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Bird, Lime deploy electric motorized scooters in Columbus

Don't you know about the bird? No, we are not referring to the hit single by The Trashmen - we are talking about the new electric scooter craze popping up on city streets and sidewalks. This new mode of transportation is designed to provide another "last-mile" transportation option for those traveling short distances around the city. The scooters can be unlocked through a smartphone app for just $1 and an additional 15 cents per minute while riding. However, the costs of using these scooters can be much more severe if riders are not careful.

All one has to do is take a walk on a downtown sidewalk to see the dangers these scooters pose. Most of these scooters are ridden on sidewalks without a helmet and casually tossed aside in the public right of way once the rider is finished. Not only do these scooters place the rider at risk when using the product, it also puts pedestrians and motorists at risk. Here is a list of common accidents involving motor scooters:

  • Scooter rider crashes into a pedestrian on a crowded sidewalk
  • Pedestrian trips over a scooter carelessly placed on a sidewalk by a rider
  • Rider does not obey traffic laws and is struck by a car
  • Scooter hits a pothole or other roadway/sidewalk hazard
  • More than one rider using the scooter at a time
  • The scooter's brakes fail or the tires lock up

As a personal injury law firm, we have to ask ourselves - who is responsible in an accident involving a scooter? Is there any kind of insurance through Bird? Through the rider?

In Ohio, it is illegal to drive any motor vehicle without insurance. It is also illegal for a vehicle owner to allow anyone else to drive his or her motor vehicle without insurance. "'Motor vehicle' means every vehicle propelled by power other than muscular power or power collected from overhead electric trolley wires, except..." See R.C. 4509.01. Motorized scooters are not included in the list of enumerated exceptions, but interestingly, motorized bicycles are included as an exception. Thus, it appears Ohio law requires riders to have insurance, and would further require Bird, as the owner of the scooter, to ensure riders have insurance. In other words, if Bird allows a rider to rent a scooter without verifying the driver has a valid driver's license or proof of insurance, it could subject them to a negligent entrustment claim.

However, the old adage caveat emptor, or let the buyer beware, seems to be especially pertinent to these scooters. Riders of these scooters should take the time to read the terms of service and user agreements. For example, Bird's User Agreement contains contractual language stating "Rider agrees to fully release indemnify, and hold harmless Bird and all of its [agents]...from liability for all 'Claims' arising out of or in any way related to Rider's use of the Bird Services, Vehicles, or related equipment." 'Claims' is defined to include, among other things, injuries to the rider or to third parties. This means the rider, in exchange for getting to use the vehicle, is agreeing to release Bird from any liability if either the rider is injured or the rider injures another individual while riding the scooter. Riders should consider contacting their automobile or homeowners/renters insurance carriers to determine if there is any coverage provided when renting a motorized scooter. If not, the rider could be personally liable in the event they are involved in an accident.

According to Bird's website, all riders are supposed to be 18 years old and should abide by local laws regarding use and operation of the scooter, including any helmet laws. In Columbus, this means the scooters should only be ridden where motorized vehicles are permitted (i.e. street, bike lanes) and not on sidewalks or greenways. Ohio law holds that "no person shall operate a low-speed vehicle upon any street or highway having an established speed limit greater than 35 miles per hour." See R.C. 4511.214. Similarly, the City of Bexley expressly prohibits the use of motor scooters on sidewalks. See Bexley Codified Ordinance 474.12. Of note, because the City of Columbus' helmet law only applies to children under the age of 18, it is not illegal to ride these scooters without a helmet.

Once the ride is complete, the user should park the scooter in a "lawful parking spot, in an upright position using the kickstand". The user should not park the scooter in a heavily trafficked area if the scooter is in danger of being knocked down and the scooter must be parked in a space that is visible. For a more comprehensive guide of how to operate these scooters, riders should visit the companies' respective websites.

If there is one thing for certain, it is that there is much uncertainty surrounding these scooters. City leaders have noted there is a lack of law and regulations governing these scooters. It is only a matter of time before some are developed to bring some order to a chaotic situation. In the meantime, if you or a loved one has been injured in an accident involving one of these electric motorized scooters, feel free to contact our office to see if we can be of assistance.

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