Whether you view them as a major convenience or a huge nuisance, there’s no denying that electric scooters are reshaping the landscape of Austin’s urban roadways. As of this writing, the Austin Transportation Department had recorded just over 300,000 dockless scooter trips since it started tracking their use, with almost 11,000 active vehicles currently in use.
All those new vehicles on the roads — and sidewalks — are bound to elicit some havoc. Scooter proponents say they’re a fun, convenient way to get around town and ease traffic. Opponents, on the other hand, worry that scooters are cluttering sidewalks and blocking walkways for disabled users. Others voice concerns about vehicles parked illegally and worry about too many scooters on the road.
However, perhaps no issue is more pressing than that of our city’s safety. Because dockless scooters are so new to Austin, the rules for their operation are not always clear, both to riders and nearby pedestrians and drivers. The victim toll from these scooters is mounting. That was made clear this month when a UT student riding a scooter was killed following a collision with a Volkswagen Jetta—Austin’s first documented scooter fatality. That tragedy has had many authorities wondering what the city can do to prevent scooter injuries and deaths.
Here’s what you need to know about scooter safety, and how we can make scooter use safer for everyone on the road.
Investigating the Scooter Safety Issue
Between May 7 and September 6, 2018, Austin-Travis EMS responded to around 28 scooter crashes, which works out to about 1.5 accidents a week. That’s significantly fewer than the number of car accidents in the same period. However, EMS numbers only tell part of the story. Many scooter riders may drive themselves to the hospital following an accident or treat their injuries themselves at home, so a concrete accident rate is hard to pin down.
Area doctors say they’ve seen a decided uptick in patients coming in for scooter-related injuries. Dell Seton Trauma Surgeon Jayson Aydelotte told Fox 7 Austin that she sees at least one scooter rider in the ICU every week. Besides February’s fatality, there have been two critical scooter accidents in the city since the first scooters hit Austin roads. The first, which occurred on in August, left an area woman in critical condition after she hit the curb on South Congress while riding an electric scooter. In December, another man was taken to the emergency room with life-threatening injuries after a scooter accident, although the precise cause of the collision is not known.
This month, Austin joined Washington, DC, and Dallas, in a list of urban areas where scooter riders have died from injuries sustained during an accident. Experts say that scooters may be even more dangerous than motorcycles and bikes, because cyclists tend to wear proper clothing and equipment, like helmets, while they ride. Electric scooters, on the other hand, highlight convenience and the fun of riding as their key benefits. Rides are more likely to be unplanned, with operators hopping on without proper safety gear, footwear, or clothing. Further, their prevalence in areas dense with bars and restaurants increases the likelihood of riders using scooters while intoxicated.
However, the city of Austin launched Dockless Mobility Services as an attempt to ease congestion on busy streets, and given the popularity of scooter services like Lime and Bird, there may be no going back to pre-scooter days. Given those facts, what can be done to improve the safety of our city’s streets?
- Research the extent of the problem. The CDC has commissioned a breakthrough study to evaluate scooter accidents in Austin. The Austin City Council is expected to use the results of that study to write new laws around scooter use in the city — a major step in the right direction.
- Educate scooter riders and drivers. Many scooter riders don’t understand where they’re allowed to ride and which areas are designated for scooting parking. Currently, scooters are allowed on certain sidewalks; however, many downtown walkways are closed to bikes and scooters. Scooter riders are also required to yield to pedestrians on sidewalks, which many drivers may not realize. The city and scooter providers must do a better job educating riders on these laws.
- Enforce helmet requirements. Scooter providers like Lime and Bird do require users to wear helmets, but there are currently no official scooter helmet laws in place in the City of Austin, as there are for bicyclists. Wearing a helmet on a bicycle has been shown to decrease the risk of serious head injury by almost 70 percent. Enacting commonsense helmet laws could certainly reduce the severity of scooter-related injuries in many cases.
- Limit speeds and use on sidewalks. Electric scooters can go up to 15 miles per hour, but those speeds may be too fast for congested sidewalks. Some lawmakers are considering limiting speeds in these areas to improve safety for scooter riders, cyclists, and pedestrians.
- Take action. The City of Austin encourages residents to report scooter misuse. Anyone who sees improperly parked or toppled over scooters are asked to call 311, after righting the vehicle and moving it out of the way of motorists and pedestrians.
Regardless of where you fall in the scooter debate, if you’ve been involved in a crash, our personal injury experts at FVF Law can help. Contact us today for guidance on Austin’s scooter and motor vehicle laws and to get expert legal advice for your scooter accident case.