The Scooter Challenge: Negotiating the Pros and Cons of Scooter Traffic in Nashville

The Scooter Challenge: Negotiating the Pros and Cons of Scooter Traffic in Nashville

Jay Stillman

7 min read

Conflicting Trends

Stillman and Friedland have been following changes in transportation. More and more, it seems that there are conflicting trends which must be bridged if we want to improve traffic safety. We will discuss infrastructure and enforcement. Let’s look at a new phenomenon, urban scooter rental use, and how it is impacting Nashvillians. We will also tell you about some of the legal implications.

Large SUVs and other vehicles in the “light truck” class are the top-selling new vehicles. These vehicles offer safety and comfort, plus the ability to transport kids, the dog, and a jumbo load of groceries or vacation camping equipment. They are great suburban family cars in terms of convenience and capacity.

Yet, many urban dwellers and visitors like the freedom and convenience of small, lightweight scooters and electric bikes. Low cost, including as-needed rental options and a chargeable battery, make them attractive price-wise. Scooter riders can also easily dodge the traffic jams that make car traffic painfully slow at times.

As you can see, each vehicle has its niche, but when both of these modes of transport share a roadway, accidents are bound to happen. Scooter use also impacts pedestrians. Another component is reckless scooter driving, including use while intoxicated.

The Issue With Mixed-Use Roadways And Sidewalks

We have extensively covered issues of mixed-use roadways. Combining cars, trucks, and motorcycles often results in bad accidents. In these collisions, the smaller and lighter vehicle is the clear loser in almost every case.

In May of this year, Nashville had its third scooter fatality, when scooter user Brady Gaulke made an improper turn and was struck by an SUV. Gaulke died several days after the accident due to traumatic brain injuries. His girlfriend, Brittany Ciullo, is campaigning for a renewed, permanent ban on scooters and promoting awareness about traumatic brain injury. Gaulke’s accident occurred after a temporary scooter ban was lifted and scooter rental companies were allowed to resume operations in Nashville.

In the case of mixed sidewalk use, the results are worse for riders in terms of numbers. While the sidewalks seem safer, dodging pedestrian traffic and negotiating curbs cause accidents as well. Use of scooters and electric bikes results in a dramatic jump in accidents when these vehicles are introduced. A two-year Israeli study examined scooter-related pedestrian and rider accidental injury due to these vehicles. This study revealed that 92% of incidents involved rider injuries and 8% involved pedestrian injury. Pedestrian injury harms the vulnerable most: 75% of these pedestrian injuries involved seniors (33%) or children (42%). In at least one case, a senior died after being struck on the sidewalk. Overall, out of nearly 800 total incidents, there were five fatalities.

Possible Solutions For Scooter Accidents

Two weeks ago, Nashville Metro Council voted to allow scooter rental companies to remain in Nashville. The scooter companies have advocated for making free helmets available and for the construction of more bike lanes.

When we examined the issues, it is obvious that distributing helmets is a cheap and effective way of reducing the severity of head injuries. However, helmets do not resolve the underlying issue of traffic accidents involving scooters and more massive vehicles.

Adding bike lanes is a good approach but it is costly, takes time to develop, and is not always an option. Also, where there are bike lanes and pedestrian walkways side-by-side, scooters and e-bike users tend to swerve into pedestrian-only space when traffic is heavy in the bike lanes. The same can be true for bike lanes on roadways, with scooters and bikes weaving into car traffic. Therefore, limiting the number of scooters (an apparent condition of the scooter rental agreement) is a good idea.

WebMB has produced this video which tackles the key issues in scooter safety

Electric Scooter Safety Tips | WebMD

Stillman and Friedland were unable to find the proposals offered to the Metro Council by the rental companies which led to the reversal of the scooter ban. All we know is that scooter numbers will be limited. However, the bill which was amended to allow the scooters retains the following points elucidating the reasons for the ban (emphasis ours):

  • Nashville Fire Department responded to 74 scooter-related accidents during the period from January 1 through April 30, 2019–43 of which occurred during the month of April alone
  • Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s trauma center and emergency department have reported approximately one major traumatic brain injury per month and one to two injuries to patients’ faces, arms, or legs per day as a result of scooter accidents…Saint Thomas Midtown’s emergency department has reported two to three scooter injuries per eight-hour shift
  • September 2018 to April 2019, Hub Nashville received over 630 complaints related to scooters, including the illegal operation of scooters on sidewalks and improperly parked scooters–activities that pose significant risks to pedestrians and which thwart compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act

Scooters And Safety Compliance

The most important point not addressed by rental companies and not addressed by the Metro council is the issue of safety compliance and enforcement. As noted recently in the Tennessean:

The proposal by the five companies does not address enforcement issues of existing scooter rules, such as parking restrictions and sidewalk usage in business districts, and makes no mention of penalties to users regarding improper use. Enforcement has been a point of frustration from residents since scooters were rolled out last year, and Metro Police officials have said they have limited resources to focus on scooter violations.

Scooter companies have also pledged to increase personnel responsible for picking up scooters from the streets so they do not become a nuisance. One of the big complaints has been the proliferation of scooters on the sidewalks since one of the attractions of scooter rental is that users are not required to return them.

Safety Recommendations

China, where the e-bike is extremely popular, is also examining the pros and cons of e-bike use. When there is heavy urban traffic and people are looking for a cheap mode of transportation, safety is an issue. One Chinese study concluded with these safety recommendations:

  • Construct separate bike lanes and medians
  • Use video surveillance
  • Add two-step left-turn options for riders
  • Add legislation banning drunk riding
  • Prohibit transporting child passengers
  • Add licensing requirements
  • Create a safety awareness campaign for riders and truck drivers

Legal Implications

What are the legal implications for Nashvillians today, the legal issues for you if you are involved in a scooter accident? If you choose to use a scooter, you are not covered by your auto insurance, although you may be covered by your healthcare insurance. Never assume you will be covered; take ten minutes and check your policy. Do not be surprised if scooter use increases and fewer insurance companies agree to cover scooter injuries.

According to Insurance Journal:

…riders are exposing themselves to liability and are most likely not insured for the damages they may cause… A rider’s personal health insurance — if he or she has it — could help defray the cost of their own medical bills in case of an accident.

But it’s another matter entirely when a scooter rider hits and injures a pedestrian, damages someone’s property, or causes a car accident. The rider may be held responsible, and most insurance policies will not cover those expenses.”

Companies claim that you are covered, notes IJ, but the reality may be different:

Despite the scooter companies’ liability insurance, experts say responsibility for damages is likely to fall on the riders’ shoulders, because of the terms and conditions users agree to when they download the app.

When you consent to the scooter rental user agreement, you waive your rights to pursue a claim against the scooter rental company. Improper use of the scooter is expressly prohibited under the user agreement, including failure to use a helmet and driving while drunk or drugged.

Key Concerns Regarding Scooter Use In Nashville

What are the key concerns regarding scooter use today in Nashville? While scooters add a new, fun, and convenient mode of transportation at a cheap price, accidents and reckless usage result in injuries mostly to scooter users themselves. Safety is and will continue to be a concern both in mixed-use collision situations and user failure. Liability costs for damages to others may not be covered and instead be borne by the user; this could run into thousands of dollars.

If you plan to use a scooter, test drive it first in a parking lot or empty park where scooter use is permitted. Get used to handling the scooter before you hit the streets and make safe use your first priority. Always wear a helmet.

How will these issues be resolved? Infrastructure may be a key component in the future, but for now, the focus should be on enforcement and education.

The Metro Nashville Police must-have resources and fines must be paid for non-compliance. As with all incidences of dangerous use of vehicles, we cannot control situations where individuals are irresponsible, we can only put in disincentives and put out information to discourage hazardous behavior. Reckless riding and parking annoyances must be penalized. Ironically, the MNPD may have to put some of the force on scooters to enforce the rules.

Because we care…