Scooter bill to change helmet requirement zips ahead

A Bird-sponsored State Assembly Bill to rework the rules governing electric scooters by nixing the adult helmet requirement has cleared the Senate Transportation and Housing Committing, passing with a “yes” vote from Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), among others. The bill, AB 2989, bans motorized scooters from any highway with a speed limit greater than 35 miles per hour, unless in a bike lane, but only requires helmets for riders under the age of 18.

Bird has argued the helmet requirement has a “chilling effect” on alternative forms of transportation, calling it “inconvenient,” according to a Senate analysis of the bill.

“The helmet law is particularly problematic for the dockless electric scooter companies, who want consumers to be able to pick up one of their scooters and go, and to not have to worry about getting ticketed for not wearing a helmet, similar to how it is for the dockless bicycle companies,” the analysis said.

The Daily Press could not reach Senator Allen, who was on a long flight, for a comment in time for publication.

California law does not require adults to wear a helmet while biking.  Riders would still be required to have a license or instruction permit in order to ride a 2-wheeled electric scooter. Riders would still be banned from the sidewalk and from carrying passengers.

“Our goal in supporting this legislation continues to be providing riders of shared scooters and e-bikes with more consistent ridership rules so that people can embrace sustainable shared mobility,” a Bird spokesperson said in an email to the Daily Press.  Despite the legislative effort, Bird has continued to issue free helmets to riders, sending out more than 30,000 since the program started.

While the electric scooters provided by startups Bird and Lime are relatively new in Santa Monica, the injuries treated at the Nethercutt Emergency Center at UCLA Medical Center are all too familiar. Medical Director Dr. Wally Ghurabi told the Daily Press they remind him of the early 1990’s when Rollerblades suddenly exploded in popularity, bringing an influx of patients with serious scrapes and broken bones into the ER.

He is appalled at the idea of loosening helmet requirements.

“The lobbyists who are trying to do it, let them come spend the day with us in the ER and they can see the outcome of smashed faces and what not,” Ghurabi said.  In the last month, four patients with head injuries caused while riding a motorized scooter had to be transferred from Santa Monica to the trauma center at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Westwood. Those patients had difficulty recalling events after the crash or repeatedly asked the same questions over and over again.

Ghurabi said in one case a 15-year-old scooter rider had broken bones in his face.

“Their bones are still growing,” Ghurabi said of younger patients. “If they break their arm in the wrong place they could end up with a deformed arm for the rest of their lives.”

The bill does not currently impose any new regulations on the scooter companies themselves, such as requiring a picture of a valid license before hopping on a scooter.

Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole said Bird has shown responsiveness on safety issues in the community, recently tweeting “we expect Lime to do the same or lose their permit.”
“It’s the Wild West out there with underage riders, two on a scooter, riding on sidewalks and almost no one wearing helmets,” Cole said.

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