Where Should E-Scooters Be Ridden?


As New York City braces for a spike in now-legal electric scooter traffic, questions about the safety of these alternative modes of transportation remain up in the air.

There’s no question about whether e-scooter riders put themselves at risk of injury. E-scooter users frequently get into accidents, with nearly a third of all scooter accident patients suffering head injuries.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said in September that emergency room visits related to e-scooter accidents rose from 7,700 in 2017, to 14,500 in 2018, to 27,700 in 2019. The CPSC says that it is aware of 41 fatalities associated with e-scooters, hoverboards and e-bikes from 2017 through 2019, though reporting is incomplete.

But two new studies from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) explore whether e-scooter riders are safer riding in the road, where most e-scooter laws require scooters to operate, or on sidewalks, where e-scooters are normally not permitted.

It turns out that riders are more likely to be injured on the sidewalk, but injuries in the roadway – among cars, trucks, motorcycles and bicycles – are more severe.

“The picture is still not clear when it comes to where scooters should be ridden,” says Jessica Cicchino, IIHS vice president for research and the lead author of the studies. “Our results suggest that moving scooters off the sidewalk could put riders at risk of more severe injuries, but as things stand, they might be suffering these lesser injuries more often (because they mostly ride on sidewalks).”

A New Day for E-Scooters in New York

As the dockless, rentable e-scooter boom engulfed the nation in 2018 and 2019, New York technically remained outside of it. Though there were attempts to bring scooter rentals to the City, New York State only made them legal in April, and NYC followed suit in June.

This was followed by a jump in e-scooter sales as well as the first e-scooter rental program in the state begun in August by Bird as a one-year pilot in Yonkers.

Electric scooters are permitted to be operated on some streets and roadways in New York. They are generally not allowed on sidewalks except where permitted by local ordinance.

A spokesperson for e-scooter company Unagi told Streetsblog that New York City sales of its product through the company’s website increased 312 percent in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the first quarter, and 549 percent in the second quarter of 2020 vs. the second quarter of 2019.

Meanwhile, a Bird spokesman told the Yonkers Times in October that if the pilot program continues to succeed, rentable e-scooters will likely become a permanent fixture in Yonkers, and the company is looking to expand to other areas of the city as well as other locations in Westchester (County).

Here’s the problem in NYC, as explained by Streetsblog:

Visit any of the East River bridges and the already narrow bike and pedestrian paths are filled with multiple modes of transportation — legs, bikes, electric bikes, scooters and e-scooters — moving at different speeds. On a recent Friday on the Manhattan Bridge, Streetsblog spotted several e-scooter riders on the bike path, including a father guiding his child on a traditional three-wheeled kid’s scooter. Every day on the Queensboro Bridge, a single narrow lane is used by walkers, cyclists and scooter riders in both directions. Crashes occur daily.

… The increasing interest in e-scooters as a way to get around New York, even before companies like Bird and Lime can start local scooter-share programs, is putting stress on the city’s bike infrastructure, which was already creaking under an uptick in people on bikes.

Most E-Scooter Injuries Happen on Sidewalks, IIHS says

The IIHS found that nearly 3 out of 5 e-scooter riders were injured riding on the sidewalk, though about a third of them were riding where scooters are not allowed. Only about 1 out of 5 was injured riding in a bike lane, multiuse trail or other off-road location.

Researchers also found that e-scooter riders were injured more often per mile traveled than bicyclists, but bicyclists were three times as likely as scooter riders to be hit by motor vehicles. Moving vehicles accounted for only 13 percent of the injuries to e-scooter riders, compared with 40 percent for bicycles.

“We didn’t see many e-scooter crashes with motor vehicles, and that may be a result of riders sticking mostly to the sidewalk,” Cicchino, the study author, says. “On the other hand, there are legitimate concerns that sidewalk riders could crash into pedestrians.”

The e-scooter riders injured while riding in roadways were more likely to suffer moderately severe injuries than those hurt while riding on sidewalks, bike lanes or multiuse trails.

In contrast, e-scooter riders were twice as likely as bicyclists to be injured because of a pothole or crack in the pavement or other infrastructure like a signpost or curb.

The IIHS researchers said the greater injury severity for e-scooter riders injured in roadways may reflect higher travel speeds. They point out in the study that most fatally injured e-scooter riders were struck by motor vehicles.

The IIHS researchers interviewed more than 100 e-scooter riders whose injuries brought them to the emergency room at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., between March and November 2019. While other studies show that scooter riders prefer using bike lanes to sidewalks, study authors said, the e-scooter riders in Washington did not use bike lanes because they weren’t available, they were uncomfortable alongside faster bicycles or because in some areas people regularly rode on sidewalks.

Which brings us back to NYC, where sidewalks in non-COVID times are already packed with people unlikely to step aside for an e-scooter. This will force e-scooters into bike lanes and streets. And in true New York City fashion, most New Yorkers will just learn to deal with it but, as we’ve said previously, e-scooter accidents and injuries are inevitable.

How a Personal Injury Attorney Can Help

Anyone who uses an e-scooter for transportation has a legal duty to follow the law and to avoid causing a safety hazard for other people. Other New Yorkers on the street have an obligation to watch out for the welfare of legal e-scooter riders. If you are seriously injured because of someone else’s negligence or recklessness, the New York City personal injury attorneys at David Resnick & Associates, P.C., can help you seek compensation for your losses.

Call us today for a free evaluation of an e-scooter accident that you were injured in. Our law firm represents accident victims of all kinds in ManhattanQueensBrooklynStaten Island, the Bronx and all of New York City.

Author: David Resnick

Founder of David Resnick & Associates, P.C., a New York personal injury law firm in charge of providing exceptional and personal service to each of our clients in various areas including car accidents, slip and fall, wrongful death, construction accidents, and premises liability. David Resnick founded the firm in 1998 after working in large law firms where he saw a need for greater client communication and more personal care.

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