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Electric scooters, or E-scooters, have been appearing in cities across the country. Designed to fill the final leg of a journey – from a bus station or a parking lot to work – or short trips that are too long to walk but too short to warrant a drive, shared E-scooters have been very popular for residents and city visitors who want a cheap and easy transportation option. When E-scooter companies like Bird and Lime offered that option without the need to return the scooters to designated drop-off points, E-scooter sharing took off.
But it has not all been good. E-scooter accidents have been incredibly common and costly and disproportionately impact innocent victims. States and cities have stepped in to try to regulate E-scooters in an attempt to keep everyone safe, to varying degrees of success.
In Pennsylvania, this path of regulation has been different, though. The personal injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian explain.
The Difficulties of Regulating E-Scooters
What happens on the roads is regulated by numerous different sections of the law. The traffic code, however, is where most of the regulations are found.
Because there are so many different kinds of vehicles on the road and because each one has different dangers and concerns that warrant different regulations, a state’s traffic code first has to categorize and define the types of vehicles allowed on the road. In most states, unfortunately, E-scooters do not fall clearly into any of these categories. Typically, E-scooters are like motorcycles without the requisite engine power, or they are like bikes with an engine.
As a result, most traffic codes – both at the state and the local level – do not specifically say anything about E-scooters.
How E-Scooter Sharing Companies Enter New Cities
E-scooter sharing companies like Lime and Bird have used that regulatory silence to swoop into new cities, drop off a bunch of E-scooters, and charge people to rent them. The regulations do not say that E-scooters cannot be ridden, so the companies provide the service and force cities to figure out how to respond. Some cities embrace the presence of E-scooters by crafting regulations that allow them. Other cities tolerate E-scooters by keeping their traffic code silent. Still others, like New York City or Los Angeles, have filed cease and desist letters against Bird and Lime until they can regulate E-scooters. Some cities have preemptively banned them altogether.
E-Scooter Regulations in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania, however, has been in a unique position from the very start. Well before the rise of E-scooters and E-scooter sharing companies, the commonwealth’s Department of Transportation (DOT) had already outlawed “motorized scooters” – whose definition included the vehicles used by E-scooter sharing companies Lime and Bird: A “2-wheeled vehicle powered by an engine or an electric motor and does not have a seat or saddle for the driver.” Under the DOT’s rules, “these vehicles cannot be operated on Pennsylvania roadways or sidewalks.”
Without being allowed to use the roads or sidewalks, E-scooters could not be used meaningfully in public in Pennsylvania. The preemptive prohibition – created before E-scooter sharing was even a thing – is responsible for the glaring absence of a Pennsylvania city on either Lime or Bird’s map of participating locales.
Changes on the Horizon
However, some cities in Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, are trying to get those regulations changed so that E-scooter sharing can come to their area.
Movement in that direction has been happening on a serious level as late ago as May 2018 when Philadelphia Councilman Mark Squilla created a city ordinance that directed Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems (OTIS) to come up with a set of regulations for dockless bike and E-scooter sharing. The bill was signed by Governor Wolf on June 10, 2018, and left OTIS with the feeling that they were ahead of the E-scooter regulation game – a game that many other cities were losing as they struggled to fashion rules while E-scooters careened by on the sidewalks.
However, it was later discovered that the provisions of Philadelphia’s new ordinance contradicted the DOT’s outright ban against E-scooters. The commonwealth’s prohibition against any “2-wheeled vehicle powered by an engine or an electric motor and does not have a seat or saddle for the driver” trumped Philadelphia’s local regulation, sending OTIS back to the drawing board for its E-scooter regulations. The portion of the city ordinance pertaining to dockless bike sharing, though, is set to continue.
The setback has put the future of Pennsylvania’s E-scooter regulatory structure in the hands of the state rather than individual cities. Bird and Lime are likely to lobby lawmakers in Harrisburg for a change to the DOT’s regulations that would allow them to provide E-scooter sharing in cities like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Scranton, and Erie. If successful, Pennsylvania would be unlikely to issue detailed regulations about where, when, and how E-scooters could be ridden. Instead, it would likely punt the issue back to local cities to come up with the details to the regulation based on the specific concerns, dangers, and goals that are unique to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, or any other city in the commonwealth.
Personal Injury Lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian Serve Pennsylvania
The personal injury lawyers at the law offices of Gilman & Bedigian have been closely monitoring the spread of E-scooters and the companies that provide them for shared rides. As E-scooters have proliferated throughout the U.S., so too have serious injuries associated with them. Most of those injuries involve innocent people – often pedestrians – who deserve to be compensated for the losses that came from the incident. Other injuries have happened to E-scooter riders who failed to notice a hidden but dangerous condition on their E-scooter, or who happened to select a vehicle that was plagued with defective brakes, wheels, or other important device.
Whenever someone gets hurt on an E-scooter and was not at fault, expecting them to cover the costs of their injury would be unfair. The personal injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian know that and strive to legally represent E-scooter accident victims in Pennsylvania. Contact them online for help.