Helmets

Why regulate use of Helmets? 

Head injuries are very common among E-scooter rider injuries and E-scooters riders are largely not wearing helmets while riding.

JAMA Network conducted an academic study of E-scooter injuries at two University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) affiliated emergency departments, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and UCLA Medical Center-Santa Monica.[1] The study looked at the medical records of all patients admitted with injuries associated with standing E-scooter use between September 1, 2017 and August 31, 2018.[2] The study documented 95.6% of injured E-scooter riders as not wearing a helmet while riding.[3] Furthermore, head injuries were the most common injury, accounting for 40.2% of injuries.[4] Lastly, the study observed 193 E-scooter riders in the local community in September 2018 and found that 94.3% were not wearing a helmet.[5]

A Consumer Reports investigation into E-scooter injuries revealed similar findings. At the time of the report, the investigation found that no national data on E-scooter crashes currently exists.[6] However, Austin Badeau, M.D., a doctor at the University of Utah Health, analyzed 50 emergency room visits from scooter-related injuries over a 5-month period in 2018.[7] None of the patients Dr. Badeau analyzed reported wearing a helmet at the time of their injury.[8] Additionally, Christopher Ziebell, M.D., emergency department medial director for the Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas in Austin, counted 53 injuries from E-scooter accidents since dockless scooter fleets arrived in the locale last May.[9] Head injuries accounted for almost 30 percent of Dr. Ziebell’s counted total.[10]

Possible Approaches for Governments

            Governments should consider legal approaches, such as requiring E-scooter riders to wear helmets or explicitly not requiring helmets, and non-legal approaches, such as public education, to address helmets as a major safety consideration for E-scooters.

Not Requiring Helmets

            One legal approach a government can choose is to not require helmets.

One reason this could make sense is the nature of most E-scooters. The largest E-scooter companies offer their E-scooters as “dockless,” meaning that they do not need to be parked in specific, designated parking zones. They are comparable to dockless bicycles because both dockless E-scooters and dockless bicycles are last-mile transportation solutions[11] that can be quickly rented via a phone application. An academic medical study published in December 2018 on the dockless bikeshare program in Seattle, Washington found that 90 percent of bikers wore helmets when riding personal bikes, but only 20 percent of bikers wore helmets while riding dockless bikeshare bikes.[12] Some medical experts suggest that dockless E-scooters will inevitably also have a lack of helmet use because E-scooters typically do not come with a helmet.[13] In addition, riding an E-scooter is a decision made quickly, often without premeditation, so riders usually do not already have a helmet with them.[14] Tarak K. Trivedi, an author of the JAMA Network academic study on E-scooter injuries, opined “I bet you if we went out in the street and asked people, if there was an easier way to get you a helmet that you don’t have to carry around all day, would you wear a helmet, I think most people would say yes.”[15]

Another reason that not requiring helmets for E-scooter riders could make sense is that many E-scooter companies already have programs in place to increase helmet use among riders. Bird and Lime, two of the largest dockless scooter companies, provide examples. Lime’s FAQ page on their website states: “Lime recommends riders wear a helmet at all times. Whenever possible, Lime distributes free custom-designed helmets to the communities we serve as a way to keep our riders safe on the road.”[16] Additionally, Lime says that riders must go through an “in-app tutorial” on helmet safety to unlock one of the company’s E-scooters for the first time.[17] Through the Bird mobile app, riders can request to be mailed a helmet by Bird and are responsible for shipping costs.[18]

Although E-scooter companies advertise programs to increase helmet use, government officials have called the effectiveness of these efforts into question.[19] For example, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (hereafter “SFMTA”) evaluated E-scooter companies’ efforts to promote helmet use when deciding which companies would be granted an operating permit to be a part of a one-year E-scooter pilot program in San Francisco.[20] SFMTA’s specific evaluation criteria was that “strategies to promote and distribute helmets should result in helmet use by riders.”[21] Analyzing the proposals submitted by the 12 E-scooter companies that applied for an operating permit, SFMTA concluded that only Hopr and Scoot had a “strong” proposal for increasing helmet use:

 [22]

SFMTA summarized Bird’s helmet proposal as: “free helmet upon request; field staff will encourage helmet use” and Lime’s helmet proposal as: “helmet giveaways at events.”[23] Analyizng each company’s proposal, SFMTA stated that each met only baseline strategies proposed by most or all other applicants and, based on observations during San Francisco’s E-scooter roll out in Spring 2018, these baseline strategies taken alone did not result in high levels of helmet use.[24] SFMTA also noted that Bird’s proposal for field staff encouraging helmet use is unlikely to improve usage if the staff or riders do not have a helmet on hand.[25] Conversely, Hopr and Scoot, the two E-scooter companies that received a “strong” rating from SFMTA for encouraging helmet use, submitted proposals for providing helmets with each E-scooter rental.[26] SMFTA stated that providing helmets with E-scooter rentals is the surest way to ensure consistent helmet use and is highly likely to result in helmet use compared to baseline strategies.[27] SFMTA’s analysis of E-scooter companies’ efforts to encourage helmet use and their comments on the proposals by Hopr and Scoot suggest that San Francisco’s permiting program has effectively mandated requiring helmets for E-scooter riders.

The biggest reason that not requiring helmets for E-scooter riders could be a desirable approach for governments to take is that requiring helmets could make it too costly for E-scooter companies to operate in the locale or deter people from riding E-scooters. This would minimize or eliminate benefits of E-scooters such as reducing pollution, shrinking traffic congestion, and increasing mobility.[28] This could also decrease overall traffic safety because while there have only been a few known fatalities from E-scooter accidents[29], motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death in the United States.[30] Cars kill roughly 40,000 people per year; another 5,000 lose their lives each year on motorcycles, and 840 people died on bicycles in 2016.[31] While the raw number of deaths associated with other vehicles is very high compared to the raw number of  E-scooter deaths, it is important to qualify these figures with the fact the E-scooters are a relatively new vehicle and therefore have fewer trips taken and lower overall usage, helping to keep E-scooter fatality statistics lower. Oregon’s E-scooter pilot program provides a useful analysis of the potential impact of E-scooters on a locale’s overall traffic safety.[32] Oregon’s E-scooter pilot program found that there were fewer scooter-related emergency room visits than the number of bicycle injuries over the same time period.[33] The pilot program also noted a positive overall safety effect on the locale: “with 34 percent of Portland scooter riders stating they replaced car trips with E-scooter trips, an increase in E-scooter use has the potential to contribute to a reduction in serious injuries and fatalities.”[34] This would especially be true if comments from Paul Steely White, Bird’s director of safety policy and advocacy, are accurate. White said that “the number of injuries reported would amount to a fraction of one percent of the total number of E-scooter rides.”[35] Despite the potential overall traffic safety benefits of not requiring helmets for E-scooter riders, decision makers should keep in mind that this approach would likely decrease safety for E-scooter riders themselves.

Requiring Helmets

          An opposite legal approach that governments could take is requiring helmets for E-scooter riders. This approach could make sense because helmet use would improve the safety of E-scooter riders on an individual level in an accident. Since E-scooter helmet and injury data is minimal, looking at the impact of helmet use on similar vehicles such as motorcycles and bicycles is useful. Helmet use is found to reduce motorcycle fatalities by 22 to 42 percent.[36] A review and meta-analysis of 83 studies and 64,000 injured bicyclists found that helmet use reduced the risks of serious head injuries by almost 70 percent.[37] The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (hereafter “CDC”) is currently conducting a study on the reported spike in injuries related to the use of E-scooters.[38] Jeff Taylor, manager of the Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance Unit at Austin Public Health, who is overseeing the study with the CDC, said that the report will issue recommendations as early as Spring 2019 and one of the recommendations will be the use of helmets for E-scooter riders.[39] The CDC findings reveal a significant rate of head injuries and only a 2 percent rate of helmet usage in the sample studied.[40]

One safety concern created by requiring helmets is sanitation, including the potential spread of lice and other diseases because of E-scooter riders sharing helmets. Head lice are small, gray, parasitic insects that thrive on human heads and hair, and can result in itching of the scalp and secondary bacterial infections.[41] To prevent the spread of lice in helmets that come with E-scooters and are shared by E-scooter riders, E-scooter companies could offer riders helmet liners that are like wig caps. Wig caps are often sold with wigs for sanitary purposes and could be used for this purpose with E-scooter helmets. E-scooter companies could also offer surgical caps. For example, to prevent the spread of lice in schools where students share bike helmets, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (hereafter “WABA”) purchases surgical caps from a local hospital at a cost of 10 cents/each.[42] In addition to mitigating safety concerns over the sanitation of shared E-scooter helmets, using a helmet liner of some kind would be advantageous for E-scooter companies themselves. Offering helmet liners to E-scooter riders would require minimal investment and effort from E-scooter companies. Comparatively, if E-scooter companies do not spend money to prevent sanitation issues with E-scooter helmets, they will have to spend money to resolve them. To control lice contamination in helmets, the National Pediculosis Association, a non-profit health and education agency dedicated to protecting children from the misuse and abuse of potentially harmful lice pesticidal treatments[43], recommends vacuuming and wiping out the helmets.[44] This process would require E-scooter companies to have spare helmets available to use, or to take E-scooters offline, while infected helmets are being cleaned.[45] E-scooter companies could also look into spray delousers to disinfect contaminated helmets, but would have to worry about adverse side effects such as potentially damaging the helmet or leaving a foul odor inside it.[46]

A locale could choose to require helmets with a state law. An example of a state law for helmets is California Vehicle Code §21235.[47] This law was changed effective January 1, 2019 by California Assembly Bill No. 2989.[48] Prior to the new bill being signed into law, all Californians were required to wear helmets while riding E-scooters.[49] Under the new state law, only E-scooter riders under the age of 18 are required to wear a helmet.[50] However, cities are free to impose stricter helmet requirements if they desire.[51] Before the governor signed California Assembly Bill No. 2989 into law, the Los Angeles City Council had approved a set of regulations mandating E-scooter companies notify riders that they must wear a helmet.[52] When asked what kind of helmet requirements Los Angeles may impose now that California state law has changed, Marcel Porras, chief sustainability officer for the Department of Transportation, said it’s “too early to tell.”[53] Even if new requirements are imposed, Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz questions whether the city would even be able to enforce the rules once passed.[54] “If we shut down all of the riders violating the laws, 99 percent of the ridership is gone and the scooter companies are out of business,” he said.[55] “The question is: Is there any appropriate way to enforce these? And I don’t see what that would be.”[56] On that note, members of the Los Angeles Police Department and the City Attorney’s office told the Los Angeles City Council’s public safety committee that they were unaware of any citations given to riders who weren’t wearing helmets when they were mandated by California law.[57] Instead, the officers had been issuing warnings to these riders and many had simply chosen to abandon the vehicles.[58]

Austin, TX is an example of a locale that chose to use existing city law to regulate the use of helmets for E-scooter riders.[59] As of January 2019, riders of every type of scooter need to follow the same rules as bicycle riders in Austin.[60] Austin municipal code § 12-2-31 states that bicycle riders under the age of 18 are required to wear helmets.[61] Therefore, Austin E-scooter riders under the age of 18 are required to wear a helmet.[62] Using existing city law for bicycles to require helmets for E-scooter riders could be a desirable approach for governments because there are many similar safety concerns between E-scooters and bicycles. Additionally, governments could use this approach to provide safety requirements immediately without enacting E-scooter-specific legislation. Then, if E-scooter-specific legislation is needed, governments could again follow Austin’s approach. Austin transportation spokeswoman Jen Samp has announced that a rider ordinance for dockless devices is planned to be previewed in Spring 2019.[63] “We want to be able to equip our law enforcement with policy, and then give clarification where it needs for scooter riders,” Samp said.[64]

A final legal approach that a locale could take for regulating helmet use among E-scooter riders is requiring E-scooter companies to encourage helmet use as a requirement for obtaining and maintaining a permit to operate in the area. A rare example of this is ordinance 18-O-1322 in Atlanta, Georgia. Ordinance 18-O-1322 was enacted because Atlanta’s citywide bike share ordinances do not regulate E-scooters.[65] Therefore, the City of Atlanta desired to amend Chapter 150, Traffic and Vehicles, of the City of Atlanta Code of Ordinances to create a new Article X, to be entitled “Shareable Dockless Mobility Devices,” to establish regulations related to shareable mobility devices, which include E-scooters.[66] Before enacting the ordinance, Atlanta evaluated other Shareable Dockless Mobility Device ordinances from Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago and other cities to understand the regulatory schemes they have implemented to regulate new forms of dockless mobility, such as E-scooters.[67] Article X includes a requirement that Dockless Mobility Device System Operators, which includes E-scooter companies, secure a permit issued by the city in order to operate in Atlanta.[68] Under ordinance 18-O-1322, a “Shareable Dockless Mobility Device” is defined as:

“an electric/motorized or human-powered device that permits an individual to move or be moved freely, is available for rent to the general public for short-term one-way trips without the installation of any infrastructure in the public right-of-way and shall include but not be limited to a bicycle/e-bicycle, scooter/e-scooter and shall exclude any motor vehicle required to be registered with the state, in accordance with state law.”[69]

Section 150-401 mandates that no Shareable Dockless Mobility Devices may be operated or deployed in the City of Atlanta without a permit.[70] As part of the permit requirements, E-scooter companies must have “a plan for encouraging helmet usage.”[71] If a determination is made that an E-scooter company is in violation of the permit requirements, the City of Atlanta shall issue notice or issue a citation.[72] Notices of violation or citations may result in the revocation or suspension of a permit after written notice and reasonable opportunity to cure.[73] A city ordinance like Atlanta’s could be a desirable approach for locales that want to encourage helmet use for E-scooter riders but do not want to take on an additional burden, instead imposing the burden of encouraging helmet use on E-scooter companies through permitting requirements. Click here for information on permit cost structures.

Public Education

(PBOT photo by Sarah Petersen)

           A non-legal approach that a government could implement to address helmets as a major safety consideration for E-scooters is public education.

Public education about E-scooters riders using helmets is already being done by E-scooter companies. For example, Lime invested $3 million[74] on their Respect the Ride safety campaign.[75] As part of the campaign, Lime plans to distribute 250,000 helmets worldwide and is encouraging riders to sign the Respect the Ride pledge, pledging to adhere to safe and responsible riding behavior, which includes agreeing to wear a helmet while riding.[76] Another example is Spin, which has a partnership with folding helmet company Overrade Plixi to encourage helmet use while scooting.[77] According to a Spin spokesperson, Spin holds safety demos in the cities where they operate.[78] As of January 2019, Spin’s next planned safety demo was in Boise, Idaho for an upcoming launch of Spin E-scooters in the city.[79]

Another way that public education about helmets for E-scooters can be accomplished is via governments themselves. As part of Portland Oregon’s pilot program for E-scooters, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (hereafter “PBOT”) provided public education via print and digital communication channels.[80] PBOT staff also undertook education events to educate scooter riders about safety and their responsibilities as riders.[81] Another example is the Santa Monica public education campaign to equip E-scooter riders with the rules of the road.[82] The city of Santa Monica partnered with Bird and Lime, the two E-scooter companies currently operating in the city, to provide safety messages focused on wearing a helmet; riding on the street, not the sidewalk; having a valid driver’s license; riding one person to a scooter; and where not to ride.[83] The safety messages were displayed on the Big Blue Bus, Metro buses, Expo Line trains and stations, light pole banners and parking structures in Santa Monica leading up to COAST,[84] Santa Monica’s open streets event.[85] The cost of Santa Monica’s public education campaign was subsidized by legal and impound fees that were collected from E-scooter operators and earmarked for mobility education.[86]

CONCLUSION

            E-scooter riders are not wearing helmets while riding and head injuries are very common among E-scooter rider injuries. Governments interested in bringing E-scooters to their locale should consider legal approaches, such as requiring helmets or not requiring helmets, and non-legal approaches like public education to effectively address head injuries and a lack of helmet use as a major safety consideration for an E-scooter deployment.

[1] See Trivedi TK, Liu C, Antonio ALM, et al. Injuries Associated With Standing Electric Scooter Use. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(1):e187381. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.7381.

[2] See Id.

[3] See Id.

[4] See Id.

[5] See Id.

[6] See Ryan Felton, E-scooter Ride-Share Industry Leaves Injuries and Angered Cities in its Path, Consumer Reports (Feb. 5, 2019), https://www.consumerreports.org/product-safety/e-scooter-ride-share-industry-leaves-injuries-and-angered-cities-in-its-path/.

[7] See Id.

[8] See Id.

[9] See Id.

[10] See Id. (16 head injuries reported).

[11] See Last mile (transportation), Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_mile_(transportation) (last visited April 16, 2019). (“Last mile” has been used to describe the difficulty in people getting from a transportation hub, such as a railway station, to their final destination. Dockless E-scooters and dockless bicycles are two methods that have been developed to help alleviate this problem.)

[12] See Mooney, S.J., Lee, B. & O’Connor, A.W. J Community Health (2018) https://doi.org/10.1007/s10900-018-00599-1.

[13] See Felton, supra note 6.

[14] See Id.

[15] See Sarah Holder, Electric Scooters Sent Nearly 250 Riders to L.A. Emergency Rooms Last Year. Is That a Lot?, CityLab (Jan. 29, 2019), https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2019/01/electric-scooters-safety-statistics-injuries-bird-lime-vega/581482/.

[16] See Lime Micro-Mobility FAQs, Lime, https://www.li.me/help (last visited April 16, 2019).

[17] See Peter Holley, Hospital ER reports 161 percent spike in visits involving electric scooters, The Washington Post (Sept. 24, 2018), https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2018/09/24/hospital-er-reports-percent-spike-visits-involving-e-scooters/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.f2709c136871.

[18] See Safety First, Bird, https://www.bird.co/safety/ (last visited April 16, 2019).

[19] See generally Nicole Lee, Bird, Lime, Uber and Lyft strike out on SF scooter permits, Engadget (Aug. 30, 2018), https://www.engadget.com/2018/08/30/sf-scooter-permits-scoot-skip/.

[20] See Id.

[21] See San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, SFMTA E-scooter Application Assessment (2018).

[22] See Lee, supra note 19.

[23] See San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, supra note 21.

[24] See Id.

[25] See Id.

[26] See Id.

[27] See Id.

[28] See Holder, supra note 15.

[29] See David Gutman, Seattle embraced dockless bike shares, but bans scooter ones. How come?, The Seattle Times (last updated Feb. 20, 2019), https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/transportation/seattle-embraced-dockless-bike-shares-but-bans-scooter-ones-how-come/.

[30] See Injury Prevention & Control, Key Data and Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/overview/key_data.html (last visited April 16, 2019).

[31] See Holder, supra note 15.

[32] See portland bureau of transportation, 2018 E-Scooter Findings Report.

[33] See Id.

[34] See Id.

[35] See Holder, supra note 15.

[36] See Id.

[37] See Id.

[38] See Luz Lazo, The CDC is studying e-scooter injuries, The Washington Post (Mar. 15, 2019), https://www.washingtonpost.com/transportation/2019/03/15/cdc-is-studying-e-scooter-injuries/?utm_term=.035f6c5117eb.

[39] See Id.

[40] See Id.

[41] See Head Lice and Cleaning Helmets, Helmets.org, https://helmets.org/louse.htm (last visited April 16, 2019).

[42] See Id.

[43] See National Pediculosis Association, Inc. – NPA, Healthfinder.gov, https://healthfinder.gov/FindServices/Organizations/Organization.aspx?code=HR2088 (last visited April 16, 2019).

[44] See Helmets.org, supra note 41.

[45] See Id.

[46] See Id.

[47] See Cal. Vehicle Code §21235.

[48] See Cal. Assembly Bill No. 2989.

[49] See Elijah Chiland, California removes helmet requirement for electric scooters, Curbed (last updated Sept. 21, 2018, 11:41am PDT), https://la.curbed.com/2018/9/21/17884220/bird-lime-scooters-rules-helmets-california.

[50] See Cal. Vehicle Code §21235.

[51] See Chiland, supra note 49.

[52] See Id.

[53] See Id.

[54] See Id.

[55] See Id.

[56] See Id.

[57] See Id.

[58] See Id.

[59] See Kelsey Bradshaw, What are the rules for riding a scooter in Austin, anyway?, The Statesman (last updated Jan. 17, 2019), https://www.statesman.com/news/20190114/what-are-rules-for-riding-scooter-in-austin-anyway.

[60] See Id.

[61] See Austin Municipal Code §12-2-31.

[62] See Bradshaw, supra note 59.

[63] See Id.

[64] See Id.

[65] See Atlanta Ordinance 18-O-1322.

[66] See Id.

[67] See Id.

[68] See Id.

[69] See Id.

[70] See Id.

[71] See Id.

[72] See Id.

[73] See Id.

[74] See Sasha Lekach, Yup, e-scooters are dangerous, study confirms – especially since nobody wears helmets, Mashable (Jan. 25, 2019), https://mashable.com/article/e-scooters-helmets-bird-lime-injury-study/#Ya_zSEQ2Kkqt.

[75] See Respect The Ride, Lime, https://www.li.me/respect-the-ride (last visited April 16, 2019).

[76] See Id.

[77] See Lekach, supra note 75.

[78] See Id.

[79] See Id.

[80] See Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), Portland Bureau of Transportation, https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/692208 (last visited April 16, 2019).

[81] See Id.

[82] See Santa Monica Launches Public Education Campaign on E-scooter Safe Rules of the Road, Santa Monica Daily Press, https://www.smdp.com/santa-monica-launches-public-education-campaign-on-e-scooter-safe-rules-of-the-road/168770 (last visited April 16, 2019).

[83] See Id.

[84] See COAST Open Streets Event, Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/events/503040633469215/ (last visited April 16, 2019).

[85] See Santa Monica Daily Press, supra note 82.

[86] See Id.

Breakdown of Cities and Helmet Use Requirements

City* Helmet Speed Limit Age Limit
Austin, Texas yes* yes
Alexandria, Virginia yes
Atlanta, Georgia yes
Athens, Georgia*
Arlington, Virginia yes yes
Baltimore, Maryland yes* yes yes
Boise, Idaho
Charlotte, North Carolina yes* yes yes
Charlottesville, Virginia yes* yes
Cincinnati, Ohio
Columbus, Ohio yes
Dallas, Texas yes*
Denver, Colorado
Detroit, Michigan yes* yes yes
Durham, North Carolina yes yes yes
Fort Lauderdale, Florida yes* yes
Greensboro, North Carolina yes yes
Indianapolis, Indiana yes yes
Long Beach, California yes yes yes
Los Angeles, California yes yes yes
Louisville, Kentucky yes
Memphis, Tennessee
Nashville, Tennessee yes yes
Oakland, California yes*
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Orlando, Florida yes*
Portland, Oregon yes yes
San Antonio, Texas yes yes
San Jose, California yes
Santa Monica, California yes yes
Tempe, Arizona yes
Washington, D.C. yes

ü* Indicates age restriction on Helmet Requirement
*This is a sample of cities, selected because of their readily available regulations and ordinances. In no way is this list meant to be exclusive.