Vehicular accidents are nothing new, but now that newly popular electric scooters are causing injuries too, officials have changed how they regulate what they once dubbed “toy vehicles.”

Regulators Are No Longer Treating Electric Scooters as “Toy Vehicles”

Battery-powered scooters are an inexpensive and easy way of getting around. But health officials and researchers say that electric scooters (or e-scooters) can also be dangerous to both riders and pedestrians. Some cities, including Denver, are changing how they regulate the popular vehicles in hopes of preventing injuries.

E-scooter Hazard

Earlier this year, Consumer Reports released information on accidents involving electric scooters, which in 2017 surged in popularity after a few companies launched scooter terminals at which people could rent one by using a smartphone app.

Based on sometimes sketchy records from hospitals, police departments, and other public agencies, Consumer Reports estimated that more than 1,500 people around the country had been injured by scooters since 2017. There have also been at least a few fatalities.

Pedestrians have been injured by moving scooters. But they have also been injured by stationary scooters left on street corners or at charging stations.

Other Pedestrian Injuries

A study conducted early in 2019, reviewing medical records from hospitals in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, found that during the period from September 1, 2017 to August 31, 2018, nearly 250 people had been treated in the emergency room for injuries associated with these devices. The injuries included bone fractures (79 or 31.7%), head injuries (100 or 40.2%), and “contusions, sprains, and lacerations without fracture or head injury” (69 or 27.7%).

Twenty-one of those treated (8.4%) were pedestrians. Of these, 11 had been hit by a scooter, 5 had tripped over a parked scooter, and 5 had been trying to lift a scooter.

In San Diego, the citizens group Safe Walkways protests the practice of leaving scooters on sidewalks. Safe Walkways spokesman Jonathan Freeman talked to Good Morning San Diego about the problem.

“Our proposals also make it possible for the public to easily report misplaced scooters to all the companies, not just one or two, Misplacement has become a severe problem for many pedestrians, especially the disabled…. Our proposals will rectify that problem, prevent underage users driving motorized vehicles, and help pedestrians obtain redress if needed.”

Response of Governments

Local and state government officials have been paying attention to the accidents.

In Cincinnati, where it’s illegal to ride e-scooters on sidewalks, the city council has ordered scooter companies to create a million-dollar fund to cover the medical costs and lost wages of pedestrians who are injured in accidents. Denver is among the cities that now also prohibit the use of scooters on sidewalks in most cases. That’s a major change. When electric scooters first hit Denver streets, the state government regarded them as toy vehicles; they were to be used only on sidewalks. But pedestrians began complaining of the dangers of sharing sidewalks with e-scooters, and now the city requires that riders use them primarily in bike lanes or roadways.

The state government of Colorado, which had prohibited use of e-scooters in roads and bike lanes, now permits it as well. E-scooters are no longer to be regarded as “toy vehicles”; and, in the wording of House Bill 19-1221, local regulations must be “no more restrictive than the manner in which the local government may regulate the operation of a class 1 electrical assisted bicycle.”

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