NEW modes of transportation always come with glitches attached. Trolley cars, trains and automobiles were all seen as menaces to civilization by many people when they first appeared on the scene.
It is with that in mind that we consider the electric scooter and try very hard not to look like cranky 20th-century throwbacks.
The e-scooters are coming. They’re in D.C. and many Northern Virginia suburbs. They’re very popular in the college towns of Charlottesville and Harrisonburg. They’re all over Richmond. Odds are they’ll be in Fredericksburg sometime soon.
They have a lot to offer: cheap, oil-free transportation that should make city streets less congested. Unlike the Segways, which seem more and more to be an acquired taste not acquired by all that many, they could be the wave of the future.
Back in the present, though, there are questions. Lots of questions.
As of July 1, the Commonwealth of Virginia has said that localities can regulate the e-scooter issues. Virginia law says all riders must wear helmets, although an observer in Richmond can attest to the fact that this law is not adhered to religiously. Riders must also have a driver’s license. And it goes without saying that they can’t ride while inebriated.
What’s the speed limit? Most cities have settled on 10 to 15 mph.
Sidewalk or street? Some places allow them on the sidewalk while other cities, like Paris, have banned them from sidewalks. There is great opportunity for injurious pedestrian–scooter interaction on cement paths that aren’t always wide enough to have anticipated these devices. Think about it: An e-scooter going 15 mph is about the same speed as a sprinter running a 14-second 100-yard dash. That noise you hear behind you is coming up fast.
Should they be restricted to bike lanes? If they’re consigned to streets, do they have to obey “car rules,” such as stopping at red lights and giving proper turn signals?
What happens when (not if, but when) there’s a collision? Most auto insurance policies won’t cover injuries to pedestrians, property or cars if you’re on an e-scooter. Emergency rooms are already reporting an uptick in injuries tied to them. Eleven e-scooter deaths have been recorded since the start of 2018.
Are police officers going to have the time or will to pull e-scooter riders over every time they think someone might be riding underage?
Is it safe to have two people riding on one scooter?
There were 38.5 million e-scooter rides last year in the U.S., and the number grows by the week. It is essential that Fredericksburg and other localities set down sensible, safe rules early on and that the public be made aware of them.
And, if at some near future date you’re strolling down the sidewalk on William Street and almost get run over by a speeding e-scooter, console yourself with the fact that there are worse things.
After all, the self-driving cars are coming.