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People are using more e-bikes and e-scooters. Are they safe?

As the pandemic persuades people to avoid using public transit, many are opting for micro-mobility options like shared pedal-assisted e-bikes and e-scooters. These personal transportation devices can help you achieve social distance, but there are challenges.

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) recently issued a report indicating that cities and states need to be more active in promoting safety. Shared micro-mobility systems are currently present in 47 states and the District of Columbia, and the GHSA expects them to continue to grow in popularity.

"We need to raise awareness among motorists, pedestrians and law enforcement about the rules of the road on micro-mobility," said a spokesperson for the GHSA, "and take action to upgrade laws, infrastructure and data systems for new mobility options."

As the use of e-bikes and e-scooters has risen, so have injuries and hospital admissions. According to the GHSA, most e-scooter injuries result from falls or collisions with infrastructure. Unfortunately, there are also collisions with motor vehicles, and those can be deadly.

For e-bikes, injuries severe enough to need hospitalization are three times more likely to involve a collision with a motor vehicle than another cause like a fall.

What is needed to make micro-mobility solutions safer?

Infrastructure: Since these devices offer no protection in a crash, it would be safest for riders if different modes of transportation were separate. In other words, e-bike riders and e-scooter riders are safest out of traffic, but many localities prohibit riding them on sidewalks. It would be helpful if cities could incorporate barriers between traffic and e-vehicles or allow riders to choose where they feel safe riding.

Data: Injuries are probably being underreported because there is no national reporting standard. Cities are hindered by a lack of data about crashes and injuries, and this data would allow research into issues like common causes of crashes.

Education: Riders and motorists need to be trained on the legal rules for operating these devices. Education is crucial to ensuring that micro-mobility users can ride safely on public roads, and to helping motorists drive safely around these devices.

Oversight and enforcement: Since statutes and regulations vary by locality, riders and motorists are left to investigate the rules of the road. Moreover, law enforcement is hampered in its effort to address unsafe riding.

Funding: Currently, the federal law funding surface transportation initiatives, the FAST Act, doesn't provide funding for micro-mobility safety projects. As ridership continues to increase, this needs to change.

If you're planning on riding a micro-mobility device, wear a helmet. Helmets are usually not provided by sharing services, so you'll need to bring your own. Test your device to ensure that all major systems are in working order and ride defensively.

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