New law allows student riders to use electric scooters without helmets

Students over the age of 18 riding electric scooters will no longer be required to wear a helmet or have a driver’s license.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 2989 into law Sept. 19, allowing riders to use electric scooters on roads with speed limits under 35 miles per hour, and on roads over 35 miles per hour that have a bike lane. Previously, riders were not permitted on roads with speed limits over 25 miles per hour without a bike lane, and were also required to wear a helmet.

The bill is aimed at California’s fast-growing electric scooter ride-share industry and came a week before Los Angeles city councilmembers approved stricter regulations for the services.

Council members voted 12-1 on Friday to approve a pilot program which allows 3,000 devices per electric scooter company, and caps the speed of the vehicles at 15 miles per hour. The sole vote against the measure came from Councilmember Paul Koretz, whose district includes UCLA and Westwood Village.

David Karwaski, a senior associate director of planning, policy and traffic systems of UCLA Transportation, said the integration of these services into the campus community happened at an unprecedented rate, but that they can still pose a great risk to riders and pedestrians if safety regulations are ignored.

“People want to get where they are going, and I have never seen a transportation technology or service adopted so quickly, although there is a safety issue of people riding on sidewalks, running into pedestrians,” he said. “That’s the primary negative aspect of the scooters.”

Karwaski added that UCLA Transportation believes scooter-sharing services such as Bird Rides, Inc. and Lime are preferable to shorter ride-hail trips because they do not add to traffic congestion or emit greenhouse gases, but only if they are safely ridden in permitted locations and are not left in areas that inhibit pedestrian or wheelchair access. Karwaski said that bike racks are the best locations to park scooters.

UCPD Lt. Kevin Kilgore said the law change does not affect where riders are permitted to utilize the scooters on campus, and that areas such as Bruin Walk are still considered dismount zones where students are not permitted to ride electric scooters, as well as bicycles and skateboards. The department will continue to issue citations for anyone riding these vehicles on Bruin Walk, Kilgore said.

Kilgore added that after the law change goes into effect, UCPD will no longer be able to issue citations for riding without a helmet. Kilgore also said that though it is not legally required, wearing a helmet is the most effective way to prevent head and brain injuries while riding electric scooters.

Natasha Wheaton, an assistant clinical professor and associate program director at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, said she saw an increase in head injuries from electric scooter use in both Westwood and Santa Monica.

“We’re seeing a lot of head injuries and the majority of people haven’t been wearing helmets,” she said. “We know based on data from bicycles and motorcycles that helmets greatly reduce the risk of serious head injuries, and I’m concerned that the low helmet use for these motorized scooters leaves people at high risk for head injuries.”

Wheaton is currently studying injury patterns related to electric scooters and hopes that the data will assist cities in their public health responses to electric scooters.

Students at UCLA said they think the new electric scooter services are convenient, and some said they do not think it would be practical to expect electric scooter riders to wear helmets.

Alan Kaye, a third-year philosophy student, said the scooters allow community members to access local businesses more quickly, but that the trips are often spontaneous and most people will not have a helmet with them when riding the scooters.

“Most students don’t anticipate when they’re going to ride (an electric scooter), and don’t want to carry a helmet with them all the time,” Kaye said.

Vignesh Sairaj, a graduate student in computer science, said he thinks it makes sense not to require adult riders of electric scooters to wear helmets, since the law does not require adult cyclists to wear them.

“It seems hypocritical to ban one and not the other, logically speaking,” Sairaj said. “This could be an opportunity to review bicycle helmet laws.”

Solomon Eibensteiner, a third-year history student, said that he is more inclined to ride his bicycle because it is free, but that the scooter-share services are effective for local transportation. He added that most cyclists use head protection, while most people he sees riding electric scooters do not.

“The vibe is that you don’t need to wear a helmet,” he said. “Being here in LA, you want to wear a helmet.”

Bird representatives will be on campus in the coming weeks providing free helmets to encourage safety for students riding the scooters, Karwaski said. Helmets are also available for free through the Bird mobile application.

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