Almost overnight, it seemed like electric scooters are everywhere in Austin — on sidewalks, in bike lanes, and sometimes, much to residents’ chagrin, even abandoned in parking spots. Any change that sudden is bound to generate confusion, for both scooter users and motorists. To help clear things up, our experts at FVF Law compiled this list of safety regulations for electric scooter operators. Here’s what you need to know.
Scooters Are Allowed on Designated Sidewalks and Roads
Scooters are allowed to go anywhere bicycles can go, which includes on certain sidewalks and roads. That doesn’t mean that every sidewalk is fair game, however; many areas downtown are off-limits. A full list of banned routes is available from the city of Austin. Different rules may apply to sidewalks and pathways inside the University of Texas campus, since the university makes the regulations for those areas.
Scooters can also be operated in certain roadways and in bike lanes. They are not allowed on roads where the posted speed limit is over 35 miles per hour. The city asks riders to use designated bike lanes instead of sidewalks or roadways wherever possible.
Scooters Cannot Be Taken Outside of Designated Areas
Scooters should not be taken onto private property or into most public parks and trailways. That said, in December the city of Austin launched a pilot program that allows electric scooter use on four local trails: Johnson Creek Greenbelt Trail, Shoal Creek Greenbelt Trail, Northern Walnut Creek Trail, and Southern Walnut Creek Trail.
Otherwise, hike and bike trails are off-limits. Scooter riders should note that scooters are not allowed on some of the most popular urban trails, including the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail on Lady Bird Lake. Scooters are permitted on certain transportation bridges that intersect with the Butler trail, though, including the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge, the South First Street Bridge and the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge.
Riders Must Yield to Pedestrians
Like any other motorized vehicle, electric scooters must yield to pedestrians. Be sure to stay alert when riding on sidewalks, through crosswalks, or anywhere else where pedestrians may be present. Keep speeds low in these areas to give yourself ample braking time.
Riders Must Obey All Traffic Laws
Just like bicyclists, scooter riders must obey all traffic laws. That means stopping for lights and at stop signs, yielding to traffic when required, and of course, always giving pedestrians the right of way.
One Rider Per Scooter
Tandem riding is not allowed on electric scooters, so if you’re going somewhere as a group, everyone needs to rent his or her own unit. City officials say they will soon be handing out tickets to users who don’t follow this rule, so make sure not to double up.
Scooters Must Be Properly Parked
A misparked scooter can become a major hazard for surrounding motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. According to the city’s Emergency Rules for Deployment of Emerging Transportation Mobility Systems, a sort of code of ethics for scooter users and providers, scooter users are required to park on the sidewalk near the landscape/furniture zone of the sidewalk — in other words, on the curb side of the sidewalk. Riders must leave at least three feet of space in the walkway for pedestrians. Riders can also dock scooters in public bike racks or in geofenced areas designated by individual scooter providers.
Scooters cannot be parked in loading zones, on ramps or along sidewalk railings, at bus stops and public transit shelters (except at public bike racks therein), in the way of benches or pay stations, or in disabled parking zones or sidewalk cafes and patios.
Riders must leave parked scooters upright, not overturned or leaning against sign posts or other stationary items.
UT Austin has announced that it will be handing out fines to scooter companies for improperly docked scooters found on campus — and the companies are allowed to pass those fees on to users. So there may be direct financial consequences for riders who mispark. For improperly parked scooters outside of Austin, the city encourages residents to call 311 to report the abuse.
Riders Must Wear Helmets
There are no official helmet laws in place for electric scooter riders; however, scooter providers like Bird and Lime all have policies in place requiring helmets. Helmets are not included as part of your rental, though, so if you are planning to ride, you’ll need to bring your own.
If you’re an avid scooter user, you should know that all of these rules are subject to change. In November 2018, city officials announced that they are analyzing usage data and community feedback to create an updated set of rules for scooter use. Those regulations may affect allowable speeds, designated parking areas, and more, and they should be made public soon.
In the meantime, in addition to following all existing rules, it’s important that scooter users employ some commonsense safety practices to avoid accidents. That means testing your scooter — trying the brakes, practicing maneuvering — before taking to the streets. Riders should stay alert for other vehicles and pedestrians as well as avoid distractions, like talking on the phone or texting. Use safe speeds when turning, going around curves, or while riding downhill, in traffic, or on sidewalks.
Motorists, on the other hand, should stay extra alert for scooter users, especially downtown, around campus, and in other high-traffic areas.
Scooter accidents can have serious consequences, both for riders and drivers alike. If you’ve experienced an accident involving a scooter — or any vehicle — contact FVF to learn how our personal injury experts can help you with your case. We don’t make the rules, but we can make sure those who break them are held accountable.