Electric Scooters: What's Legal and What's Not
Electric scooters are on their way to Philly! A new popular means of transportation, electric scooters are not only eco-friendly but they are often cheaper and more convenient than other forms of transportation. People are using them to commute to school and work to avoid the hassles of finding a parking spot. Others use them recreationally across town, on paseos, or on boardwalks.
Becoming popular in Santa Monica, electric scooter sharing companies such as Lime and Bird have grown into multi-million dollar companies. In fact, in July of this year, Bird was estimated at $1 billion. Since these are such an up-and-coming form of transportation for many people, it’s beneficial and essential to their safety for riders to understand their rights and know what’s legal and not before they start scootering away.
A Short History of Electric Scooters
Although it’s somewhat unclear where and when the first electric scooter was developed, the first mass-produced electric scooter came out in 1996, called Peugeot Scoot’Elec. Since then, they’ve exploded with companies such as Bird and Lime that hire “chargers” to pick up the scooters and charge them overnight, dropping them across the city they’re in each morning to be used by riders with the app.
Bird scooters were founded in 2017 by Travis VanderZanden, a former executive of Uber and Lyft. The headquarters are located in Santa Monica, a city that has become famous for the shared and rechargeable electric scooters. The scooters took the city by a surprising storm in February 2018. Since then, they’ve been growing in numbers and popping up in cities all over the country and across the world.
How They Work
Electric scooters have become an increasingly-popular means of transportation, both for environmental and cost reasons. Bird scooters are $1 to rent plus 15 cents each minute after that. Philadelphia is a little larger than 141 square miles, so this is a very efficient way to get from one end of the city to the other. Riders simply download the app, connect it to their bank accounts, and scan it to get the scooter rolling. Riders’ phones use a GPS system which tells them where the nearest scooters are located.
In California, where electric scooter companies first became popular, riders have to be at least 16 years old to rent and ride Bird scooters. However, with the increasing popularity of the shared electric scooters, that may change as people want to use them to commute to or from work and school. LimeBike is another similar electric scooter sharing company that recently expanded into Philadelphia.
Electric scooters must be titled and registered to be able to drive on roadways. In addition, they must also possess necessary equipment to legally drive on the road, such as fenders, turn signals, and headlights. Bird and Lime scooters do not possess these features (as of now), so people riding these types of scooters cannot ride in the roadway. These scooters also only go up to 15 mph, which is slower than most traffic speeds. It’s against Pennsylvania Vehicle Code to drive at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable flow of traffic.
In order to get the electric scooters to new cities like Philadelphia, the companies usually need to obtain permits that state that they are allowed to have scooters in the city. Lime usually obtains permission by the cities it drops the scooters off in, while Bird usually attempts to beat Lime by skipping that step altogether. They follow more of the saying that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. Once the scooters make their way to a new city, the city will begin implementing regulations that pertain to electric scooters. Most of the time, electric scooters are treated similarly to how bikes are. Riders must follow the same laws: riding in the bicycle lane and refraining from riding on sidewalks to avoid hitting pedestrians.
Types of Injuries
When people aren’t aware of laws pertaining to electric scooters, they’re more likely to be injured in an accident. One risk of electric scooter accidents comes when a rider is riding in the path of pedestrians and hits someone. Riders can take these scooters up to 15 mph, which doesn’t sound so fast, but in actuality, going at this speed can cause serious injury to both pedestrian and rider if there is a collision.
In addition, with little protection from outside forces, reckless drivers can be deadly to electric scooter riders. This is another common cause of electric scooter accidents and is also a reason why the law requires riders to wear helmets at all times. Other forms of injuries can be caused by defective scooters. Some electric scooters can experience defects that send the scooter into overdrive and hurtle the rider forward. Other times, there could be brake failures that prevent the rider from stopping and could make the scooter swerve uncontrollably.
With so many of these electric scooters now populating the country, it’s essential for everyone to understand what’s legal and what’s not. Obeying electric scooter laws could help build your case if you have been involved in an electric scooter accident in any way.