Scooters, scooters, scooters everywhere
If you’ve driven in Los Angeles or another major U.S. city in the last year you may have noticed a new feature on the sidewalks – electric, motorized scooters everywhere. Whether they are being ridden, stored in neat rows on the edge of the sidewalk, or tossed carelessly in the middle of walkways, they are quickly becoming a common facet of urban life that communities are finding equal parts nuisance and convenience.
California Vehicle Code 21235, the law specifically written to govern motorized scooters, allows for the use of these scooters under certain restrictions such as where they can be driven (generally speaking, not on the sidewalk) or how fast they can be driven (generally speaking, 15 MPH). Incidentally, as of 2019, if you are over the age of eighteen you may no longer need to wear a helmet (though, of course, it is still strongly recommended you wear one – turning eighteen does not make you impervious to traumatic brain injury). Take all of this with a grain of salt, however, as local governments may have their own specific rules on the use of scooters and there is, of course, the general prohibition on creating a public nuisance – so check your local rules and regulations if you’re planning to scooter around town.
The main point of contention about the scooters is not as much how they are being used (though there are certainly safety issues and concerns), but rather how they are being stored. The electric scooter business model relies on sidewalks serving as storage units for their scooters, placing them on sidewalks all over the city for easy and ready access by their users. This, however, can be to the annoyance and detriment of those who want sidewalks to remain primarily for foot traffic.
On the one hand, it is illegal to “[l]eave a motorized scooter lying on its side on any sidewalk, or park a motorized scooter on a sidewalk in any other position, so that there is not an adequate path for pedestrian traffic.” On the other hand, however, as anyone who’s been in Los Angeles in the last year or so, this statute is quite often ignored and it is not uncommon to see scooters that have seemingly been thrown into the middle of the sidewalk.
To be fair, electric scooter companies such as Bird and Lime provide clear instructions to their users about how and where the scooters should be parked (see, e.g., https://youtu.be/Qb2s8A1KnRQ) and advise them “don’t block public pathways” and “park properly by curbside.” However, the real question is whether these efforts are enough and arguably they are not.
Just as we expect social media platforms to actually enforce community guidelines – that is, for example, we expect Youtube to remove offending videos rather than just assume all videos comply – we similarly can and should expect electric scooter companies to actually enforce the parking requirements. There are a number of ways for this to occur, but for starters they should include (a) actively monitoring how scooters are parked, (b) providing a way to report improperly parked scooters, (c) actively moving or removing improperly parked scooters, and (d) revoking or suspending the accounts of users who improperly park their scooters. This is largely what we expect of other service providers today and is not an unreasonable expectation for electric scooter companies to follow.
Absent such steps, it’s only a matter of when, not if, someone is seriously injured by an improperly parked scooter and brings a successful lawsuit for that injury. In fact, in October of 2018 a class action lawsuit involving electric scooters was already filed in California as a result of multiple scooter injuries arising from both their operation and storage. However, whether this lawsuit is a one-time anomaly or a sign of things to come remains to be seen and will depend on what steps the industry takes moving forward.
TLDR: Whether you use scooters or run a scooter company, it is critical to keep in mind that there are legal requirements and obligations that can and will impact this industry going forward if care is not taken. And if you have been negatively impacted by the use or storage of scooters in your community, you have legal options to protect yourself.
If you’re involved in a lawsuit or risk management and have any questions regarding current or potential legal issues, we would urge you to contact an attorney as soon as possible to obtain advice, guidance and representation. At Baker, Keener & Nahra, we have the experience, skill, and drive to get the best possible results for our clients, no matter the size of the case or the scope of the problem. So if we can be of any assistance to you, please contact us and let us know how we can help.