It’s a reasonable question to ask. After all, it seems like the safer option. Can you, and should you, ride an electric scooter on the sidewalk? In many cases, the answer is no: you cannot. Story after story in electric scooter news over the past few years has focused on the danger electric scooters pose to pedestrians when they’re left lying on busy city sidewalks as clunky obstacles. But even worse are some injuries sustained by pedestrians who have been hit by scooter riders. This is why most cities in the U.S. and many around the world have made sidewalks off-limits to electric scooters.
The overwhelming majority of stories about sidewalk injuries focus on scooter share companies like Bird and Lime since, in most cases, the story is about complicated liability questions. Who is responsible when a pedestrian is injured: the owner of an electric scooter or the rider? When it comes to privately owned electric scooters like Unagi, the answer is pretty clear since owner and operator are typically the same person. Riders of privately-owned scooters assume their own liability. But they are also far more likely to be familiar with their vehicle’s operation and less likely to leave it lying in the middle of the sidewalk.
“Two issues have stymied the larger positive public image” of electric scooters, notes Elektrek: “injuries and sidewalk riding. And the two are often linked.” Elderly and disabled pedestrians are particularly at risk from scooters on the sidewalk, and they account for a large number of e-scooter injuries. Lime, Spin, and other operators have worked on solutions for determining when scooters are either being parked or ridden on the sidewalk, seeking to alert riders and share the data with local governments. Such technology may dissuade and prevent sidewalk misuse, however current efforts are expensive and are only deployed at the scale of early tests.
At present, it’s largely up to individual riders to obey local restrictions, watch out for pedestrians, and ride safely and defensively. However, the situation is not as simple as having scooter riders stay off of the sidewalk.
Many riders feel that it’s safer to ride on the sidewalk since they do not have to compete with cars. A person on a scooter may weigh an additional 20-40 pounds in case of collision, but a car will weigh 3,850 more pounds.
While there may be more opportunities for accidents on the sidewalk, injuries can be far more severe in road accidents, especially when roads are narrow, lack bike lanes, or have fast traffic. In fact, most scooter deaths that have occurred in the last three years during the rise of scooters, have been when a scooter rider has been struck by a car.
It’s also true that a large number of scooter accidents are due to lack of experience and failure to wear a helmet, two problems endemic to scooter sharing, which has a high number of first-time riders and makes helmet use impractical. Riders who personally own electric scooters instead of renting them have far more opportunity to practice riding safely and be sure to bring a helmet along.
A CDC study in Austin, TX found that one-third of all e-scooter accidents involved inexperienced, first-time riders. When e-scooter riders gain confidence by training on their scooter before they hit the road, follow all traffic laws, use hand signals to alert others of their intentions, and wear proper safety equipment, their chances of getting seriously injured diminish significantly. Because foot traffic is so unpredictable, riding on the sidewalk can increase those odds, and riders need to be aware of this and give pedestrians plenty of space. Experienced riders learn how to avoid obstacles and avoid becoming an obstacle themselves.
Many of these concerns do not even apply in areas with little to no sidewalk traffic and few infrastructural accommodations for smaller vehicles. In such cases, it may be necessary to ride on the sidewalk for at least a part of the trip, and may indeed be far safer to do so. Riders must use their own judgement, but should also know their local laws. The best way to find out whether your city has banned electric scooters from sidewalks is to check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles. Regulations around electric scooters have, in the past few years, been inconsistent and subject to change. However, in most large cities in the U.S., scooters are relegated to bike lanes and the right side of the road.
Some riders, who have a good understanding of regulation, may still feel it necessary to be on the sidewalk at certain times. In these cases, they can choose to walk alongside their scooter on the sidewalk without incurring a ticket or fine. Another path could be to simply reduce speed to a pace more comparable with walking--or when on a pavement that has great peripheral vision and is relatively empty, walk alongside their scooter when passing the occasional pedestrian. Ultimately, tricky regulatory grey matters require riders who are watching out for those around them--not only pedestrians, but also cars who could be caught off guard by their travel patterns.
Elsewhere in the world, the situation can be very different. Last year, for example, Calgary passed new electric scooter laws that prohibited scooters from roads and only allowed them on sidewalks, footpaths, and bike lanes, though riders can still be fined for blocking pedestrians. The reasoning behind this ordinance is that it supposedly keeps riders safer than they would be on the road. This discussion points to the bigger problem: the lack of infrastructure for alternative forms of transportation.
“City streets should be safe and convenient for all road users, regardless of their age, their abilities, or what mode of transportation they’re using,” says Consumer Reports’ manager of safety policy William Wallace. Ideally, this should be the case. But it’s often very different in real world scenarios. Electric scooters are here to stay, and cities will adapt to them over time. For now, riders should use their best judgment before taking to the sidewalk and always give pedestrians the right of way.
The 2022 Comprehensive Guide to Electric Scooter Laws
“Is my scooter legal?” is a question many are increasingly asking. The micromobility industry is one of the fastest-growing and most exciting in the world—with promises for...in addition to abundances of the basics of time and money savings. And with this pace of innovation comes a struggle for regulation to keep up.
Are electric scooters easy to ride?
It might be a little bit of a generalization, but for most people, electric scooters are very easy to ride. They’re lightweight, have a low center of gravity, and usually feature some form of suspension, making them comfortable and fun to ride.
How To Maximize Your Electric Scooters Battery Life
Whether your battery is brand new or has already exceeded 500 cycles, taking proper care of it will help you get the most out of your e-scooter. So let's dive in.
The Comprehensive Guide to Electric Scooter Laws
*Disclaimer: Unagi, INC. has used best efforts, but does not in any manner guarantee the accuracy of the below findings regarding electric scooter laws in the United States or internationally. Electric scooter riders or those considering to purchase or begin…
The True Environmental Impact of Electric Scooters
It’s beyond question that we must drastically reduce carbon emissions in the coming years to head off the worst effects of climate change. How we do that has been a matter of considerably drawn-out debate. As individuals, it can be…
Do You Need Insurance for an Electric Scooter?
The electric scooter boom has come with some highly publicized fears about scooter safety. Some of these concerns are justified. Nearly all studies have shown that scooters face the same dangers that bikes do, in addition to them being less…
Can You Ride an Electric Scooter on the Road?
New modes of transportation have been popping up all over the place thanks to incredible developments in lithium-ion battery and electric motor technology. These include electric bikes, innovative modern electric scooters like Unagi, as well as the shared scooters clustered…
Do You Need a License to Ride an Electric Scooter?
You’ve seen them all over your city’s streets, and everyone who rides one looks absolutely thrilled. So, why haven’t you picked up your own folding electric scooter yet? Maybe you’re worried about whether e-scooters require a driver’s license, or a…
Can You Ride an Electric Scooter on the Sidewalk?
It’s a reasonable question to ask. After all, it seems like the safer option. Can you, and should you, ride an electric scooter on the sidewalk? In many cases, the answer is no: you cannot. Story after story in electric…
Are Electric Scooters Legal in the UK?
The electric scooter market, like virtually every other industry, has experienced some dramatic ups and downs in 2020. In March, for example, as the coronavirus spread uncontained, The Verge reported that in dozens of cities around the world, share companies…
Why Electric Scooters Are a Must Have for Commuters
Micromobility is the “future of urban transportation,” analysts write in an extensive report from Deloitte, and electric scooters lead the way: “Adoption rates during their short time on the market have been impressive, surpassing that seen by popular ride-hailing applications…
Are Electric Scooters Legal in NYC?
It finally happened, and not a moment too soon. New York has legalized e-bikes and e-scooters statewide in an agreement reached in April during the last legislative session. This is great news for commuters, students, delivery workers, and all New…
Public Transportation in a Post-COVID World
In only a few short months, the current pandemic has changed the way we do nearly everything, from getting to work to gathering (or not) in public. Fears of the virus multiply when it comes to public transportation. Public transit…
Electric Scooters: Range vs Weight
Advances in battery technology have led to a market filled with high-quality electric scooters for everything from tooling around the neighborhood to competitive off-road racing. It’s an exciting time to buy a scooter, but also a confusing time, given the…
Can You Ride an Electric Scooter in the Rain?
“No” is the standard answer to the question of whether you should ride an electric scooter in the rain. But can you ride an electric scooter in the rain? There are times when it may be safe to do so…
Can You Bring an Electric Scooter on a Plane?
Wondering whether you can take your electric scooter on an airplane? As with all things air travel-related the answer should be simple, right? As you might expect, it’s not—or not entirely—but the short answer is no, you cannot take most…
Is It Worth Buying an Electric Scooter?
As cities become more crowded and traffic worsens by the year, the old ways of commuting have become increasingly unsustainable. So, is it worth buying yourself an electric scooter?
How Fast Can Electric Scooters Go?
How Fast Do Electric Scooters Go Step aside, skateboards, electric bikes, and mopeds. These days electric scooters are so ubiquitous, you can hardly pass by your neighborhood coffee shop, ATM, or happy hour hotspot without encountering one (or a few).…
Micro Mobility & Local Culture
“Nice neighborhood you’ve got there. Sure would be a shame if someone put a highway through it.” So says the text over the face of Robert Moses in a meme that launched the Facebook group “New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented…