A few weeks back, I ran into a friend who was visibly annoyed. He’d been walking on the sidewalk and had just been clipped by a person on an electric scooter.
On my first scooter ride, I was nearly taken out twice — once by someone throwing open a car door and once by someone pulling out of a parking lot, through the bike lane, without looking.
Now we’re starting to see some data that validate what anyone who has been on a scooter or anywhere near downtown Salt Lake City knows: These things can be risky.
Troy Madsen, a University Health Center emergency room doctor, looked at ER visits for the past three months and saw a major spike since the scooters deployed.
From July to September, there were 21 visits to the university’s Salt Lake City emergency room, a 161 percent increase from the same period last year.
Maybe that seems obvious — there are going to be more accidents when scooters are widely available and more people are riding them. But consider that these figures are from just one hospital and you can start to understand how many people are getting hurt, some of them seriously injured.
Nearly half of the injuries were dislocated joints. There were also sprains and fractures, but there were some head injuries too.
Several weeks ago, 24-year-old Jacoby Stoneking died in a scooter accident in Dallas. He is believed to be the first person killed on an e-scooter. And on Sept. 21, a rider died after he was pinned under an SUV while riding a scooter in downtown Washington, D.C.
It is a matter of time before we have a similar accident here.
Salt Lake City has set up an email account for feedback and complaints — firstname.lastname@example.org. Not surprisingly, the top complaint the city has received has been about sidewalk riders.
This week, Mayor Jackie Biskupski and representatives from the scooter companies are planning a public awareness campaign, going to high-traffic spots and reminding people to ride safe — stay off the sidewalks, obey the traffic laws and wear a helmet.
That last one is tricky. I think I’ve seen four people wearing a helmet on a scooter since they showed up on the streets. The companies are planning to give out helmets to riders to encourage them to be safe.
It’s a good start. Madsen said a lot of the accidents that result in trips to the ER could be prevented if people were smart about how they ride.
He said people should start out slowly to get comfortable on how to speed up and break and get off the scooters. Riding with two people on one scooter is a bad idea. And jumping off a scooter moving at 15 mph is a good way to end up getting up close and personal with the asphalt.
“You’re not going to be able to run fast enough to keep your balance and you will fall. Most of the injuries we’ve seen seem to be because of this, as people try to catch themselves and injure an arm or a leg in the process,” he said.
Don’t ride while intoxicated, he said. So far, nobody has been charged with a DUI while on a scooter, but it is against the law.
But encouraging riders to be smarter won’t solve the problem. The city needs to take a more active role.
Earlier this month, the City Council got an update on scooter regulations. Right now, the scooter companies operate under an agreement that sets restrictions on how many scooters can be deployed, where they can be used and where they can be parked.
It was intended as a stopgap, until the City Council could adopt a more formal ordinance regulating the devices. Work on that is underway.
It should include fines for riding on the sidewalks, disregarding traffic laws and age restrictions, and riding without a helmet. It should include a licensing fee on the scooter companies so taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill for the city to enforce the new law.
It should also include ticketing drivers whose disregard for the bike lanes puts cyclists and scooters at risk.
And the dockless scooter companies should commit to not running to the Legislature to undo the ordinance.
It’s possible for the city to go too far. Last week, I was chatting with a visitor from San Diego who back home got hit with a $300 ticket for riding without a helmet. That’s obviously too much. But there needs to be some threat of a penalty if we expect riders to comply.
The good news is that the council likely has some time to get it right. Winter is coming — to get a little “Game of Thrones” here — and Bird scooters and birds have one thing in common: They disappear for the winter. So do the scooters from Lime and Razor (which we’ve been expecting for weeks would drop scooters in Salt Lake City).
By spring, when the Birds return (and Limes and perhaps Razors), Salt Lake City should aspire to have the model scooter ordinance, one that lets people continue to use the scooters but, as much as possible, keeps riders and pedestrians safe.