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Electric Scooters: Regulation, Litigation and Consternation

Electric scooters are likely already in your city and if not, the chances are good that they will be soon. In cities across Ohio, the United States and the world, one often does not have to go far before stumbling upon, perhaps quite literally, a huddling mass of scooters on a corner or sidewalk.

Ohio Cities Regulate Scooters with Local Ordinances: Will Statewide Regulation Be Next?

Despite whatever differences exist between the Ohio cities and the scooter companies, local legislatures have found commonality in how they regulate the product and its use. All Ohio cities with scooters regulate their use, for the most part, the same way the cities regulate bicycle use.

In Dayton, it is unlawful to fail to ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable or to ride on a roadway more than two abreast in a single lane. It is also unlawful to carry any article that prevents the operator from keeping at least one hand on the handlebars. It is further prohibited to ride on sidewalks, unless one is immediately leaving or accessing a parking location.

Nearly all of these ordinances come with a punishment of a traffic misdemeanor offense if violated. However, penalties can escalate with multiple violations, like with motor vehicle offenses.

As of now, no regulations exist at the state level and regulating scooters has been left to the municipalities. However, that may soon change.

Earlier this year, the Ohio House passed House Bill 295, which provides the following regulations relating to scooter use:

  • Scooters cannot exceed 15 miles per hour;
  • Scooters are required to use lighting at night
  • Riders would have to yield to pedestrians and give an audible signal when overtaking and passing a pedestrian;
  • Riders under 16 cannot use scooters;
  • Scooters would be exempt from state registration, title and insurance requirements for vehicles.

The Bill passed the House 89-1 and is before the Ohio Senate for its consideration.

Are there any benefits to State action? The obvious benefit is that the state legislation is meant to be a minimum, default set of state regulations that would hold whenever a local entity has not opted to enact its own laws. The bill would preserve the right of local governments to impose stricter restrictions on their rights-of-way.

Whether the Bill passes the Senate and results in statewide legislation will be something to keep an eye on.

Scooter Litigation: A New Frontier

In the meantime, as states and localities roll out regulations, scooter use offers a new frontier for litigation.

The first and most obvious form of litigation will likely come in the form of personal injury actions. A recent study by the CDC of scooter accidents found that riders suffered an injury for every 5,000 miles ridden. Fifty percent of the injuries reported were head injuries and one-third of the injuries were to first time riders.

According to similar studies, the most common injuries were not inconsequential, with 42% of injuries being extremity fractures and 18% being intracerebral hemorrhage or brain bleeds.

With one-third of first-time users experiencing some form of injury and many of the types of injuries being relatively serious, there is the potential for medical costs and missed work or "loss of enjoyment of life." Contributing to injuries and litigation is the fact that a Consumer Report survey found that 1 in 4 users were unaware of the traffic laws they should follow for scooter use.

In addition to personal injury lawsuits, lawsuits may arise out of the user agreements that consumers must agree to in order to use the scooters. These agreements are often found on the "app" that the consumer must download in order to use the scooter.

The trouble with the user agreements is that many people will not read them, as the agreements are an unreasonable length and contain language that many users do not understand.

Lastly, at the national level, at least one lawsuit has been filed alleging discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As regulations and usage evolves, we are certain to see litigation arise out of what is still a new and not fully realized mode of transportation.

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