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Riding e-scooters on the sidewalk? That could be risky

Where is the best place to ride an electronic scooter? The sidewalk or the roadway?

The first thing you should check before renting an e-scooter is the local rule on where to ride. It may be illegal to ride these on the sidewalk in some cities, while in others it may be the expectation.

What do safety experts say? The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently completed a study on the question, and it came to mixed conclusions.

“We still don’t have a clear answer about where is the best place for e-scooters to ride,” says the IIHS. “Our results showed that when riders were injured on the road, their injuries were more severe, but when they rode on the sidewalk, there were more opportunities for injury.”

E-scooter injuries are common and can be serious

E-scooters are popular, and they’re becoming more prolific every day. According to one estimate, there were 86 million e-scooter trips last year alone. And, while e-scooter rentals have dropped during the pandemic, experts think people may increase their ridership as the need for socially-distant transportation alternatives grows.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that there were 50,000 ER visits and at least 27 deaths among e-scooter riders between 2017 and 2019. Injuries and fatalities also appear to be rising year over year.

E-scooter riders and bicyclists sustain about the same number of injuries each year, although of different types. Unfortunately, the e-scooter riders are more likely to suffer skull fractures or a loss of consciousness, partly because they are less likely to be wearing helmets. Only about 2% of e-scooter riders wear helmets, while an estimated 66% of bikers do.

The IIHS argues that more helmet use among e-scooter riders would bring down the injury rate, but it acknowledges that this may be a stubborn problem. Even if e-scooter rental agencies wanted to provide helmets, it would be hard to do so in a way that took helmet size into account. And, potential riders may not want to carry a helmet on the chance they’ll choose to rent a scooter that day.

Lack of experience increases the risk

Most people are much less experienced riding e-scooters than they are bicycles. The fact is, however, that inexperience makes it much more likely you’ll be in a crash. Indeed, 40% of e-scooter riders interviewed by the IIHS said they had been injured on their first ride.

E-scooters on sidewalks put pedestrians at risk, too

If you ride an e-scooter on the sidewalk, you may put pedestrians at risk. How much risk, however, is unclear. In Washington, D.C., where the study was done, a local law caps e-scooters’ speed at 10 mph. That has mitigated some injuries to pedestrians. However, the e-scooters themselves can often go 15 or 20 mph. A collision at that speed could seriously injure the pedestrian and the rider alike.

Bike lanes offer a possible alternative to sidewalks, where injuries are common and streets, where injuries can be catastrophic. However, bikes can potentially go much faster than e-scooters, so the two modes of transportation would have to compete there, as well.

It’s understandable if you are reluctant to ride an e-scooter in the street, where you could come in contact with a car. Yet riding on the sidewalk exposes you to risks from potholes and cracks in the pavement, and you may be putting others at risk of injury.

Where do you think e-scooters should be ridden?

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