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Issues Related to the Operation of Electric Scooters

Recently, several businesses throughout the North Texas area have begun ride-sharing operations in which individuals may rent electric scooters for personal travel and recreation. The popularity of these programs gives rise to several legal issues in the personal injury and litigation context.

Introduction:

Rental scooters made available by businesses like Bird and LimeBike in the North Texas area have given rise already to allegations of negligence and personal injury caused by the operation of these vehicles. See, e.g., Forrest Milburn, A LimeBike electric scooter crash sent a Dallas woman to the ER. Is the company liable? (2018), https://www.dallasnews.com/news/transportation/2018/07/12/limebike-electric-scooter-crash-sent-dallas-woman-er-company-liable, (last visited Jul 15, 2018). Moreover, the expansion of similar businesses in other states, like California, has given rise to a cottage industry of cases involving injuries on these vehicles. See Matt Howerton, Attorney tells Dallas to prepare for rental scooter accidents and litigation (2018), https://www.wfaa.com/article/news/attorney-tells-dallas-to-prepare-for-rental-scooter-accidents-and-litigation/287-572173867, (last visited Jul 17, 2018). Most regulation of the operation of these vehicles occurs at the local level. The following is a survey of the ordinances the City of Dallas has recently promulgated to regulate the operation of these vehicles, and a comparison of that approach with other large Texas cities.

Definition of a Motor Assisted Scooter:

The type of vehicle in question is defined as having not more than two wheels and a gas or electric motor not exceeding 40 cubic centimeters. City of Dallas, Tex. Code of Ordinances, Ch. 28, § 28.41.1(a)(4). Moreover, mopeds and motorcycles, electric bicycles, and electric personal mobility devices are explicitly excluded. Id.

Safety Regulations:

The City of Dallas has promulgated several rules governing the use of a motor assisted scooter. They may not be used on any city-owned property. City of Dallas, Tex. Code of Ordinances, Ch. 28, § 28.41(b)(1). They also may not be used on any public path, trail, alley, street, or highway where the use of a bicycle is not permitted. Id. This means that the City contemplates the use of these vehicles primarily on public roadways as opposed to sidewalks.

These vehicles may not be used at night time. City of Dallas, Tex. Code of Ordinances, Ch. 28, § 28.41(b)(5). In this respect, their use differs from that of a bicycle, whose use is referenced by comparison in the statute. Notably, while a child, defined as an individual under the age of 17, may not operate a motor assisted scooter without utilizing a helmet, no such prohibition exists for an adult. City of Dallas, Tex. Code of Ordinances, Ch. 28, § 28.41(b)(4).

Interestingly, a parent of a child commits an offense if "he knowingly permits, or by insufficient control allows," the child to operate the motor assisted scooter without the use of a helmet. City of Dallas, Tex. Code of Ordinances, Ch. 28, § 28.41(b)(4). In this respect, the statue appears to place a burden for supervision beyond that traditionally imposed at common law on parents regarding children utilizing these precise sorts of vehicles. See, e.g., McCullough v. Godwin¸214 S.W.3d 793, 801 (Tex. App-Tyler 2007) (citing Hall v. Martin¸ 851 S.W.2d 905, 910 (Tex.App.-Beaumont 1993, writ denied) for the proposition that "parental immunity applied to claim that parent was negligent in entrusting a motor scooter to child without instructions or helmet).

Other Approaches:

Dallas appears to be at the forefront of regulating the use of motor assisted scooters as the trend has gained popularity and frequency of use. Where Dallas has imposed strict regulations on the use of motor assisted scooters, seemingly placing the onus on the operator of the scooter to take measures to ensure their safety, other cities have shifted the burden to the operator of a traditional motor vehicle.

For example, both Austin and Houston have defined the operators of motor assisted scooters as "vulnerable road users" whom motor vehicles are prohibited from overtaking in certain situations or otherwise harassing or intimidating. See City of Austin, Tex. Code of Ordinances, § 21-1-25; See also City of Houston, Tex. Code of Ordinances, Ch. 45, § 45-44. Austin also exempts scooters equipped with electric motors from the general requirement that bicycles and similar vehicles must utilize a bicycle lane, where available. City of Austin, Tex. Code of Ordinances, § 12-1-21. In this respect, its approach is opposite to that of Dallas, which frequently references bicycling regulations in its ordinance.

Conclusion:

The proliferation of for-rent motor assisted scooters has resulted in a scramble to regulate the use of these vehicles, which bare the hallmarks in various respects of both traditional motor vehicles and human-powered forms of transportation like bicycles. Because these vehicles have proliferated primarily in urban areas, their regulation has, to date been highly localized. However, given historic safety issues that arise (to pedestrians, operators of the scooters themselves, and operators of traditional motor vehicles) a survey of the various approaches to controlling their use is instructive as a potential issues that will arise in the litigation that will no doubt be attendant to the popularity of these vehicles' use. 

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