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Legislation Would Corral E-scooter Use in DC; Some Studies Point to Increased Accident Risks

Accompanying images can be viewed starting on page 1 of the July 2019 issue pdf

By William G. Schulz

Legislation that would establish strict new rules for electric scooters and battery assisted bicycles in the District of Columbia was introduced by Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh on June 25th for consideration by the city council upon its return following summer break in September. The council member chairs the Committee on Transportation and the Environment.

Major components of the legislation—dubbed the “Electric Mobility Device Amendment Act of 2019”–include:

■ Requiring operators to maintain a 24-hour toll-free phone number for members of the public to report illegally parked scooters;

■ Mandating that operators move illegally parked scooters within three hours of receiving a complaint;

■ Banning scooter use between the hours of 10:00pm and 4:00am;

■ Requiring operators to pay a bond to the District that will be used to pay for any damage their devices cause to public property;

■ Requiring operators to maintain at least 10% of its fleet in each Ward by 6:00 am;

■ Increasing the scooter speed limit to 15 miles per hour on the street or bike line and reducing the speed limit to 6 miles per hour while operating on the sidewalk;

■ Setting the electric bicycle speed limit to 20 miles per hour on the street;

■ Requiring operators to release fleet, trip, and complaint data to the District Department of Transportation (DDOT);

■ Giving the DDDOT Director the ability to suspend permits of operators who are not abiding by the law and provide the agency with the authority to fine operators who have been the subject of a disproportionate amount of complaints;

■ Requiring DDOT to construct signage and/or pavement markings to identify the Central Business District; and

■Establishes a parking pilot to create electric scooter exclusive parking locations.

“Electric scooters and battery-assisted bicycles produce multiple benefits for the District, including reducing congestion, reducing our carbon footprint, and giving visitors to the District cheap but effective means to make their way around town,” Cheh said in a statement announcing the amendment. Co-sponsors include Ward 2’s Jack Evans, Ward 6’s Charles Allen, and Ward 1’s Brianne Nadeau.

“We have established bike culture in the District, but, because this technology is relatively new, we don’t have a safe electric scooter culture — resulting in many users neglecting to follow important safety rules,” Cheh says. “Many scooter users weave in and out of pedestrians on the sidewalk at high speeds, do not follow important safety rules, ride while inebriated, and routinely discard scooters that block pedestrian walkways, private driveways, and handicap accessible ramps.”

Scooter provider Bird, which operates in DC,  has posted on its website a “safety first”page with tips on how to ride its scooters safely. Although these seem mostly to be common-sense pointers, “The safety of riders and members of the community is our obsession here at Bird,” the company states.

Bird commissioned a study on the safety of e-scooters and compares them with bicycle safety.

According to the Bird report, “The national emergency department rate for bicycles is 58.9 emergency department visits per million miles cycled, or one emergency department visit per 16,885 miles cycled.” For scooters, the company states, “Bird’s reported injury rate is 37.2 injuries per million miles, or one per 26,881 miles ridden.”

Bird states it collects and analyzes reports from its riders on injuries they sustain while riding a Bird scooter, and that riders can report incidents by email (Hello@bird.co), or through an in-app messaging feature, or by phone.

The city of Austin, Texas and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study of e-scooter safety in 2018 and came away with a more sobering assessment:

Of 936,110 trips taken on the dockless e-scooters in that city, the study found 192 people injured enough to make emergency-room visits. Among the confirmed injured riders who were treated for head injury, 15% were found to have traumatic brain injuries.

“Only one of 190 injured scooter riders was wearing a helmet,” the Austin study reported. “Studies have shown that bicycle riders reduce the risk of head and brain injuries by wearing a helmet. Helmet use might also reduce the risk of head and brain injuries in the event of an e-scooter crash.”

The study also contradicts a common assumption that most scooter accidents are caused by collision with another motor vehicle: “While more than half of the interviewed riders were injured while riding a scooter in the street, few (10%) riders sustained injuries by colliding with a motor vehicle. More than one-third (37%) of injured riders reported that excessive e-scooter speed contributed to their injury.”

A third of interviewed riders in the Austin/CDC study say they were injured during their first e-scooter ride.

Should the Cheh legislation become law, DC may soon be collecting its own set of facts on the e-scooters/e-bikes revolution.

Copyright © 2019 InTowner Publishing Corp. & William G. Schulz. All rights reserved.