Are you a smartphone-enabled city slicker 18 years of age or older with a valid driver's license and credit card? Then congratulations, you're only one electronically-propelled step away from an unscheduled visit to the emergency room!
Seemingly overnight, flocks of Bird scooters have descended on dozens of US cities like something straight out of a Hitchcock movie. Reactions to the app-based Bird, along with other e-scooter brands like Lime and Spin, have been mixed. They've generally been well-received by residents, but community leaders have yet to figure out how best to regulate the new ride-sharing program slash sidewalk fixture.
While they spend time figuring that out, e-scooters continue expanding their two-wheeled footprint. At a dollar a ride plus 15 cents per minute, they've quickly become a popular means of transportation in and around downtown areas across the US. They've also quickly become a source of amusement for birdbrains that don't know the difference between playing with toys and playing in traffic.
So, it looks like it's once again time to rip open the closet and throw on the health and safety sweater. Using your classic Q&A format, let's run through the most important things you need to know about staying smart on scooters.
How big of an issue is scooter safety really?
Pretty big, man. We're not doctors, but Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital's chief of emergency medicine Chris Colwell is. According to Dr. Colwell, the number of major injuries on the streets has spiked markedly since the scooter invasion. Before, he and fellow medical personnel saw maybe one serious-to-traumatic injury a month from related vehicles like electric bikes, mopeds, Segways, and hoverboards. This figure has increased to as many as 10 per week in large cities.
In short, it's not the best time to throw caution to the wind when Birds are involved.
Do I need to wear a helmet when riding a scooter?
Well, if you're reading these in order, then we'd hope the answer is obvious (as would Dr. Colwell). The responsible answer is yes, you need a helmet. It doesn't matter that we've seen, roughly, zero riders using them to date while scooting their way from point A to point B. Scooter companies recommend a helmet, but mandating one is pretty unenforceable from their end (at least until they invent an app for that, too).
The stark truth is that your skull doesn't care whether you fell off a bike or a scooter. It's an equal opportunity shock absorber, so keep that securely in the back of your mind as you weigh your head protection options.
What kind of helmet do I need to wear?
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, bicycle helmets are adequate for powered vehicles traveling under 20mph. Today's shareable scooters don't reach speeds above 15mph on their own, so this falls in bike-helmet territory. If you need a hand picking out a good lid for your ride, we've got some spiffy scooter helmet recommendations here. Don't feel like shelling out for a new hat? Bird will send you one for free as long as you cover shipping.
That pile of excuses is starting to look a little light there, huh?
What else are scooter companies doing to make these things safer?
Frankly, there's only so much they can do, and they know it. So, focus from Bird and friends has been on user education. Each company's website offers a dedicated "Safety" section that runs through various topics from the rules of the road to where you should ride to what to wear. Their YouTube channels also feature instructional videos. Messages in the apps and on the scooters themselves remind people to follow traffic laws as well.
They're trying, folks, but you can only lead a horse to water.
What recourse do I have if I get into an accident?
Uhhh, none? Companies that are able to raise hundreds of millions in capital on their way to multi-billion-dollar valuations are really, really good at CYA legalese. When you sign up for a program like this, you're agreeing to fine print that basically says "This one's on me" if you faceplant. Not only do Bird, Lime, and Spin all shrug you off in this situation, but there's little to no chance your medical and/or car insurance will race to the rescue, either (as some unfortunate riders have discovered the hard way).
So, probably a good idea to look into this before hopping on a motorized 2x4 with a kickstand.
What does the law say about all this?
While one may think otherwise based on some of the hijinks we've seen, scooters are not granted highway immunity. Just like jaywalking or blowing a red light on a Brompton, you can be—and people have been—cited for not obeying traffic laws. Don't know what they are? Better find out, especially since policies for bikes and small powered vehicles can vary from state to state. What's the old adage, "Ignorance of the law is not an excuse?"
Whether that's it or not, it's true.
Can children ride shareable scooters?
Although shareables are relatively new, powered vehicles for tykes have been around for a while. Companies like Bird and Lime require users to be at least 18, and Spin allows kids from 13 to 17 to use theirs with signoff by parent or guardian. Until these thresholds, smaller scooters built specifically for kids—either electric or Flintstone-powered—are great ways to teach your little ones how to safely operate these types of wheels in a low-risk environment.
After all, nobody's advocating an immediate leap from cul-de-sac to rush hour.
What other great safety tips do you have for scooters?
Plenty. As Thomas Jefferson might put it, "When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to revisit the principles of common sense… well, then that's what we do."
- First-timer? At the risk of being laughed out of the room by millennials, how about reading the manual? Novel idea, right? Then, start slow using that info. Make sure you're comfortable with the brakes, turning, going over flat and bumpy terrain, etc. And always keep your head on a swivel, just like if you were on a bike or behind the wheel.
- Armor up. There's nothing between you and the pavement or oncoming traffic. Scooter companies recommend things like knee and elbow pads in addition to helmets in case of an accident or fall.
- If riding at night, consider a high-visibility jacket or some other reflective device, just as you would riding a bike or road jogging.
- Open-toed footwear isn't a good idea. Even worse is going barefoot because if you end up needing to use the ole heel brake, that could become painfully messy. If you're wearing anything with laces, make sure they're tied so they don't catch on the ground or in the wheels.
- Is it raining? Rain makes things wet. Wet things are slippery. Scooters and roads are not exempt from physics. Consider this as part of your pre-ride risk assessment.
- Speaking of, do a safety check before zipping off down the street. Are the tires flat? Is there exposed wiring? Is the frame damaged? Does the brake work? If the answer to any of these is "No" or "I don't know," then hit pause and rethink your commuter strategy that day.
- One at a time, people. Scooter companies make it very clear that their products are not built for two. Not only is there a weight limit, there's a balance and control issue, and you multiply the chances of an accident significantly by horsing around on these.
- Shareable electric scooters are not designed in any way, shape, or form for stunts. We can only hope that's all we need to say about that one.
We're not trying to be Debbie Downers. In fact, we're actually pretty happy-go-lucky folks here at Spokester. We just don't want anyone out there winning a Darwin Award by goofing around on an e-scooter. By following some simple guidelines and, quite frankly, using your head, you can minimize the chances of your day ending on a bad note courtesy of a giant carpenter's square on wheels. Bottom line, these things are meant to be fun, convenient, and environmentally-friendly alternatives to hoofing it or having to find parking. So just remember, a helmet a day keeps the hospital away!