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Where to ride my Electric Scooter? Posted on

Street Legal Scooters: Do E-Scooters get the Green Light on Sidewalks, Roads, or Bike Lanes?

Since their introduction to the marketplace in the year 2000, electric scooters have since exploded into the public’s consciousness as an eco-friendly, entertaining, and cost-effective transportation resource when it comes to traveling. Increasing in popularity as personal portage devices and available to the public in a pinch, thanks to companies who have released rental fleets in major cities, scooter enthusiasts and commuters alike remain curious regarding rules and regulations surrounding these new devices.

Based on their size and speed capacity, there’s room for debate when it comes to deciding whether scooters belong on roads, within bike lanes, or on sidewalks. Classified as more congruent with the bicycles occupying designated lanes than the vehicles navigating roads and pedestrians pacing sidewalks, legalities vary from city to city in the realm of the appropriate space for scooters.

Brief History of Scooters

Electric scooters have evolved rapidly in a relatively short amount of time. With the introduction of the first stand-up electric scooter from Go-Ped in 2001, to the release of propane-powered scooters in 2008, and the installation of battery-equipped electric scooters in 2013, it’s not surprising that scooter commuter guidelines remain ambiguous. It’s been challenging to keep up! However, with the roll out of major scooter-sharing systems, like Bird, in 2018, more attention has been assigned to studying the safest space for scooters.

Where can I ride my scooter?

So, where is the best place to ride your scooter? We are going to compare and contrast the different spaces in our modern transportation corridors, that a scooter could be ridden in.

Pros of Riding Electric Scooters on the Street

Worth noting is that many areas in the United States don’t deem these devices as street legal due to electric scooters’ lack of specific safety measures, such as lights, mirrors, and the insurance requirements maintained by motoring counterparts, like cars, mopeds, and motorcycles. However, these laws vary state to state, and several electric scooter owners identify worthwhile benefits of cruising the streets.

First, scootering on the streets may keep pedestrians safer; riding street-style allows electric scooter owners to avoid individuals walking on sidewalks as well as sidewalk maintenance and other potentially dangerous architecture. Moreover, electric scooter speeds average around 20 miles per hour, a rate comparable to the speed of cyclists, so allowing scooters in the bike lane may facilitate the flow of traffic and serve as a logical step in congestion control. Finally, with the rise of scooter rental companies, the public seems to have an increased interest in investing in a device of their very own in order to avoid paying per ride. The appeal of this cost-friendly alternative to cars combined with the advantages of a shortened commute time for many city dwellers reveals the inevitability of an electric scooter revolution. With the undeniable presence of so many new wheels on the road, safety must be a priority. The safest option may feature making room in extant bike lanes for electric scooter riders.

Cons of Riding Electric Scooters on the Street

While several perks accompany the opportunity to scooter on the street, certain concerns also arise when it comes to safety. For instance, some civilians believe electric scooters to be less safe than bicycles; inexperienced riders operating a rental may be unfamiliar with the scooter’s structure and settings, potentially endangering cyclists. Additionally, the best electric scooters have only recently gained traction and visibility among consumers, which means cyclists may be equally unacquainted with the etiquette of sharing lanes with electric scooter riders. In fact, this issue may be further complicated by scooters’ lack of turn signals and adequate lighting infrastructure. Another conflict involves riding electric scooters in areas with uneven roads, potholes, and rough terrain, as these surfaces struggle to support small wheels and compete with the overall design of the device. Finally, while many tourists, young adults, and college students enjoy the convenience of electric scooters when it comes to facilitating commutes, it’s important to consider the dangers of scootering while intoxicated. Often viewed as a viable alternative to driving under the influence and particularly appealing to thrill seeking individuals who are already intoxicated, we must consider the increased risk of injury endured by passengers in cars, cyclists, and pedestrians. This is especially dangerous if those operating e-scooters are allowed to ride within traffic on streets.

Pros of Riding Electric Scooters in Bike Lanes/Paths

Scooter enthusiasts recognize the advantages of riding alongside their cyclist counterparts in bike lanes, and four key ideas bolster this recommendation. First, electric scooters and bicycles both have two wheels and travel at the same speed, so sharing a lane provides a sensible solution to sustain the natural flow of traffic. Next, traveling in bike lanes keeps scooters safe from cars on the street without requiring drivers to make any adjustments. Similarly, if electric scooters are granted access to bike lanes, safety benefits multiply; riders and pedestrians won’t cross paths. Finally, bike lanes are typically well maintained. These lanes offer smoother surfaces and overall better riding conditions for scooterists, which makes the activity safer and prioritizes the security of everyone involved.

Cons of Riding Electric Scooters in Bike Lanes/Paths

However, it’s only fair to consider the perspective of a cyclist. If electric scooter owners are unaccustomed to the rules of the bike lane, unfamiliar with commonplace signals, and unaware of appropriate speed limits, uncertainty arises for both parties involved. Additionally, a lack of adequate bike lane systems is a real issue in many locations, and in the absence of safe bike paths, electric scooters are relegated back to sidewalks or streets anyway. With the safety of cyclists and scooterists in mind, we must consider potential hazards in regions with limited lane options.

Pros of Riding Electric Scooters on Sidewalks

In the status quo, e-scooters are most commonly used on sidewalks; here, traveling via electric scooter feels safe and sound. Relying on sidewalks to travel allows riders to avoid potholes, parked cars, and convoluted construction zones. Plus, the surface of the sidewalk offers a smoother ride than bike lanes or the roads, which is fortunate for both the device and its owner.

Cons of Riding Electric Scooters on Sidewalks

On the flip side, scooter riders may feel safe while pedestrians suffer the consequences. Because safety requirements for rental scooters are enforced through an honor system of sorts, these policies may be abandoned at the rider’s whim, leading to accidents involving pedestrians, strollers, and even other electric scooters. Traveling at speeds of 15 to 20 miles per hour can be dangerous while traveling on overcrowded sidewalks bustling with pedestrians, and many recognize the accelerated pace of electric scooters as a potential threat to walkers.

Legality of Electric Scooters Across Cities and States

Scooter riders should be mindful that not all rules and regulations are created equal when it comes to electric scooters; unique guidelines exist based on the city, state, and even country you intend to cruise. For instance, while places like Portland, Oregeon, and San Diego, California, have introduced pilot programs in conjunction with companies that offer rental capabilities, riders may be ticketed for traveling too fast in pedestrian-heavy areas. Moreover, certain states have issued speed limits, registration requirements, sidewalk bans, and helmet laws. The opportunity to rent scooters is still new, and particular concerns have been vocalized about their interference with pedestrians on sidewalks. While electric scooters are mostly legal in the United States, rental rides are banned in New York and nighttime rides in Santa Barbara are highly contested. Places like Singapore and Barcelona have prohibited the devices altogether. Because electric scooters fail to qualify as motor vehicles, designing rules for these devices is challenging, so be sure to check out your city and state’s laws before taking off. 

What Does the Future Hold for the Legality of Electric Scooters?

Using a cost-benefit analysis, it’s clear that electric scooters contribute more good than harm, which explains their increase in popularity, appeal to consumers at every age, and role as an up and coming staple in the modern day commute. Cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and an entertaining way to get from point A to point B, electric scooters have earned a place in communities, and time will tell how to regulate these devices in a way that prioritizes safety for all. So far, we understand that speed will determine where electric scooters are granted access and where they are prohibited. However, some cities and states are already making accommodations for these new devices by offering scooter parking racks and allowing riders in bike lanes. The widespread use of helmets and interest in electric scooter rental companies demonstrates the public’s interest in alternative commuting techniques and speaks to the evolving attitude regarding e-scooters. Analogous to the adaptations skiers made on the slopes when snowboarders appeared, the overall forecast is positive when it comes to electric scooters earning their own space among cars, bicycles, and ped


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