by Greg Tasker
The exploding popularity of stand-up electric scooters, also known as e-scooters, poses yet another hazard for bus and motorcoach drivers as they maneuver busy—and sometimes unfamiliar—streets in congested cities.
The two-wheeled devices, which can be rented through a smartphone app, are showing up in more cities, spurred by interest from tech-savvy urban residents and the convenience of using the mobile scooters to navigate short distances instead of driving a car, hopping a bus or walking.
“We’re used to seeing bicycles and pedestrians on roads. We’re not used to seeing scooters,” said Bob Crescenzo, vice president of Lancer Insurance Company. “From a physical aspect, scooters have a lower profile than bicycles. They’re lower to the ground, they’re a little harder to see. They’re not very noisy. They move quicker than bicyclists, and if scooter riders are wearing headphones or using a phone, they’re distracted.”
E-scooters are the latest concern for bus drivers seeing dramatic changes in how people move around in an increasingly tech-oriented world. Pedestrians distracted by their cell phones and not watching when or how they cross streets is another concern, especially in urban areas.
“People are stepping into the streets and not even paying attention to traffic signals,” Crescenzo says. “The increasing dependence on phones as an extension of a person’s form—whether it’s glued to their ears or mouth—is a growing problem. It’s people of all ages, and it’s a constant issue.”
Several issues make e-scooters especially problematic. Scooter riders often don’t wear protective equipment, which increases the risk of more serious injuries if an accident occurs. Many of them have no experience riding a scooter and receive no training. Riders also are more likely to ignore the rules of the road, failing to signal turns or stops. Sometimes they ride in bike lanes; other times they don’t. They’re also known to encroach in the space between vehicles and the road and the curb, or ride against the flow of traffic.
“The biggest issue is that scooter riders are confused about which traffic laws pertain to them,” Crescenzo says. “Combined with all those elements and the newest of the technology to riders, e-scooters present risks for drivers.”
The New York-based commercial transportation insurer sent an e-blast to its clients this summer underscoring the dangers of driving amid e-scooters and offering driving tips. The communication included a report of a fatal accident involving a scooter rider and a transit bus in Atlanta. The accident occurred while the bus was attempting to make a right turn, trapping a 20-year-old man underneath the vehicle, authorities reported.
The fatality was the latest in a series that have occurred since the fall of 2017, when e-scooters began emerging on American streets. Since that time, at least eight people in the U.S. have died while using a rentable e-scooter, according to Consumer Reports.
The two most recent deaths, including the Atlanta fatality, occurred in May. The other accident was in Nashville, where a 26-year-old man on a scooter was hit by an SUV. Consumer Reports confirmed reports of the crashes through public records and interviews with law enforcement authorities.
Earlier this year, a Consumer Reports investigation—which tabulated injuries from 110 hospitals in 47 U.S. cities—found that at least 1,500 riders had been injured since e-scooters were introduced in late 2017. Many cities are struggling with how to regulate the scooters; some have banned them from city sidewalks.
Scooter companies such as Bird and Lime recommend riders wear helmets. Most cities do not have regulations requiring helmet use; however, the scooters do not come with helmets, either. Additionally, the companies recommend only one rider at a time on scooters, and no one under 18 should be using them.
Drivers, Crescenzo said, are essentially dealing with the unknown when it comes to scooters. They’re often driving into cities where they may not know the streets or be aware of changes in transportation dynamics.
“Does a driver even know where there is a scooter program in the area? Are they aware of what’s happening? Charter buses are often going to different cities at different times and might not be aware of changes on the roadways, including scooters,” Crescenzo says.
Both Lancer Insurance and National Interstate Insurance have made drivers aware of these issues and have offered safety recommendations (see sidebar).
“With respect to advice for drivers dealing with distractions, this is an ongoing and increasing problem,” says Michelle Wiltgen, assistant vice president and national marketing manager for National Interstate. “Our risk management team has been talking with our customers and providing training material to direct drivers to remain vigilant and practice good defensive driving skills in all cases.”
Essentially, its recommendations stress the importance of “situational awareness”—being mindful of the people, vehicles and environment around drivers on the country’s roadways. Drivers are encouraged to scan ahead, look to the sides and check behind.
Lancer’s Crescenzo says advancing technology will continue to present obstacles for drivers. Those advancements include the testing of self-driving or autonomous vehicles, which tend to be operating in congested urban areas where there are higher concentrations of people and vehicles.
“It’s a remarkable process as we move into the future in the next 10 to 20 years,” he says. “It’s something we’re watching. It’s an ongoing issue, and something we’ll be seeing more and more.”
Driver mindfulness refresher tips—Lancer Insurance
- Keep your eyes moving. Look at least 15 seconds ahead and scan from side to side to help spot scooters on roads.
- Give scooters a wide berth. Slow down and allow extra distance between your vehicle and riders ahead of you.
- Exercise extreme care at intersections. Take an extra look before turning left or right and rock and roll in your seat to check any blind spots. Signal your intentions.
- Give riders the same respect as you would any driver. Be patient and understand riders are in a much more vulnerable position than you are.
- Don’t assume. Not all riders are proficient; they may swerve, brake suddenly or even fall. There can also be obstacles on the road such as debris or potholes that can be challenging even for experienced riders.