UT needs to alert students of scooter user-agreement risks

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Photo Credit: Hilda Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

Like most students who walk around West Campus, I get irrationally angry at scooters. They tip over and block walkways, and riders attempt to pass pedestrians on narrow sidewalks. But after thinking about my reaction I realized what I hate most about scooters — their egos. 

More accurately, I hate the arrogance of their manufacturers. These startups burst into cities and scatter their goods before acquiring permits, fully expecting transportation officials to play catch-up with policies and guidelines.

Lime and Bird also require all riders to consent to lengthy terms of use before the scooters unlock, which is particularly suspect. Among other terms, users agree to waive all claims to personal injury. There’s substantial evidence, both in Austin and beyond, that scooters pose a significant safety risk. 

To combat the unwieldy terms that trap students in these user agreements, UT’s Parking and Transportation Services needs to alert students of the rights they give up when they agree to ride e-scooters.

For the majority of students, clickwrap agreements — those pesky terms of use that pop up before you can create an account or download a software update — don’t hold much weight. We’re accustomed to scrolling past large swaths of legal jargon and clicking ‘yes’ when prompted, all to achieve our end goal. Students approach these scooter companies’ terms of use with this same mindset.

“I’ve never taken the time to read through the Lime terms of use, and I doubt any other student has either,” said English sophomore Robert Mayers. “Most people don’t even take the precaution of wearing helmets.”

According to Fox 7 Austin, Dell Seton Medical Center sees up to 10 patients with scooter-related injuries a day. When riders waive Lime or Bird’s responsibility prior to suffering an accident, riders could face significant financial and medical challenges if they seek treatment for their injuries.

Two weeks ago, Austin Community College student Jeremiah Mahoney filed a lawsuit against Lime in which he blamed the company for negligence and failure to alert users of an increased risk for injury.

“I was going down a decline and the scooter locked,” Mahoney said. “It just froze in place and I flew into the street. Broke my wrist and chipped some other parts.” 

Mahoney’s injury occurred at a time when Lime was attempting to fix a software glitch that caused wheels to suddenly lock. While Mahoney was lucky, most students aren’t. If a user incurred an injury while unaware of ongoing issues with defective scooters, they probably wouldn’t have a case.

In addition to preventing victims from suing Lime and Bird for injuries, these agreements don’t allow users to sue for negligence. Considering scooters are strewn about the Austin sidewalks, stripping companies of all blame seems absurd. Nonetheless, these agreements have a basis in business practice.

“Understandably, a scooter company does not want to be in the position of going into court with every person who gets injured,” said Andrew Kull, a distinguished senior lecturer specializing in contract law. “The people who write these agreements are trying to minimize their exposure to consumer litigation.”

At the moment, Lime’s user agreement is 261 cell phone pages; Bird’s is 58. While startups deny responsibility for errant riders, they’re certainly aware that most new users approach their products in a hurry. They can’t reasonably expect them to sift through hundreds of complicated legal terms. 

While UT didn’t bring scooters to campus, they’re here, and now they’re a student problem. Since Parking and Transportation Services oversees on-campus scooter safety, they should inform students of the legal ramifications of scooter clickwrap agreements. Students are busy, usually in a rush — this may be the only way they understand what they’re signing up for.

David is a advertising sophomore from Allen.