The issue of electric scooter use on public sidewalks, roads, and park trails has become increasingly controversial since e-scooter providers landed in Austin last year. One of the thorniest sticking points has been around how to regulate scooter use to ensure the safety of others on the road and sidewalks.
In late May, the Austin City Council met to discuss several transportation issues throughout the city. Included among those items were proposals altering city ordinances for scooter use within city limits. By the end of the session, the council had approved six different alterations to the current rules for usage.
Previously, we wrote about the rules for scooter use in Austin. But as of May’s city council meeting, some of those regulations have been changed or discarded altogether, with several new ordinances approved in their place. Today, we revisit the city’s scooter laws to see what has changed.
Here’s a summary of the regulations passed this May:
- New rules for use on sidewalks. Scooter use is still allowed on all sidewalks, but the new amendment abandons previous regulations requiring riders to exit vehicles in “dismount zones” so as not to block pedestrian traffic.
- Cell phone use prohibited. In an important move in scooter safety, the city voted to prohibit cell phone use while riding. Hands-free use is allowed, however.
- Children must wear helmets. Another improvement to previous scooter laws imposes penalties on parents who let their children ride without helmets. Hopefully, this signals future revisions to helmet laws, eventually requiring helmets for all riders.
- Only one rider at a time. New regulations explicitly prohibit multiple riders traveling on a single vehicle.
- Penalties for improper parking. In another positive development, the council has officially stated that parking in public rights-of-way will be punished by a $20 ticket for first-time offenders, increasing to $40 for additional infractions.
- Council abandons speed limits. An unfortunate change that came out of the session is that the council has edited regulations that set speed limits for scooters. Riders are now merely required to use scooters in a “reasonable and prudent manner,” a vague phrase that leaves it up to police and users to determine what is “reasonable.”
In many ways, these changes represent two steps forward and one step back. While there is some notable positive movement toward more stringent safety regulations, removing docking restrictions and speed limits may introduce a great deal of risk into public spaces.
However, it’s highly likely that there will be more revisions to Austin scooter laws in the future. In May’s session, the council voted to postpone several items revolving around scooter use:
- Scooter use in public parks. The Austin Parks and Recreation Department has initiated a project allowing scooter use on certain park paths throughout the city. The project is being monitored and the APD’s recommendations should be presented to the council soon. However, some council members are asking to examine geofencing to keep scooters within certain areas as the city moves forward with rules for park use.
- Approving new scooter providers. Another proposal is not about scooter use directly, but about regulating the providers that are allowed to operate in the city. Some council members have suggested that new scooter companies be approved by the city council, rather than the Austin Department of Transportation. That suggestion was also tabled, as some at the meeting were worried that scooter providers might retaliate with political action.
Hopefully, the city council will continue to examine scooter regulations and how they impact other road and sidewalk users throughout the city — as well as scooter riders themselves. We continue to call on lawmakers to institute more strenuous safety regulations and stiffer penalties for breaking them in an effort to avoid accidents and protect riders, drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.
If you have been involved in an accident with a scooter rider, we are here to help. Contact our Austin personal injury lawyers for a free case consultation. We’ll help you understand how the rules for riding may impact your case, and explain your rights and options. Get in touch today for more information.