The scooterpocalypse is here. Every block of UT and West Campus teems with scooters zipping across the streets or cluttering the sidewalks. According to City of Austin data, Austin riders took over 263,000 trips in January alone, with 65,000 starting at UT or its surrounding areas.
The scooters provide a new tool for students to traverse UT’s large campus quickly, but they also pose new safety hazards to both riders and pedestrians.
Earlier this month, UT student Mark Sands died from an accident while on a Lime scooter. Fox 7 Austin reported last December that Dell Seton Medical Center, the closest general hospital to UT, sees as many as 10 scooter injuries a day.
Electric scooters pose a unique threat to safety due to their design. Scooters have small wheels, flimsy handling and only one hand brake that is prone to skidding or failure.
When asked about the company’s efforts to promote safety, a Bird spokesperson provided an email statement detailing the company’s safety initiatives. Lime did not respond to a request for comment.
The safety strategy of Bird and other companies appears limited in telling users basic safety rules. This is possibly because they would rather focus their resources on “growth hacking” their way into multi-billion dollar valuations than ensure their devices do not result in injuries or deaths. They check if riders have a driver’s license, tell people to wear helmets and provide some basic safety instructions on their app.
However, riders often fail to follow even these basic instructions. Almost no one ever uses a helmet while riding scooters because of the impracticality of carrying a helmet around all day. Riders often go on sidewalks or break other rules such as only having one person on the scooter. Last December, while I was walking down a crowded sidewalk near the Trail of Lights, two people riding a single scooter, one of whom was under 18, almost ran into me. This is a clear violation of three rules at once that nearly led to an injury.
Many students have experienced the danger of scooters firsthand on campus. After asking if any students had been injured by a scooter on my personal Facebook, I received a flood of stories of injuries ranging from mild to severe.
Last October, computer science senior Harsh Goyal was riding down Red River Street when he noticed his scooter was going 19 mph despite the scooters’ internal 15 mph limit. The next thing he knew, he was on the ground in severe pain.
“I almost passed out,” Goyal said. “I couldn’t raise my arms above my shoulder and walking was really hard that day. I ended up going to (the Student Services Building), and at that point they said they were getting two people per day with scooter injuries.”
Shiv Akshar Yadavelli, a mathematics and physics senior, said he fractured his elbow after falling off a Lime scooter on Speedway. When he went to Seton hospital, the doctor told him they were thinking of categorizing scooter injuries as a national health hazard.
Both students told me many scooters they encountered in the past had faulty brakes.
Though UT has moved to prevent scooter accidents — UT’s Parking and Transportation Services recently issued new guidelines for riding scooters on campus, including an 8 mph speed limit — these measures are not enough to protect Austin riders and pedestrians.
Scooter companies and the City of Austin should mirror UT’s steps towards scooter safety and take it a step further. Scooter companies need to ensure the scooters are well-maintained, and the City must place new regulations on the companies. Increased safety regulations can restore public trust and prevent further injuries and deaths.
Govil is a computer science and government senior from Austin.