Safety Issues Emerge as E-Scooters Roll into Chicago

Chicago’s electric scooter pilot program has taken to the streets and safety concerns for riders, pedestrians, and other motorists are beginning to emerge. Failing to abide by speed limits and other traffic laws, intoxicated operators, rider inexperience, and not wearing helmets are putting people at risk for brain injuries, broken bones, and death. Many kinks still need to be worked out to maximize public safety.

What is the Chicago’s Electric Scooter Program?

In theory, instituting a transportation program that could help alleviate traffic and reduce pollution might seem like a good idea. However, this remains to be seen as Chicago tests its dockless electric scooter program. This pilot program began on June 15 and is expected to run for four months, ending on October 15. Already the program has proven to be popular with more than 11,000 rides recorded during its first weekend.

Up to 2,500 electric scooters, supplied by 10 different vendors will be hitting the streets within a 50-square-mile pilot zone. This area is bounded by Irving Park Road on the north, Chicago River on the south, Halsted Street and the Chicago River on the east, and Harlem and the city limits on the west.

Riders can use their smartphones to unlock and ride the scooters only within the pilot area. The scooters will be accessible in areas where it is publicly legal to lock a bike. Vendors will also provide other payment options to riders without a smartphone or those who wish to use cash.

The scooters may only be used between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily only within the test zone. If riders try to ride the scooters outside the zone, geofencing causes them to slow down and stop. In helping to keep the public safe, scooters may not be operated on sidewalks and may only be used at speeds of 15 mph and below.

The city’s Active Transportation Alliance has recommended that city officials partner with businesses and companies to create designated parking areas and provide incentives to riders for properly parking their rented scooters. It has also been recommended that the city repurpose travel and parking lanes to scooter/bike lanes on the busiest corridors within the pilot zone. This will help encourage riders to stay off sidewalks and travel more efficiently.

What are the Safety Risks to Riders and Non-Riders?

There is has been concern over the safety risks that having an electric scooter program could bring to riders, pedestrians, and drivers. A recent investigation by Consumer Reports found that at least 1,545 scooter accidents with injuries occurred during 2018 in the United States. It is suspected that that number is likely to be higher due to unreported accidents.

Currently, no national database on scooter crashes exists. However, with some reported accidents where fatalities have occurred, riders failed to observe traffic laws. Riders are also at a higher risk of traumatic brain injuries if they do not wear helmets. While electric scooter vendors recommend riders wear helmets, they are not provided with scooter rentals.

Electric Scooter Vendors Have Responsibilities

Vendors who participate in the electric scooter program have responsibilities will be strictly enforced. During the pilot period, vendors are required to provide Chicago transportation officials with continuous, real-time data concerning safety, ridership, and operations.

There are two primary areas within the pilot zone where 25 percent of the scooters are to be placed each morning by vendors. To avoid cluttering sidewalks and posing trip and fall hazards, scooters must be parked in an upright position that is away from buildings, bus stops, and street corners. There must also be at least a six-foot clearance around a scooter that is parked on a sidewalk. Vendors are required to retrieve and move improperly parked scooters within two hours. They are required to remove their scooters from the streets every night.

Electric scooters must be outfitted with equipment that will help protect riders, pedestrians, and drivers. This includes a warning bell, hand and foot brakes, and front and rear lights. The vendor’s 24/7 phone number must also be affixed to the scooter.

Rules of the Road for Scooter Riders

Electric scooter riders also have responsibilities to protect their safety and that of others. The Chicago Department of Transportation and scooter vendors have established a list of “Scooter Do’s and Don’ts”. Riders should:

  • Wear a helmet while riding a scooter
  • Keep eyes on the road and obey all local traffic laws
  • Walk scooters on the sidewalk
  • Ride only in bicycle lanes
  • Never ride while intoxicated
  • Not park scooters in the way of sidewalk paths