E-Scooters Bring Liability, Safety Concerns to Colorado

If you spend any amount of time near a major metropolitan area, chances are you’ve noticed an increasing number of electric scooters. If you haven’t seen them, imagine a two-wheeled, step-through kick scooter like the ones that children ride, redesigned with a sturdy adult-sized frame and equipped with an electric motor.

As demand for these vehicles skyrockets, it’s important to stay informed about the rental companies behind them and the safety and liability concerns presented by their widespread use.

A Sudden Boom

While the overall design isn’t new, the idea to market the e-scooter as a clean, fun, affordable method of transportation for short trips is. In the past two years, e-scooter rental startups and pre-existing transportation companies alike have inundated the market with fleets of e-scooters.

Using one is simple; the process is not unlike using Uber or Lyft. All an interested customer has to do is download a smartphone app, enter their payment information, use the code on the app to unlock a scooter, and notify the app when their ride is complete. GPS devices and 4G data connections ensure real-time availability and accurate billing, with going rates in Denver around $1 to unlock the scooter and 15 cents per minute thereafter. At under $5 for a 20-minute ride and with no technical limitation on parking due to its dockless design, the scooter has major appeal for people who are reluctant to walk or unwilling to drive, own, or park a car.

However, not everyone is a fan. Some of the perceived benefits of the e-scooter have actually caused problems. For instance, when e-scooters first came to Denver in May of 2018, they did so without the city’s approval, and there were no regulations in place to receive them. Because of their dockless design, users parked them everywhere, resulting in numerous obstructions to traffic.

Just a week into the initial launch, Denver issued notices to transportation companies ordering them to remove their scooters from the public right of way. Weeks later, the city began confiscating poorly parked scooters, and operations were temporarily suspended.

But parking was the least of Denver’s concerns. Initially, the city classified e-scooters as “toy vehicles,” and operation was limited to sidewalks, though many users ignored that limitation.

This naturally unsettled pedestrians and drivers alike.

There was no defined speed limit for scooters, and it was entirely possible for one to come barreling down the sidewalk at 20 mph or to weave in and out of traffic or bike lanes. It took until January of this year for Denver City Council to pass an ordinance mandating that e-scooters be ridden only in bike lanes or in roadways where the speed limit is under 30 mph, effectively banning scooters from sidewalks.

Safety & Liability

Denver isn’t alone in the struggle to adjust to the advent of the e-scooter as a method of transportation. Across the country, cities and municipalities are beginning to grapple with the risks – especially the risk of injury.

In Los Angeles, nine people, including both riders and pedestrians, filed a class-action lawsuit against scooter operators Bird and Lime, alleging gross negligence on the part of the startups and reporting injuries such as broken bones, torn ligaments, lacerations, and damaged teeth.

In Colorado, the most frequent scooter-related emergency department injuries stem from car and scooter collisions or from skidding or falling out of scooters. These injuries range from head and neck or hand and wrist damage to lower extremity damage and road rash. Worse, while little nationwide research is available, it is known that at least three people across the country died in 2018 while riding e-scooters.

These figures underscore the need to determine regulations and obtain adequate coverage for e-scooters. But in many areas, the question of liability is still a murky one. Most user agreements issued by e-scooter companies absolve the company, placing liability on the rider.

However, cities like San Francisco have found this to be inadequate and passed laws requiring scooter companies to have ample insurance for each of their users. That said, questions around premises liability (scooters left on private property and roads adjacent to public space, scooters charged in private residences, etc.) are still largely up for debate.

Sweeping regulations are also still in flux. Denver pushed to move e-scooters to bike lanes and roadways, but in other jurisdictions, e-scooters are still classified as “toy vehicles,” and relegated to sidewalks.

Although Denver’s approach is likely the better one, in heavily trafficked areas – especially those without bike lanes – the risk of collisions with automobiles is arguably higher, with more potential for serious bodily injury or death. Additionally, despite the fact that most user agreements set requirements like speed limits and the use of helmets, there is practically no way for e-scooter companies to track or enforce compliance with these requirements.

The abundance of safety considerations and questions surrounding liability may make you reluctant to embrace e-scooters, but their popularity and utility practically guarantee that they will be around for a long time to come. As with any emerging technology, it’s better to begin implementing regulations now than to wait for a serious accident to happen. If you foresee an increase in the number of e-scooters in your district or at your facilities, some of the best things you can do include:

  • Designating parking areas for e-scooters
  • Investing in signage that clearly marks areas where e-scooters are allowed and prohibited (Note: The purchase of this signage will qualify for our Safety and Loss Prevention Grant Program)
  • Requiring helmets for e-scooter users on district property
  • Limiting e-scooter speeds to 10 mph on district property
  • Prohibiting eating, drinking, and cell phone use for e-scooter users on district property.

Remember, the e-scooter trend is new for all of us, and we’re still learning how to deal with it as an emerging risk. If you have tips you’d like to share, situations you’d like to discuss, or questions about coverage or liability, we’d love to hear from you.

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