The mere mention of electric scooters elicits visceral responses unlike any I have seen in over 30 years of working on transportation safety.
Technically known as micro-mobility, or dockless electric mobility devices, scooters appeared in metro-Atlanta about one year ago. Scooters are located near where you need to pick one up and using it is as simple as logging in with your smart phone. When your trip is done, no need to return the scooter — you leave it at your destination.
While scooters are a great source of recreation for many, it’s their potential for transforming how we travel short distances which make them revolutionary. Think about how using a scooter for a ride to a transit, work or play destination can avoid the need for a car or bus to get you there.
Scooters, like dockless electric bicycles, smooth out the hills and lower the temperature, thus making them viable commute alternatives; aka, I won’t be sweaty when I get to work! The congestion and air quality benefits are significant, in addition to eliminating the need for parking a car.
Because scooters share the public space, their use — like drivers of any vehicle, bicyclist or pedestrian — should always be lawful. Users riding on sidewalks, obstructing passage of sidewalks or roads, or violating traffic safety laws is prohibited. However, given too many roadways need substantial repair, roadways lacking bicycle lanes or multiuse pathways to accommodate shared use, or due to roadways with vehicles driven in excess of the speed limit, we see scooter use on sidewalks that compete with pedestrian use. This reality suggests we should be investing more to improve roadway segments to accommodate multiple modes of use.
As with any form of transportation, the goal is to take advantage of its potential benefit and reduce its harm. For example, we know cars and commercial trucks provide us great benefits, but their use has tragically resulted in over 35,000 crash deaths and tens of thousands more serious injuries in the U.S. per year.
Throughout the U.S., billions of dollars are spent each year to make our infrastructure, vehicles and driving behavior safer. Uniform traffic safety laws have been enacted in every state and jurisdiction to ensure safe and lawful behavior is known by all transportation users, and the laws should be enforced. Decisions by federal, state and local safety policy makers should always be guided by supporting data and best practices that make our transportation infrastructure and behavior as safe as possible.
For example, by analyzing crash reports, we know how and where impaired driver crashes, excessive speed crashes, or distracted driving crashes occur. Analysis of crash reports also provide data on when vehicle occupants are injured or killed in a crash due to failure to wear a safety belt or vulnerable road users such as pedestrians or cyclists become crash victims due to unsafe behavior or infrastructure. From this data, we have developed best practices that save lives and prevent injuries on our roadways.Without data analysis, the effectiveness of monies spent or laws enacted is more often a guess.
The importance of this cannot be overstated: data analysis to produce best practices which govern our laws and policies is what prevents injuries and saves lives on our roadways.Several respected organizations, which include Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Injury Prevention Research Center at Emory, are currently analyzing scooter crash data in order to develop best practices for policy makers to consider.
I believe not only are scooters here to stay, but other not-here-yet micro-mobility vehicle-users will seek to occupy our shared roadways. Our collective goals for their usage, as with all other transportation uses, is to ensure their benefit is maximized, and harm minimized.
Bob Dallas chairs the Dunwoody Planning Commission, is a past chair of the pedestrian advocacy group PEDS and was director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety from 2003 to 2011.