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Keven Moore: ‘Scooter-Mageddon’ aside, just how safe are E-Scooter ride-sharing services?

Just like that for those of us that live in an urban city, we now have a new ride-sharing transportation option, and it isn’t called Uber and Lyft.

The recent craze spreading across America is E-Scooter ride-sharing service in which electric motorized scooters are made available to rent from an app from your phone to use for short-term rentals. This sharing of scooters is similar to car sharing or bicycle sharing systems, and many of these leading founders came from Uber and Lyft.

Scooters are generally “dockless,” meaning that they do not have a fixed home location. They are dropped off and picked up from arbitrary locations in the service area at the end of each day, utilizing an onboard GPS system to be recharged and serviced.

These environmentally friendly scooters are fun to ride and have gained a ton of popularity with people looking to make their commute a little cheaper. Pricing is very straightforward: $1 to start, then 15 cents a minute. They are currently operating in Louisville, Covington, and Cincinnati, and Lexington is in talks with Spin, which has a one-year exclusive contract to operate the city’s bike-share program, which will add electric scooters sometime in 2019.

What makes them so appealing is that there are no reservations needed, no red tape, nobody telling you where to leave them once you are done using them. All you have to do is agree to the terms and have a valid credit card, and you can travel up to 15 miles at top speeds of 15-20 miles per hour.

Bird Scooters and Lime Scooters have been closely tracking the number of rides their scooters have handled: more than 20 million combined – and growing every day.

Lime Scooters and Bird Scooters are the two leading start-up companies that are offering scooter rentals all across the country and are in over 100 cities, and both Bird and Lime are in the process of raising large investment to continue to fuel their expansion.

Without checking with city officials, these companies have been dropping off hundreds of scooters in new cities every single month and the craze is growing so quickly that they have become controversial with city officials and universities.

The evasion of scooters has caught a lot of city officials off guard – frustrating city officials and causing them to push back. Several major cities have started to confiscate the scooters, while others banned them completely until they can study the impact that they will have on their cities.

As an entrepreneur-minded capitalist, I find this successful idea to be mind-blowing and just like you I’m asking myself, ‘Why didn’t I think of this?’ However, with my risk management and safety training, I would have to call this “Scooter-Mageddon” as I can only visualize the risk exposures that these rented scooters present and as the craze continues to grow.

Being somebody who can appreciate a good start-up business that fills a need, I would score them an A++, but as a risk management and safety professional, I would have to score them as a D-. I would have scored them an F, if it hadn’t tried to offer some safety solutions to their business model to try to reduce the risk to their customers and the general public.

To offset their exposures these E-Scooter companies have all established several safety rules and regulations, but almost all are hard to enforce.

For instance, each E-Scooter company requires riders to wear safety helmets, but if you go to their website, blogs and social media sites there are several pictures or videos showing riders riding without the required safety helmets.

These E-Scooter companies are limited as to how to require safety helmet usage, because they simply can’t offer community sharing safety helmet per vehicle because of personal hygiene concerns, and therefore most riders are not using safety helmets from my judgment.

Some have tried to offset this exposure by offering free helmets to their customers if the customer covers shipping, but there is no mechanism to enforce such compliance, and no OSHA won’t enforce this either.

If I was advising any of these E-Scooter companies, the first thing I would do to help promote safety is to go in and change out all those pictures to helmet wearing smiley-faced riders, because perception is reality, and, yes, you can send me a consultant fee if you would like. It would be the best advice I can give you.

They also require riders to represent and certify that he/she is at least 18 years of age and is a physically fit competent vehicle operator familiar with the operation of a vehicle. There again, how is that enforced? I know for a fact that my teenage kids all carried an active debit card, so what is to prevent an underage teenager with a phone and credit card from hopping on one of these scooters? Or what is to prevent an older friend or parent from renting one for an underage rider?

They also prohibit tandem riding (two people,) carrying backpacks, briefcases and large objects, riding on sidewalks, texting while driving, DUI, racing, stunt riding and that they must always conduct a safety inspection of the scooter prior to each use. But then again, how is this enforced? Do they have their own E-Scooter enforcement patrol officers riding these same streets to enforce their rules and regulations to better protect their customers and the community in which they serve?

I just know as a trained risk control professional that these E-Scooters will attract younger customers that don’t have the experience of wisdom, nor an aversion to risk at their age, such as this middle-aged risk-wise critic.

As a young man, I would have been the first person to hop on one of the scooters and would be out there promoting their usage. But with my fair share of bumps, broken bones and near misses in my youth, I now have a much different perspective.

As an older and wiser version of myself, I recognized that in addition to dodging traffic, pot-holes and pedestrians in possible rain, fog, snow, hail, ice, heat or electrical storms, that there are plenty of people with risky behavior riding these scooters. Then, there are plenty of people out there that do not possess the physical skills, depth perception and understanding of their speed to be riding these vehicles.

More importantly to the renter, after reading their user agreement, you as a rider are solely and fully responsible for the safe operation of vehicle at all times. Each of these start-up scooter sharing companies has taken all the extra steps to reduce their own liability by offering their own Rental Agreement, Waiver of Liability and Release. As a risk management professional that has stayed at Holiday Inn a time or two, I would have to tip my hat to whoever has written up their rental agreements.

For instance, the Lime rental agreement is 16,447 words long and after you have agreed to these terms to begin using the scooter, you have basically given away just about all your rights, just short of your freedom of speech.

If you are like most people who sign up for an app, you probably did not read the fine print on their phone with fonts the size of 4. But do you really realize what you signed away when you clicked “Accept?”

Essentially you have agreed to indemnify and hold the scooter company harmless as you have waived your right to sue them for any losses or accidents that occur after you hope on that scooter.

If you are injured or if you injure somebody else, or cause property damage, you ultimately have no insurance to offset those costs. Your personal or homeowners insurance will not cover those expenses and you are simply left out there to hang. But lawyers will be lawyers and according to recent Claimsjournal.com article, a recent class action lawsuit has been filed targeting electric scooter-sharing companies.

Nine people who were injured by electric scooters filed the suit on Oct. 19 in Los Angeles County Superior Court. It accuses startups Bird Rides Inc. and Lime – as well as their manufacturers Xiaomi Corp. and Segway Inc. – of gross negligence, claiming the companies knew the scooters were dangerous and deployed them in a way that was certain to cause injuries.

From my perspective, I would have to agree with what is charged. Since E-Scooters whizzed into the U.S. last year there has been a trail of accidents and injuries all across the country. Hundreds of riders and pedestrians have landed in the hospital with injuries ranging from severe head injuries, broken bones, road rash, to knocked-out teeth, ripped out toenails and detached biceps, according to ER doctors and victims. Last month, three people died while riding scooters in Dallas, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C.

There is no official tally on the number of e-scooter-related injuries in the country since hospitals code their patients based on the type of injury they are admitted with, rather than what caused it.

The fact is with any new technology or service being provided to the average American consumer comes with a degree of risk, and E-Scooters come with more than their fair share.

In my world of the insurance industry, new risks sometimes spawn off new products (insurance policies) and just maybe these E-Scooter companies can team up with an insurance carrier to draw up a policy that extends coverages to these users. Or just maybe an auto insurer or homeowner insurer will begin to offer up an endorsement that will extend coverage for E-Scooter users, but I wouldn’t be holding my breath when you factor is the risk exposure.

In the interim, as your online “riskologist” trying to not stifle progress, I would encourage future riders to buy a set of knee-pads and elbow pads, always wear a helmet and eye protection, follow all the safety rules, know your limits and then read the entire user agreement from beginning to end. Then, after that, decide what your risk tolerance is, and if you’re willing to take that risk to ride one.

Be Safe, My Friends

Keven Moore works in risk management services and is an expert witness. He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

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