Unannounced in late August 2018, fleets of rentable electric scooters appeared in downtown Norfolk and at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. A smaller group of the two-wheelers also popped up in Town Center.
City leaders responded differently, but all elected officials and public safety personnel expressed justifiable concerns.
Norfolk ordered the scooters off the street and, by early October, had impounded more than 400 of the vehicles that reach top speeds of 20 mph. Virginia Beach allowed the scooters to remain but pledged to strictly enforce local ordinances requiring riders to stay off sidewalks, out of bike lanes, and as far to the right of surface streets as possible.
Leaving aside the “ask forgiveness, not permission” business model of Bird, the company that rents the scooters to riders for short trips, the scooters themselves present well-recognized injury risks to riders and pedestrians.
- A Virginia Personal Injury Lawyer Asks, “Are Scooters Safe?”
- Risks Pedestrians Face in Norfolk and Across Virginia
In California, where every city of any size already hosts to two or more electric scooter rental services, eight plaintiffs have filed a class action lawsuit against Bird, its chief competitor, Lime, and the companies that manufacture the rental scooters. A San Jose Mercury News report on that case begins, “ Chipped teeth, cut lips, broken bones and bruises are some of the injuries inflicted on pedestrians hit by scooters and on scooter riders themselves, a new class-action lawsuit alleges.”
Three factors appear to be in play: Scooter riders refuse to stick to the roadway, riders do not wear helmets or other protective gear, and the scooters go and stop much faster than people expect. The latter two factors combine to injure riders who get thrown from the scooters after sharp collisions or panicked braking.
But the biggest problem is the presence of a vehicle traveling at 15-20 mph through a mass of individuals on foot. A person moving that fast generates the force of a professional football player making a tackle at a dead run. Plus, pedestrian have little time to get out of the way.
This is one of the main reasons that Virginia state law strongly encourages cities and counties to classify electric scooters as vehicles that can only be used on the road. When a municipality follows that advice, section 46.2-905 of the Virginia Code states that scooter riders must
Ride as close as safely practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway, except under any of the following circumstances
- When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction;
- When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway;
- When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right curb or edge;
- When avoiding riding in a lane that must turn or diverge to the right, and
- When riding upon a one-way road or highway, a person may also ride as near the left-hand curb or edge of such roadway as safely practicable.
Electric scooter riders are allowed to use crosswalks, but they always have to yield right of way to pedestrians. Riders must also obey all traffic signals such as stop signs and red lights.
Now, to put on my Virginia personal injury lawyer hat, any scooter rider who violates state laws and local ordinances regarding where and how they can ride will be considered at fault for causing a crash that injures a pedestrian. A rider’s car insurance policy probably will not cover him or her outside a motor vehicle, but evidence of another person’s fault should allow an injured pedestrian to file uninsured motorist claims with his or her own insurance company.