Electric scooters are a common sight on city streets and sidewalks. These environmentally friendly, micro mobility vehicles are cheap and easy to use, zipping you around town faster than a ride share, and cheaper than the bus.
But the problem is, with the rising popularity of these greener, cleaner commuting vehicles, there is a rising number of scooter accidents.
And there isn't an obvious solution: riding e-scooters on the road can be dangerous to the rider because electric scooters don't travel as quickly as motor vehicles. However, riding e-scooters on the sidewalk poses a danger to pedestrians.
While scooter rider injuries tend to be less severe with side walk collisions than crashes with motor vehicles, understandably, there are legitimate concerns that scooter riders on sidewalks could crash into, and injure, pedestrians.
The knee jerk reaction has been a general blanket ban on electric scooters being ridden on the sidewalk, but this just isn't a safe solution.
So, perhaps the answer lies with collision technology. Could it really be that simple to reduce accidents and protect foot traffic?
Before we explore this emerging tech development, let's have a quick refresher on where you can legally ride an e-scooter.
Are electric scooters legal on the sidewalk?
Although electric scooters have been in use since 1996, laws and lawmakers in individual states still have not set regulations for their use, leaving many scooter riders in the dark about where they can and can't ride.
Essentially, where you can ride your e scooter boils down to where you live.
- You can legally ride an electric scooter on the sidewalk in Texas - although this is likely to change in the near future
- In Colorado on the other hand, under ruling HB19-1221, it's illegal to ride e scooters on a sidewalk. Here, electric scooters are no longer classed as 'toy vehicles' and instead are afforded the same rights and duties as riders of electric bikes.
- In New York, it's also illegal to ride an electric scooter on the sidewalk, however in August 2020, the state of New York legalized electric scooter use on the road.
- Whereas in California, while you're not allowed to ride an electric scooter on the sidewalk, if you've parked it on the sidewalk and you wish to move it to the street, you're allowed to temporarily ride it on the sidewalk to get it off the sidewalk.
With so much variation in sidewalk riding, it's no surprise that e scooter riders are often left confused, and thus bury their head in the sand, choosing ignorance over compliance.
The dangers of electric scooters on sidewalks
Electric scooters are an incredibly convenient means of inner city transportation, but riding them on a sidewalk can be dangerous to pedestrians.
That's because these last mile commuting solutions zip along at a speedy 15 mph. But people don't walk this quickly. Pedestrians walk at an average 4 mph.
And even a collision at these low speeds can cause severe injuries.
Common injuries associated with electric scooter collisions
According to research by the BMJ, the most common injuries from e-scooter collisions involved the head, upper extremities and lower extremities - broken bones, sprained muscles, and head injuries such as concussion.
Injuries to the chest and abdomen are less common.
Of particular note was the low rates of helmet use among injured electric scooter users.
How can electric scooter tech reduce collisions?
While you might think that banning electric scooters from the sidewalks is the solution, it’s not. Yes, it would certainly reduce the risk of injuring pedestrians, however, forcing e scooters into the road with fast moving traffic jeopardizes rider safety.
As such, people will still ride on the sidewalks because they're a safer option, plus enforcing a ban would be a nigh on impossible task.
Which is why some electric scooter companies are working to develop technology that reduces instances of collisions and injuries between riders and pedestrians.
Voi and Luna partnership
Swedish e scooter operator, Voi, partnered with Dublin startup Luna in a year long trial, to develop a system of cameras and sensors to detect the presence of nearby pedestrians.
The technology works in real time, using a small camera mounted to the e-scooter handle bars, filming the path ahead. This information is fed to an algorithm that then classifies the surrounding environment.
The scooter itself is programmed to react in different ways, depending on what potential danger the algorithm detects:
- it might slow down as it mounts the kerb onto the sidewalk
- it might slow down if it detects pedestrians on the sidewalk
- it might alert riders of potential hazards
In early tests, e-scooters fitted with Luna technology were able to recognize road surfaces and pedestrians with 90% accuracy.
Lime sidewalk detection technology
In 2020, Lime piloted sidewalk detection technology that used speed and road surface vibration patterns to detect the sidewalk.
If the sensors detected the scooter was ridden for more than half the trip on a sidewalk, e scooter riders are cautioned via a push notification, highlighting where the violation occurred, alongside a gentle reminder to be considerate to all sidewalk users.
The problem with collision technology
While similar collision technology is already deployed in cars, alerting drivers if they veer across lanes, or warning them of obstacles when reversing, rolling out collision technology to e scooters universally has been slow.
The reason being: micro-mobility transportation such as e scooters are convenient because they're lightweight and low cost. Therefore companies are conscious of the cost of using this technology and the potential impact on the scooter's ease of use.
Critics argue that collision technology, while it is promising, isn't the only solution to keeping scooter riders and pedestrians safe.
With their soaring popularity, e scooters are addressing long standing commuter frustrations. As such, city officials need to also work on tackling safety concerns by addressing their city's existing infrastructure. .
Scooter riders don't ride on sidewalks to be difficult, they do it when they don't feel safe riding in the street. So perhaps rather than trying to reduce sidewalk collisions, authorities work to reduce motor vehicle speed limits, or introduce more bike lanes, making cities safer for both scooter riders and pedestrians.
How to ride e-scooters more safely
When it comes to collisions between scooters and pedestrians, there are a few things that could be done to reduce the likelihood of an accident:
- You can reduce the top speed limit at which electric scooters travel, but this will also make them less convenient for people who need to get from Point A to Point B quickly.
- You could also reduce the size of these vehicles, making them more lightweight, but this typically means reducing power and thus speed.
- Or you could increase the size of your pedestrian or their power output by adding more muscle mass, but then you’d have an even taller person trying not to get hit.
So, in all seriousness, what can scooter riders do ensure their safety and the safety of other road users?
1. Get familiar with local laws: electric scooter laws vary from state to state
In Washington D.C., riding scooters on sidewalks is illegal if a bike path exists on a sidewalk. You can, however, use an electric scooter on sidewalks under the supervision of the National Park Services.
Confused? Electric scooter laws vary from state to state. Familiarize yourself with the local laws and state laws surrounding e-scooter use in your particular district.
2. Learn to ride training
Research on e-scooter collisions by the Insurance Institute revealed two key insights:
- Only 2% of riders treated in the emergency room for e scooter injuries wore a helmet,
- Nearly 40% of injured interview participants were first time riders.
Inexperienced riders could benefit from participating in 'learn to ride' events, or mandatory rider training programs. Take rideshare company Revel, for example, they offer two hour training classes, for free, for new and inexperienced riders.
3. Be courteous of other road users
If you're riding your scooter on the sidewalk, always give way to pedestrians. If you're riding in the street, stick to the bike lanes or if there aren't any bike lanes to follow, stay close to the right hand side of the road.
4. Use bike lanes
If there are bike lanes available, ride your electric scooter there to reduce the chances of accidents. Riding in bike lanes means you avoid both motorists and pedestrians.
5. Wear safety equipment
Always wear a helmet when riding to protect your head and face during a collision. Bear in mind that anyone under the age of 16 is legally required to wear a helmet when riding a scooter.
Final thoughts: electric scooter collision technology
While electric scooter collision technology is still in its infancy, it's definitely a solution that needs to be followed through: micromobility transport is the future for urban commuters.
People need to be supported in their decision to use a form of transport that reduces traffic congestion and pollution levels, protects the environment and is a cost effective solution.
If you're concerned about your safety riding a rented electric scooter, lease one instead.
Lease the Unagi Model One from $39 per month and enjoy commuting on your very own lightweight, customized scooter. The very definition of power, agility and style.