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Nuisance or Necessity? Electric Scooters Raise Questions in Georgia

Nuisance or Necessity? Electric Scooters Raise Questions in GeorgiaIf you spend any time in Georgia’s cities, you have come across a Bird: a dockless electric scooter capable of moving up to 15 mph. On the one hand, electric scooters could be helping to cut congestion (and emissions) on Georgia roadways; on the other hand, they’re a bit of a menace to pedestrians and drivers alike. That is why cities throughout Georgia are attempting to update their ordinances to include not only these scooters, but small, electric vehicles of any kind.

So far, only Bird has come to Georgia – but Muving is also looking to make a name here, and other companies like Scoot, Skip, Lime and Spin have also started making their way into cities across the country. It is only a matter of time before they come to the Peach State. When they do, we need to have some rules and regulations in place to ensure that people are safe.

What kind of vehicle is a scooter?

Electric scooters don’t really fit into any category of motorized vehicle under Georgia law. They’re not quite “electric assisted bicycles,” which require a saddle, and they’re not considered motorcycles or motor vehicles (like trucks or cars). That leaves two categories:

  1. Moped, which is a “motor driven cycle equipped with two or three wheels, with or without foot pedals to permit muscular propulsion, and an independent power source providing a maximum of two brake horsepower…. The power source shall be capable of propelling the vehicle, unassisted, at a speed not to exceed 30 miles per hour (48.28 kilometers per hour) on level road surface and shall be equipped with a power drive system that functions directly or automatically only, not requiring clutching or shifting by the operator after the drive system is engaged.”
  2. Electric personal assistive mobility device, which is a “self-balancing, two nontandem wheeled device designed to transport only one person and having an electric propulsion system with average power of 750 watts (1 horsepower) and a maximum speed of less than 20 miles per hour on a paved level surface when powered solely by such propulsion system and ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds.”

Why does the definition matter? Because different types of motorized vehicles require different types of safety precautions. A person in a motorized wheelchair does not need to wear a helmet while moving, but a person on a moped does. Bird says no one under 18 may use their scooters, but Georgia allows drivers to obtain a provisional driver’s license at 16 – so how old do you need to be to safely use a scooter?

Defining pathways for scooter use

Electric scooters are designed to be used on the road. Throughout most of California, where Bird is based, scooter users are required to use bike lanes when they are available, and roadways when they are not. Nashville, Tennessee has the same requirement. But in Georgia, few such ordinances have been created so far, though they have been banned in certain places: the University of Georgia has placed a partial ban on the devices on their campus (excluding roads), and riders “are also supposed to steer clear of places such as Piedmont Park and the neighboring botanical garden, Georgia’s statehouse, and AmericasMart Atlanta,” per Curbed Atlanta.

Bird says in its contract that its scooters are for use in roadways only, but that has not stopped people from using them on the sidewalks. This poses an unnecessary risk for pedestrians, especially if one party (or both) is distracted at the time. However, even parking the scooter can create a problem. Because the devices are dockless, there are no designated parking spots, which means people are leaving the scooters all over town. This poses a tripping hazard, because they clutter up walkways. They can also fall over – and at around 25lbs, they can injure someone, especially a child, pretty seriously.

Issues of liability when it comes to accidents

One of our primary concerns about electric scooters is that there is no defined path if you are injured by one. Bird (and other companies like it) say that riders are solely responsible for any accidents they are in while using a scooter – but what does that mean for the people they hurt? Bird has technology that allows it to track its users, which means they should be able to determine if riders are being negligent. If people are using their products negligently – like, for example, using the scooters on the sidewalk – the company has a duty to shut them down.

If riders are using the scooters the way they are intended to be used, and something goes wrong with the vehicle, you may be able to file a product liability lawsuit. If the cause of your injury is related to a defective scooter, then the scooter company could be responsible for your compensation.

Right now, there are few protections in place for drivers, pedestrians, children, or even other scooter users who are hurt in a collision. You can purchase a specific policy for scooter-related injuries, and according to Value Penguin, if you have motorcycle insurance, then scooters may already be covered. You would need to check your individual policy to be sure.

If you do not have a specific policy for scooters, then you might be able to file a claim for damages using your UM insurance, provided that you did not waive that insurance when you bought your policy – but there is no guarantee that you can. Riders do not need to carry any insurance to use the scooters, and if you end up seriously hurt, they may not be able to compensate you for your medical expenses or your lost wages. There is some debate as to whether homeowners’ insurance, or other umbrella policies, might protect you if the incident occurred on your personal property. Again, you would need to review your insurance policy to see if such an event were covered, or potentially buy additional insurance for it.

What Georgian cities are doing to rectify the problems

It appears that every city has its own way of dealing with scooters:

  1. Savannah is considering an ban on electric scooters in the city. It only applies to companies who provide scooters for public rental; individual owners can still scoot around downtown.
  2. Atlanta is trying to work with scooter users and producers, and has drafted an ordinance that outlines basic requirements for parking, safety, and permits. It even creates a new definition: shareable dockless mobility device systems.
  3. The Athens-Clarke County Police Department has been given permission to impound scooters, and to issue citations for people who use them on sidewalks, but the city has not yet started to discuss options for using them in bike lanes or on bike paths.

For now, the only thing we can do is keep an eye out for scooters and the people who ride them. If you’re a rider, we ask that you keep to the roadways, and park your scooters as inconspicuously as possible, to keep sidewalks clear.

If you are injured while riding an electric scooter, or have been hurt by someone who was using an electric scooter, Harris Lowry Manton LLP will find a path forward for you. We are the firm that Georgians trust to protect them when they are hurt; let us do the same for you and your family. To learn more about our services, or to schedule a free consultation, please fill out our contact form or call us: 404-961-7650 in Atlanta, or 912-651-9967 in Savannah.



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