E-Scooter Helmet Laws Could Harm Ridership

Transportation experts warn that mandatory helmet laws for shared e-scooters could cripple the nascent industry and discourage casual rides.

January 11, 2022, 7:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Electric Scooter Share

Joaquin Corbalan P / Shutterstock

With Miami becoming the largest U.S. city to implement a helmet law for e-scooter riders, some micromobility advocates warn that the mandate will stunt the growth of the industry and impose an undue barrier that will discourage ridership, reports Jason Plautz. E-scooter supporters worry that despite initiatives on the part of operators to distribute helmets, the requirement will lead to reduced scooter trips when people inevitably forget their helmets at home or want to take an unplanned ride.

Unlike past attempts to impose helmet laws, scooter operators are not fighting the mandate, saying they will ramp up existing efforts to incentivize voluntary helmet use and work with cities to prioritize safety and find effective ways to distribute helmets and enforce regulations. To ensure compliance, operators Bird and Helbiz have introduced a feature that requires riders to take a photo of themselves wearing a helmet before starting a ride. Operators also plan to place helmets with their vehicles, but distribution strategies have proven difficult. Wheels, which touts its "safety-first" approach, redesigned its devices to accommodate helmets in 2019.

Yet transportation experts point out that despite the benefits of individual helmet-wearing, top-down mandates often "do more harm than good." Seattle's Pronto bike share system, which shut down in 2017, saw drastically reduced ridership after a helmet law was instituted in that city. For transportation advocates, safety begins with infrastructure.

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