As I got in some exercise around Dallas early Sunday morning with my son-in-law and a group of other cyclists, I saw people cruising around on those controversial electric scooters. Admittedly, riding a bicycle anywhere, especially in a large city, is dangerous. And a lot of people have been using Uber and Lime Bike for instant transportation without any problem for years. So why not allow someone to click an app and scoot over to the next bar — what could go wrong with that? Plenty, starting with a serious injury rate. No wonder Fort Worth has banned them. But other Texas cities are considering allowing or increasing their use. That’s not a good idea until our state laws are enhanced.
Current regulation of electric scooters in Dallas
You may not know what is legal when you hop on one in Dallas. The Texas Transportation Code, Section 551.351, has limited prohibitions. So Dallas enacted a new ordinance to pick up the slack when it allowed their use in July. Just in Dallas, they cannot be rented by someone 17 or less, at night, on streets if the speed limit is 36 mph or more, on sidewalks downtown or in Deep Ellum, and to the center or left of the traffic lane unless a left-hand turn is being made.
But after Dallas’s long-time state senator Royce West saw two people riding an electric scooter almost crash in Austin, he decided to sponsor a new law that would increase their safety across Texas. Senator West’s bill, which has been endorsed in his committee and which no member of the public testified against, would amend our lax state law and prevent them from being ridden
— By more than one person;
— On any sidewalk;
— At night;
— Faster than 15 mph;
— On streets with speed limits higher than 35 mph;– By someone who is 17 or younger;
–and parked where they are a safety hazard.
I just blogged about motorcycle riders and their often horrendous injury rate so this post is a series in advocating for the safety of riders and not just drivers of cars and trucks.
The problem with electric scooters
Electric scooters are dangerous. In Dallas, at least one person has already died and 88 had to be admitted to the emergency room, 35 with brain injuries, just at the Baylor Scott and White hospital nearest Deep Ellum and only in the second six months of last year. Eight people were admitted to the intensive care unit.
I blogged about how dangerous these are and worry about any new way people can get injured as they move around the Dallas-Fort Worth area. With 7,500 of them available in Dallas, they appear to be accidents waiting to happen.
Arlington may allow electric scooters in the center of the city, especially near the UTA campus and has a dockless bicycle program it may also expand.
E-scooters are all over Austin, including sit-down ones starting a few months ago that go 20 mph, matching their Lime scooters. Recently the first person died riding one standing up in the Sixth Street bar area downtown (go figure). And the local laws in Austin and other cities including Houston favor the rider over the other motorist in court.
Who is liable?
As with any vehicle collision, the answer is not always cut-and-dried. Often the rider is solely to blame.
But sometimes another driver(s) pedestrian, pot hole in the road, or other factors may also be involved. For example, the rider can be legally on the right side of a low-speed road during the day, be 18 or older, riding carefully, and otherwise be in compliance with the law when he is hit from behind by a distracted driver.
A car or truck driver
Texas comparative negligence law considers the conduct of all involved parties.
So in the above example, what if the rider suddenly slammed on his brakes for no reason or was texting and did not see the SUV before the collision occurred? What if the rider was speeding or coming down a hill? What if he had been drinking, or was legally intoxicated? There are a number of variables that have to be explored.
If it can be shown that there was a product defect or inadequate maintenance, the rider has to first sign a consent and waiver form before he can rent the electric scooter. The first time, he also has to watch an on-screen tutorial. Then he must agree that he is a competent rider and is familiar with all traffic safety rules. The app asks the rider several times if he is wearing a helmet and encourages it use — although none are ever provided and there is no chance someone is carrying one around Dallas.
Finally, the rider signs away his right to file suit and instead agrees to binding arbitration which is guaranteed to find in favor of the company. So the chance of winning an arbitration against the company is obviously not good.
Updated May 1st:
The national Center for Disease Control just issued a report calling the huge increase in ER visits due to e-scooters an “epidemic.” The report grew out of a request by public health officials in Austin which showed that almost 200 people where injured in the Capitol City in only three months late last year. Many people suffered head injuries and broken bones. More than one-third sustained fractures.