Alabama has had a fraught history with electronic scooter rentals. At one point, you needed a motorcycle license to ride one. There is still areas where they are not allowed. Yet they are available, and it is likely they will continue to be.
One thing that is clear is that you’re expected to ride e-scooters in the street. Riding them on bike paths or on sidewalks is prohibited in most places.
That said, many e-scooter enthusiasts are not comfortable riding them in the street alongside cars and trucks. They offer no protection whatsoever in a motor vehicle crash. Helmets aren’t even provided, and as few as 2% of riders are bringing their own helmets, according to a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a traffic safety nonprofit.
At the same time, e-scooters can be dangerous on sidewalks, where even a minor break in the pavement can throw a rider off the scooter. And, riding e-scooters on the sidewalk can be dangerous to pedestrians.
So, which is safer — riding on the sidewalk or riding in the street?
Injured more often or injured more seriously?
“The picture is still not clear when it comes to where scooters should be ridden,” says the recent study’s lead author. “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.”
The IIHS interviewed over 100 e-scooter riders who had been injured and brought to a Washington, D.C., emergency room. They then performed two studies of the resulting information. One examined injury severity based on where and how each rider had been injured. Another compared the injuries and the riders’ demographics to 377 bicyclists who had been interviewed for an earlier study.
The comparison was interesting. One the one hand, e-scooter riders were injured more often per mile traveled than the bikers. On the other hand, the bikers were more likely to be hit by cars. The scooter riders were twice as likely as the bikers to be injured due to a pothole, a crack in the pavement, or a collision with infrastructure such as signposts and curbs.
Inexperience played a role. Most of the e-scooter riders were inexperienced. Almost 40% of those interviewed had been injured on their very first ride. Most of the bicyclists were experienced, with 80% saying they biked most days of the week during the main riding season.
The big differentiator, however, was where they were riding. E-scooter riders were much more likely to be riding on sidewalks, even though that’s prohibited in most localities. That kept them safer from cars and trucks but put them at greater risk for accidents caused by gaps in the pavement or collisions with infrastructure.
Riding on the sidewalk is prohibited in part to protect non-riders. However, during the study period, only six non-riders reported to the ER with injuries caused by e-scooters. Of those six, four had tripped over or struck an e-scooter that was not in use.
Do you think the law should allow e-scooter riders to ride on the sidewalk?