter-sharing services, and as a result have had to take unfortunate steps to mitigate the damage they are causing. In January of this year, Miami suspended the operating licenses of five of the seven scooter-sharing services available in the city. Bird, Bolt, Lime, Lyft, and Wheels all had their licenses suspended on account of services not requiring helmets, underage riders using the scooters, and multiple riders using a scooter at once. These companies will get their licenses back once the proper safety measurements have been met.
In Los Angeles, several areas-including Beverly Hills-have implemented temporary six-month bans on scooter-sharing services. They cite a lack of advanced planning and public safety issues that need to be addressed. Many residents have been upset with the lack of docking stations, as well as the lack of helmets.
Though many residents are happy that governments are taking a closer look at safety precautions, some people find the bans to be extreme. Govtech.com writes, “Rather than creating new rules unsupported by any evidence, a better approach is to establish a regulatory sandbox for e-scooters…the idea of a regulatory sandbox is to create a testing ground for businesses to experiment with new technologies…where existing regulations may be inappropriate or incomplete.” While it's not unreasonable to be hesitant about these bans, it is unreasonable to say there is no evidence to support these claims. Each of these aforementioned bans was implemented as a result of an uptick in accidents and poor safety guidelines that were well documented. It’s also important to mention that each of these bans is only temporary.
So should e-scooters be banned forever? Absolutely not. They provide a fun, easy way to get around that also reduces the number of cars on the road and the amount of fossil fuel being used. However, for scooter-sharing services to work, there need to be some serious safety considerations put into place. There need to be designated docking stations, so they can’t be left in inconvenient places for businesses and pedestrians. There need to be strict rules on where people are allowed to ride them and where they are not (i.e. on the street and in bike lanes, and not on sidewalks). And most importantly, helmet protection needs to be the biggest priority.
The current CPSC helmets don’t offer enough protection for these faster electric vehicles. CPSC standards only offer protection up to 15 mph, but these new electric vehicles can go much faster than that. Europe has begun to adopt the Dutch NTA 8776 standard, a standard set for electric vehicles that can protect up to about 30 mph.
However, it's not even really worth addressing the safety rating of helmets until riders start wearing them in the first place. Helmet use for personal vehicles such as bicycles, skateboards, scooters, and mopeds is already lower than it should be. Some data shows that only about 40% of these riders regularly wear helmets. That number is already concerning, but it's impossible to ignore the fact that virtually none of the rideshare e-scooter riders are wearing helmets at all. Is it because people who ride scooters are simply against helmets? Of course not. The problem is that these scooters are often used to get from point a to point b without intending to use the scooter again. A great aspect of using one of these scooters rather than your own bike is that when you get to your destination, you can leave it behind and not worry about it anymore. So if you can leave your scooter behind, why would you want to carry a helmet with you? If you are taking a scooter to meet a friend at a bar, why would you want to bring the helmet inside and carry it around?
Riders aren’t skipping helmets because it is inconvenient for them to wear them, they’re skipping them because it is inconvenient to bring them along. In order for this to change, scooter companies need to find a way to provide helmets for their riders. NYC has a moped sharing service called revel that has a small trunk on the back with a revel brand helmet inside. Riders can use the helmet while they ride and leave it with the vehicle so that it is available for the next rider to use. Some bike sharing services have attached helmets to their bikes via cable locks, but only in certain areas where helmets are required.
When it comes to scooters, it is a little trickier. There is nowhere to attach a trunk for a helmet, but the need is still there. Some companies have experimented with foldable helmets that can be stored in small boxes on the handlebar of the scooter. These are likely the most efficient option but they haven't taken off yet. One thing is for certain, scooter companies can’t expect to keep their licenses if their riders are not using helmets, and they can't expect their riders to wear helmets if they do not provide them.