Electric scooters have exploded in popularity in recent years as an eco-friendly, convenient way to zip around urban areas. These lightweight vehicles offer a fun alternative to cars and public transit for short trips. However, concerns have emerged about the safety of scooter riders and pedestrians around them. This in-depth review examines the pros and cons of electric scooters and their impacts.
Overview of Electric Scooters
Electric scooters are compact, battery-powered vehicles with two or three wheels and a vertical post with handlebars. Riders stand on a platform between the wheels and control speed using a throttle on the right handlebar. Many scooter companies now offer scooter sharing programs similar to bike shares. Riders can use an app to locate and unlock scooters parked on sidewalks in major cities.
Key advantages of electric scooters:
- Convenience: Easy to locate/unlock/ride with apps. No need to worry about parking. Great for short urban trips of 1-5 miles.
- Affordability: Scooter rides cost $1-2 plus per minute fees, cheaper than cabs or rideshares. Scooter shares offer monthly plans.
- Efficiency: Lightweight, electric scooters use minimal energy. Greener transportation than gas vehicles.
- Fun Factor: Scooters appeal to riders’ sense of adventure and freedom. More exciting than walking or public transit.
Popular scooter models like those from Bird, Lime, and Spin have maximum speeds around 15mph and battery ranges of 15-40 miles. Most scooter companies restrict riders to bike lanes and roads with speed limits below 35 mph.
The Rise of Electric Scooters
The recent electric scooter phenomenon traces back to fall 2017 when Bird launched the first major scooter share in Santa Monica, CA. Usage exploded as Bird and competitors put thousands of scooters on streets in major US cities.
By 2018, 38.5 million trips were taken on shared scooters in the US per the National Association of Transportation Officials (NACTO). In 2020, scooter shares operated in over 100 US cities. Global scooter revenues could hit $41 billion by 2030 according to one projection.
Key factors driving electric scooter growth:
- Urbanization: Scooters are ideal for crowded cities with congested roads and limited parking.
- Short Trips: Average trip is 1-2 miles – perfect for scooters.
- Last Mile Needs: Scooters fill gaps between public transit stops and final destinations.
- Traffic Frustration: Scooters bypass auto congestion and parking headaches.
- Environmental Benefits: E-scooters have minimal carbon footprint compared to gasoline vehicles.
On the downside, some cities have pushed back on the sudden influx of scooters on sidewalks and streets. Issues like illegal sidewalk riding, improper parking blocking pedestrian rights of way, and injuries remain challenges.
Scooter Safety Statistics and Issues
Are electric scooters safe? Or are they an injury risk for both riders and pedestrians? Safety is one of the most pressing issues surrounding scooter shares. Here are some key statistics and insights on scooter safety:
- Low Helmet Use: Less than 5% of injured scooter riders wore helmets per a CDC study. Scooter shares do not provide helmets.
- Sidewalk vs Street Riding: Roughly one third of riders report illegal sidewalk riding per a Portland State University survey. Scooter companies instruct riding on streets.
- Number of Injuries: ER visits for scooter injuries surged from 7,700 in 2014 to 15,500 in 2018 per the CDC. Head injuries are most common.
- Injuries per Trip: One study found only 0.003 injuries per e-scooter trip compared to 0.014 for bike shares. Scooters appear moderately safer than bikes.
- Common Causes of Injuries: CDC research identified the leading causes of injuries as lack of helmets, motor vehicle conflicts, pavement conditions, alcohol impairment, and speeding.
- Pedestrian Conflicts: E-scooters moving at 15+ mph can startle pedestrians on sidewalks creating tripping hazards and collisions.
The data indicates electric scooters do carry moderate individual safety risks comparable to bicycling. However, the overall risk at the population level remains very small compared to the risks from driving or riding in cars.
Scooter Rider Safety Tips
Riders can take several precautions to maximize safety on electric scooters:
Wear a helmet – Always use an approved bike or scooter helmet. Helmets dramatically reduce the risk of head injuries in any fall. Look for CPSC certification.
Stay sober – Never ride impaired under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Balance and reaction times are critical.
Limit speed based on conditions – Slow way down from max speed on bumpy roads, in crowds, or at night. Allow longer stopping distance.
Watch for pavement issues – Avoid potholes, cracks, slippery surfaces, train tracks and other road hazards.
Be hyper aware of cars – Assume cars do not see you. Ride defensively watching all sides. Avoid blind spots.
Use caution at intersections – Cross cautiously at stop signs and lights. Make eye contact with drivers. Hop off and walk scooter if needed.
Lights at night – Ensure adequate front and rear lighting after dark. Wear reflective and bright clothing.
Limit distractions – Avoid using phones, headphones or other distractions while riding. Focus on safe operation.
Stay in bike lanes whenever possible – Avoid riding on sidewalks unless permitted. Otherwise stick to roads with lower speed limits.
Advantages of Electric Scooters
Despite some safety considerations, electric scooters offer cities and riders a number of compelling benefits:
Traffic, Congestion, and Carbon Reduction
- Scooters take cars off the road. Each scooter can remove up to 4 car trips per day.
- Congestion drops. Scooters use less space per rider than large cars.
- Carbon emissions decrease with very low electric scooter footprints.
Affordability and Transportation Equity
- Scooters provide a low-cost mobility option to those without cars.
- Shared scooters have helped bridge transportation gaps in underserved neighborhoods.
- Monthly ride plans and discounts make scooters affordable for daily commuting.
- E-scooters generate business for companies hiring local workers to deploy, maintain, charge, and repair them.
- Riders spend more money at local businesses according to surveys. Scooters have a positive economic impact.
Mobility and Convenience
- Scooters are ideal for short urban trips, providing efficient mobility.
- Scooter shares eliminate parking headaches and make rides easy to access.
- Scooters can help solve first and last mile public transit connection challenges.
- Many riders cite fun, enjoyment and adventure as prime motivators.
- Scooters provide excitement and freedom especially for younger generations.
On balance, electric scooters appear to offer cities significantly more benefits than drawbacks. Their rapid adoption speaks to their utility and convenience as an emerging transportation option.
Recommendations for Cities
Cities aiming to integrate scooter shares successfully should consider these recommendations:
- Infrastructure Upgrades: Expand bike lanes and install parking corrals to encourage proper riding and parking behavior. Enhance road quality in scooter trouble areas.
- Regulations: Implement rental caps, speed limits, designated riding and parking zones, and penalties for misuse to maximize responsible scooter behavior.
- Education: Sponsor safety briefings, social media alerts, and signage to convey safe riding and scooter etiquette.
- Collaboration: Work cooperatively with scooter companies around data sharing, fees, deployment, and public awareness. Maintain open communication.
- Evaluation: Continuously monitor scooter impacts and make data-driven policy adjustments to optimize safety and effectiveness over time.
The Future of Electric Scooters
Electric scooters have quickly gone from novelty to mainstream transportation option in cities worldwide. Further innovation and adoption are likely in the years ahead:
- Improved Models: Scooter makers will continue enhancing durability, battery life, suspension, brakes, lights and component quality. Future scooters will be safer and more robust.
- Expanded Access: Scooter shares will spread to suburbs, college campuses, corporate sites and other locales beyond downtowns. More residents will have access.
- Advancing Technology: Features like self-diagnostic capabilities, GPS tracking, and velocity governors for sidewalk riding areas could improve safety and operations.
- Integration with Transit: Scooter companies and transit agencies will collaborate more to mesh scooter-bus-rail networks enabling more seamless multi-modal journeys.
- Regulatory Alignment: As scooters become established, regulations will stabilize and synchronize across regions to facilitate orderly usage and growth.
- Sidewalk Compromises: Pressure may prompt relaxation of sidewalk riding bans in some low pedestrian traffic areas to reduce conflicts with vehicles. This remains controversial.
Electric scooters have proven their worth as an eco-friendly, convenient new mobility choice in cities. With smart regulations and infrastructure improvements, scooter shares can continue enhancing urban transportation while keeping riders and pedestrians safe.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Are electric scooters legal?
Electric scooters are street legal in most US states, subject to certain regulations. Many states classify them as bicycles or mopeds. Scooter legality varies internationally. Always check local laws.
Where can you ride electric scooters?
Most cities require riding in bike lanes when available and otherwise on streets with lower speed limits. Sidewalk riding is typically illegal except in designated areas. Laws vary in every jurisdiction regarding scooter operation.
Do you need a license to use an electric scooter?
No license is required to ride electric scooters in most places. Shared scooters just need an app to unlock. Privately owned scooters may require registration in some locales. Helmet laws may also apply.
How safe are electric scooters compared to cars?
Per mile traveled, scooters have a lower injury rate than cars. One study calculated e-scooters have 1/74 the risk of automobiles. Their smaller size and lower speeds contribute to better safety.
Are electric scooters allowed on public transit?
Policies vary by transit agency, but many buses and trains allow folded e-scooters provided they don’t block aisles. Standing with scooters is often required. Operators restrict hazardous materials like batteries and fuels.
How sustainable are shared electric scooters?
E-scooter carbon emissions per passenger mile are over 70% lower than for an average car. Their production impacts are still an issue. Well utilized shared scooters realize much greater efficiency than personal vehicles.
Electric scooters offer an exhilarating, eco-friendly transportation option that can significantly enhance urban mobility when approached judiciously. With smart regulations and infrastructure supporting safety, scooters are an exciting development that can help communities reduce congestion and carbon impacts. While challenges remain, electric scooters have proven they are far more than a passing fad.