Helmets not Required?

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The California State Senate is considering rules that would make helmets optional for motorized scooter riders over the age of 18. Photo: Sam Catanzaro.

California lawmakers consider scooter regulations. 

By Sam Catanzaro

The wearing of helmets may soon not be required while riding dockless scooters such as Birds and Limes. The California State Legislature is looking to regulate the issue with Assembly Bill 2989 currently in the California Senate Transportation and Housing Committee. The bill would only require helmets for riders under the age of 18 while prohibiting riding e-scooters without a valid driver’s license or permit and establishing a 15 mph speed limit.

“The hope is that these dockless electric scooters could replace some car trips to help alleviate congestion, and provide another efficient and sustainable transportation option,” wrote the Office of Senate Floor Analyses. “This bill gives adults the freedom to choose whether or not to wear a helmet when riding a motorized scooter.”

Bird, who is the sponsor of the bill, encourages riders to wear helmets but does not think that adults should be required to wear helmets when riding their scooters. Current state law requires adults to wear a helmet when operating motorized scooters, electrically motorized skateboards and mopeds. E-scooter companies, however, have argued that this law makes the use of these devices inconvenient and discourages them as an alternative form of transportation.

There is little data regarding the benefits of helmet use for motorized scooters, due to their relatively new status, but research has shown that helmets reduce head injuries and the risk of death in bicycle crashes. The American Journal of Surgery performed a study of over 6,000 bike-related injuries and found that riders wearing helmets had a 52 percent lower risk of brain injury and a 44 percent lower risk of death compared to unhelmeted riders. In light of these stats, some Los Angeles lawmakers have expressed support for laws that would require helmets for all operators and prohibit minors from riding motorized scooters.

“Helmets shall be worn when operating an electric scooter,” wrote Seleta J. Reynolds, General Manager of the City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation in a recent report to City Council. “[The] Customer must be a minimum of 18 years old with Driver’s License to operate  [the] Vehicle.”

The law does allow for local control, which means Los Angeles would be able to create rules that require helmets for all riders and establish an age requirement.

“The bill doesn’t forbid cities and counties from requiring helmets for everyone regardless of age,” said the office of State Senator Ben Allen, who’s jurisdiction includes Venice.  “Therefore, local jurisdictions may still pass their own ordinances as long as they don’t conflict with State law.”

Yo! Venice reached out to Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin asking if Los Angeles is considering passing stricter rules, but neither office responded.

Initially, the City opposed the bill because previous versions did not include the driver’s license requirement and did not prohibit scooters from being ridden on the sidewalk. After pushback from Los Angeles, Santa Monica and other cities, the bill was amended to require riders to have a license or permit and ride in the street or a bike path.

Existing California law prohibits motorized scooters on highways with a speed limit higher than 25 mph. AB 2989, if passed, would change this by allowing riders to operate these devices on any road with a speed limit less than 35 mph. Also, it would allow for operation on a highway with a higher speed limit if riding within a Class II or Class IV bikeway. Class II bikeways are oneway bike paths that are part of the street while Class IV bikeways are on-street yet physically separated from vehicle traffic by some sort of barrier. Current law prohibits the operation of motorized scooters in Class IV bikeways.

The bill would also prohibit riders from carrying any package, bundle or item that prevents the operator from keeping at least one hand upon the handlebars. Tandem riding would be banned, as would leaving scooters lying on their side on any sidewalk or parked in a way so that there is not an adequate path for pedestrian traffic.

In Los Angeles, sidewalk enforcement resides within the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Street Services. Bulky items, however, are managed by the Bureau of Sanitation. The Bureau of Transportation, however, is recommending the scooter companies be responsible for dealing with improperly parked devices.

“Operators will be solely responsible for enforcement and shall promptly respond to inoperable or improperly parked vehicles,” Reynolds wrote. “Each operator shall maintain a 24-hour on-call contact for emergency removal.”

After passing through the Senate Transportation and Housing Committing, the bill must now be voted on by the Senate as a whole. With the Senate on summer recess until August 6, however, there will be no change to the law until lawmakers reconvene.

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