How dangerous are Cleveland’s new Bird electric scooters?

August 10, 2018

How dangerous are Cleveland’s new Bird electric scooters?

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The concept is fun: come across a Bird electric scooter, unlock it with your phone, take off to your destination and leave it wherever you’d want.

It’s also incredibly dangerous. 

Flocks of Bird electric scooters, which can go up to 15 miles per hour, were seen Friday for the first time in Cleveland. Over the past year, they’ve popped up in 32 other American cities and Paris, according to the company’s website.

Founded by former Lyft and Uber executive Travis VanderZanden, the dockless scooter-share company charges users $1 to rent a Bird, and then fifteen cents a minute to ride it. It has a few major rules for riders, not to mention a user agreement that comes with fine print.

When a user learns “How to Ride” on the Bird app, they are told to ride in streets and bike lanes, - “do not ride on sidewalks” - to park by bike racks when available and to bring your own helmet to stay safe when you ride, “required by law;” Bird offers a free helmet for riders who pay for shipping.

Riders also agree to being at least 18 years old, the only person riding the scooter and riding without a briefcase, backpack or bag.

It’s not a stretch of the imagination to foresee riders taking liberties with those rules. 

According to Los Angeles Times reporter Robin Abcarian, who herself was hurt on a Bird scooter, few riders wear helmets and lots of people ride double, even with children. Scooters are often left on sidewalks, creating hazards for pedestrians. 

Abcarian was riding a scooter when a bicyclist when headphones turned in front of her and didn’t hear Abcarian’s yells. 

“I went down on both knees,” Abcarian said. “My head smacked the concrete. Thank God I was wearing the helmet that Bird sent me for free. Without it, I would have cracked my cheekbone.”

Abcarian heard from several other people in California who were also hurt in Bird-related crashes. One woman, who did not want her name used because she is contemplating suing Bird, was walking on a sidewalk with her 7-year-old son when a Bird rider crashed into her at full speed, briefly knocking her unconscious.

“My bad,” she recalled the young man saying before riding away. The woman’s doctor said the impact was similar to being tackled by a football player. 

Last month in Indianapolis, a 21-year-old man hit a pothole, sending him over the handle bars and landing on his face. His mother said he will need plastic surgery and will probably be scarred for life. 

Shortly after the scooters were dropped in Nashville in May, two women were hospitalized with severe injuries, according to The Tennessean. 

The liberating scooter-sharing trend has been accompanied by a wave of injuries resulting from crashes, so much so that personal injury lawyers, especially in California, have sections of their website dedicate to Bird scooter accidents. 

“Safety is our top priority at Bird, and we are committed to partnering with all cities to ensure that the community, and its visitors, safely embrace our affordable, environmentally friendly transportation option,” a Bird spokesperson told cleveland.com in a statement. 

“We strongly recommend reporting any incidents that Bird scooters are involved in, as we have a support team dedicated to safety that is available around the clock to address questions and reports we receive.”

The Bird spokesperson did not comment on the number of incidents reported. 

Cities like Indianapolis, Milwaukee and St. Paul have put up fights against scooter-shares like Bird and its competitor, Lime, by banning them from public streets and sidewalks or removing them outright. 

The City of Cleveland did not immediately return a request for comment about how it will respond to the new migration of Bird scooters here this summer. 

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