NewsRegionBaltimore City

Actions

Electric scooters causing safety concerns

Posted: 6:25 PM, Oct 11, 2018
Updated: 2018-10-11 19:00:26-04

Electric scooters took Baltimore by storm over the summer as a fast and easy way to get around. They can go up to 15 mph and are cheap to rent.

"Over the course of a week, I'm saving $20 commuting to a from work and it's just a great way to start my morning," rider Jarred Jones said. 

But they have also caused safety concerns.

"You just gotta be careful with walkers on the sidewalk. I see a lot of people scared and they run away when they see me on a scooter," a rider said. 

"A lot of times, they will be coming from behind you, weaving in and out and it kind of gives you pause when they come kind of close to you and hopefully they don't run into the back of you," Jim Beard, who works downtown said.

The scooters arrived unregulated in July. In August, the city announced a partnership with two manufacturers Bird and Lime. Since then, Johns Hopkins Orthopaedic Surgeon Babar Shafiq says they've treated several injuries because of them.

"I’ve seen two separate types of knee fractures things, that are almost like a knee dislocation where the knee buckles in a way; something like getting tackled from the front and having your knee bend backwards. That’s pretty bad," Shafiq said. "There's been collarbone fractures, wrist fractures, elbow fractures and dislocations."

MORE: Baltimore City gives green light to dockless scooters; pilot program replaces bike share

Those injuries are also causing liability questions for attorney Charles Gilman. 

"Are they negligent or was it the provider of the scooter because they failed to maintain breaks or the scooter had a bad wheel on it?" Gilman said. 

His firm, Gilman & Bedigian , has taken 8-12 calls from people who say they were injured by the scooters; not just from those riding them, but from people getting hit by them.

"The most severe injury we’ve seen so far from a scooter is we got a call yesterday. A fellow was walking down the street, he was hit by a scooter rider and he fell. He had emergency surgery. He knew he broke an arm," Gilman said.

He's working with the victim to get money for lost wages and medical expenses but says this case poses new problems.

"If you’re driving your car and you hit me, I can get your license plate and if you leave the scene, I can use your license plate to track you and your insurance info down. The issue I see as a lawyer with these scooters is if I’m riding my scooter down the street and I hit you, you have no idea of finding out who I was or how I rented that scooter, if I have an insurance or any coverage."

Bird posts clear safety instructions on each scooter, like 'Helmet Required,' but the problem for Gilman and Shafiq is the enforcement. 

"They say don't ride on the sidewalk but there's no way to prevent it," Gilman said. "The answer may be they get banned for a little while until we can figure it out."

The scooters are in over 100 other cities, but some, like Boston, Denver and San Francisco, banned them until new regulations were passed. 

Last month, police say a 24-year-old died after falling off a Lime scooter in Dallas and a 20-year-old was killed in D.C. after being hit by an SUV while riding a Lime.

Hospitals in California are starting to collect data on the injuries caused by scooters and Shafiq hopes to do the same thing at Johns Hopkins. Right now, they track the injuries but not what causes them. 

"I want to think of it from a population level which is how many ridership's or trips happen and then compare that to injuries; so it's possible that these are quite safe if there is a very large number of rides, but without that data I really can't say. But what I can say is that it’s a new mechanism of injury that’s showing up almost every weekend in one of the EDs here in Baltimore with fractures," Shafiq said.

He says you should make sure to wear a helmet and maybe even elbow or knee pads.

"They are doing something new, at a high rate of speed in traffic on surfaces they aren’t used to so I think preparedness is my worry," Shafiq said.

In a statement, a  Bird spokesperson said: “Bird is committed to partnering with cities to ensure that the community, and its visitors, safely embrace our affordable, environmentally friendly transportation option. We strive to improve and enhance the well-being of our riders and communities through concrete action, including: restricting the maximum speed of the vehicles, requiring riders to upload a driver’s license and confirm they are 18 or older, providing an in-app tutorial on how to ride a Bird and how to park it, and posting clear safety instructions on each Bird. Additionally, Bird recently formed the Global Safety Advisory Board, which will create, advise, and implement global programs, campaigns, and products to improve the safety of those riding Birds and other e-scooters. We strongly recommend reporting any incidents that Bird scooters are involved in, as we have a support team dedicated to safety that is available around the clock to address questions and reports we receive. Bird provides a number of ways for people to reach us including by email (Hello@bird.co), through our in-app messaging feature, and by phone.”

It's a conversation that's only starting as the city evaluates its options and the scooters gain popularity. 
 
"It’s already a huge asset to the city but if done even better, Baltimore could be an innovator on the east coast," Jones said. 

We reached out to Lime  and didn't receive a comment.