Retailers have already started the holiday push to highlight popular toys or gifts for this holiday season. One of the items that your children may already be begging for or have on their Santa list is an electric scooter. In the past few years, we have seen a dramatic increase of e-scooters all over the city. You can rent them, or many own them as an easy and efficient way to get around town quickly, but are they safe for kids? After having seen several close calls from kids riding these without helmets and disobeying or not understanding traffic rules, I decided as fun as they look, it was time to take a deep dive to understand this motorized phenomenon.
FAST AND FUN
It’s easy to understand why kids are drawn to electric scooters — they are fast and don’t require any physical exertion. Especially with the hills of San Francisco, they can help you get around quickly. If you buy one, the price point can vary considerably depending on range or battery life and speed. It could be comparable with a high-end bike — the more expensive it is, the more bells and whistles it comes with, such as better shock absorption and higher speeds.
There is a fixed cost to unlock and rent an e-scooter, then you are charged per minute to ride. The other lure of these electric scooters is they provide older kids with more freedom, because the rentals of e-bikes and scooters are easily available in many docking stations around the city. They also allow kids to cover more ground to get places or meet up with friends.
As you can imagine, with the increased popularity of e-scooters the number of injuries in kids has also risen dramatically. A recent study showed that in the past decade, not only have injuries from kids riding e-scooters become more severe, they have more than doubled. The injuries range anywhere from concussions or skull fractures to lacerations that required stitches to broken arms being the most common injury. The research also showed that most e-scooter crashes involved running into an object, like a parked car or hitting a pothole or a pedestrian. The average age for the study was 11, but the American Academy of Pediatrics is very clear that children under 16 should not operate or ride on e-scooters. Children’s health and safety advocates reiterate the importance of wearing a helmet, following the rules of the road, riding in bike lanes not on sidewalks, and only one person should be riding the scooter at a time.
Regulations vary widely across the country when it comes to electric scooters. Many cities, including San Francisco, are pushing for stronger enforcement over where they are parked and implementing technology that makes them inoperable on sidewalks. While those are important safety issues, there is little to no information around the age limit to ride these devices. These are technically motorized vehicles that are capable of speeds up to 40 miles per hour, so requiring the rider to have a driver’s license seems reasonable, but I don’t think many parents view it this way. A few years ago at a neighborhood restaurant a father and son rode up on rented electric scooters and a police officer nicely told the father that it is illegal for his son to ride one much less without a helmet.
I did an in-depth review of Lime’s website and app to find out if they say anything about age limits. Finally, buried in an FAQ section on rules and regulations, I found the following: must be 18 years of age or older, have a valid driver’s license or ID, one rider per Lime (no passengers), and wear a helmet. It does not require proof of age to set up an account or link a credit card, so it’s understandable how many parents may not realize these rules.
Whether you love them or hate them, I do think these scooters are here to stay and if used correctly can provide many benefits to cities. However, given the fact they are growing in popularity, I think we will start to see more regulations from a state or city level. My hope is that there is less focus on creating anti-sidewalk technology and more importance placed on the education of who can use e-scooters, how to use them safely, and enforcing the rules when the scooters are not being used correctly. Ultimately, it is up to us as parents to know the rules and have all the information to keep our kids safe, so get informed — and put safety first before you cave on that e-scooter from Santa.
Liz Farrell is the mother of three children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive conversations around social media and technology. Email: [email protected]