You've no doubt seen electric scooters zipping around in and out of traffic, even along our sidewalks. They're designed to make it easier to get around our congested streets and take cars off the road. But the News4 I-Team found at least 16 people around the country have died using rented e-scooters since September 2018.
And despite city leaders efforts to get a handle on this growing trend, the I-Team found the decision-makers often have little hard data to consider.
"I need data of all kinds," D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh told the I-Team.
She oversees the District's committee on transportation and says she's researching how other cities have curbed their scooter situation.
For example, Portland, Oregon, requires all riders to wear helmets. In Nashville, e-scooter riders must be 18 and have a driver's license. Atlanta banned scooter-riding on sidewalks. Beverly Hills, California, banned e-scooters all together.
"I'm not interested in banning them, but I do think we need to have some better regulation," Cheh said.
She's hosting a public hearing Monday to get input from scooter riders as well as pedestrians and drivers who've been impacted. Cheh has proposed halting scooter use overnight when it's harder to see riders, but she's open to many ideas.
Lyft driver Allen Boichot supports additional regulations, telling the I-Team a scooter rider once ran into the front of his car.
"That's when I knew I needed to do some things to protect myself," he said, showing off the cameras he's mounted on his car.
Boichot spends up to 14 hours a day in his car. He says scooters can appear in just a fraction of a second.
"You have to be more vigilant,” he said. “Sometimes I feel like my head is on a swivel."
A mobile phone app allows riders to rent e-scooters in more than 100 cities including D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia. In D.C., Montgomery County, Arlington and Alexandria, the I-Team counted more than 11,000 already approved for use:
- Washington, D.C.: 5,235
- Montgomery County: 1,500
- Arlington: 2,450
- Alexandria: 1,400
- City of Fairfax: 750
The rules for using them vary widely from place to place, and I-Team cameras found riders don't always follow those rules, capturing double riders, children riding e-scooters and near misses with cars after scooter riders ignored traffic signals. In several months of gathering video, the I-Team saw not one rental scooter rider wearing a helmet.
"Way more regulations need to be put in for scooters," said Ricky Slack, who showed the I-Team his scars from an electric scooter ride this spring.
"It was quick, convenient. There was one right outside of my house," he said.
He was on his way to the train station and riding in the street along New Jersey Avenue when he came to an intersection.
"I remember feeling the car hitting me," Slack said. "I looked down on my leg and I can see the bone sticking out."
An ambulance rushed him to a hospital, where he had emergency surgery. A titanium rod and four screws later, he considers himself lucky.
"It was horrible,” Slack said. “I would say for about a month and a half I mean I couldn't get out of my bed."
The I-Team wanted to know just how many serious injuries there have been but found in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, most crash reports are not designed to track incidents involving scooters.
After D.C.'s one deadly scooter crash in Dupont Circle last September, the report classified the scooter rider as a "bicyclist."
In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, first responders changed their incident reports to include e-scooters as a type of vehicle. Now, they can easily track how many injuries there have been, the severity and where the most crashes happen.
"When we're able to track things, it allows us to deploy additional resources," Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Stephen Gollan said. "It really allows for you to make better, more accurate decisions."
Cheh said she will inquire whether D.C. has the capability to do the same.
At the I-Team's request, DC Fire and EMS searched its reports for the word "scooter," finding 424 calls. That search could also capture incidents involving a child's toy scooter or a motorized scooter. Since rental scooters started in D.C. last year, 335 people went to the hospital with injuries.
"I don't think it represents all the scooter injuries," said Dr. Terry Thompson, an orthopedic surgeon who works at Howard University Hospital.
Thompson said scooter injuries are noticeably on the rise and not everyone calls 911. Some patients show up later when what seemed like a minor injury doesn't go away.
"I think it would be great to have some guidelines for reporting so that we can get real data in our area," Thompson told the I-Team. "Especially going at substantial speed with no helmet, it could be potentially fatal."
Per the DC Fire and EMS search, 73 of the people taken to the hospital were trauma patients; 22 had head injuries.
Sixteen of the D.C. patients' injuries were classified as potentially life-threatening.
Most of the local cities have documented scooter riders who have crashed into cars and/or pedestrians. Some cities allow riding on sidewalks; others force scooters into bike lanes or the street.
Lime is one of the largest e-scooter companies and one of the first in the D.C. area. Government Relations Director Robert Gardner said the company does its best to track crashes — when riders report them.
"We hope that nobody does crash,” he said. “We hope that people are wearing helmets if, God forbid, they do crash, but generally you ride at your own risk."
The I-Team reviewed the monthly reports each company is required to file with the cities but found most contain few specifics on injuries or accidents.
"Each city generally makes the rules and regulations, and we work again on a permission basis with them," Gardner said.
Arlington County will discuss its e-scooter rules Nov. 16. Alexandria, Montgomery County and Fairfax are all still in the pilot phase of their e-scooter programs and expect to enact changes in the future as well.
Reported by Jodie Fleischer, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.