Analysis & Comment

Opinion | Scooters vs. People

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“A 75-year-old man tripped over an abandoned scooter in San Diego and shattered his knee,” The Washington Post’s Avi Selk has reported. “A 7-year-old boy near Los Angeles reportedly had his teeth knocked out by a scooter rider. A 44-year-old woman was hit by a Bird scooter in a Cincinnati intersection.”

Peter Holley, also of The Post, has written: “There are no official numbers illustrating how frequently pedestrians are injured by scooters, but doctors interviewed in five cities say badly injured pedestrians are showing up in trauma centers multiple times a week.”

And Wally Ghurabi, medical director of the Nethercutt Emergency Center in Southern California, told Holley: “I’ve seen pedestrians injured by scooters with broken hips, multiple bone fractures, broken ribs and joint injuries and soft tissue injuries like lacerations and deep abrasions.”

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More weeks than not, I need to move out the way of a speeding scooter on a Washington sidewalk. Officially, downtown Washington doesn’t allow electric scooters on sidewalks, but the law is widely ignored and rarely enforced. “There’s no cop on the beat,” Steven Reichert, a Washington resident, told WJLA, a local television station.

Amid everything else going on, I’m not going to claim that the dangerous use of electric scooters — which began appearing in major cities in 2017 — is the country’s biggest problem. But it’s at least a problem we can easily fix. Sidewalks simply are not a place for rapidly moving, heavy objects, be they mopeds, bicycles or scooters. Scooters belong in the street or, even better, in dedicated bicycle lanes where those exist.

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An American Medical Association analysis: “Scooter injuries documented in this study were mostly minor, but could also be severe and costly, with 6.0% of patients admitted to the hospital, and 0.8% admitted to the intensive care unit.”

After a fatal accident in August, the Denver City Council banned scooters from operating on sidewalks unless they are traveling less than six miles per hour. Arlington County, in suburban Virginia, has set the same speed limit and also mandated that scooter riders use bike lanes where one is available. (I worry that places with speed limits won’t enforce them, as seems to be happening in Denver.)

Many claims of scooter manufacturers deserve extreme skepticism. They seem to be marketing more than anything. Bird, for example, has claimed that its devices can reduce pedestrian deaths by reducing the number of cars on the road. But as CityLab’s Sarah Holder has reported, it remains unclear whether the scooters are any safer than more traditional modes of transportation. Other claims scooter companies have made about their devices — that using them is eco-friendly, for example — appear to be unsupported, as well.

“Yes, there are good arguments for these vehicles,” Margaret Renkl wrote in The Times. “Nevertheless, the arguments in favor of electric scooters are nothing compared to the problems they cause.”

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