Scooters, their safety and their position on Tulsa roads may deserve some scrutiny following the death of a 5-year-old child on Riverside Drive.
The rules regarding rental scooters can be a bit tangled, but one thing remains certain: Do not ride against the flow of traffic.
The 5-year-old and his mother were riding a rented scooter southbound Tuesday night in the outside, northbound lanes in the 3000 block of Riverside Drive, police said. Neither was wearing a helmet when a Honda Civic collided with the scooter, killing the child and leaving the mother with minor injuries.
“These are not toys,” Tulsa Police Sgt. Shane Tuell said. “These are motorized vehicles.”
The rental scooters from Lime and Bird are motorized vehicles and are subject to similar rules as bicycles. The city ordinance states that a person operating a “motorized scooter shall not ride other than upon ... the permanent and regular seat attached thereto nor carry any other person upon ... a motorized scooter.”
In most neighborhoods, scooters can legally be ridden in the street, on the sidewalk or in a bike lane. But in areas with a lot of pedestrian traffic and slower speed limits — places such as downtown, Brookside and Cherry Street, where scooters are most popular — riders are supposed to stay off the sidewalks.
“They may be ridden on trails, including those in River Parks,” said Nick Doctor, Tulsa’s chief of community development and policy. “And they may be ridden on the streets, following the guidelines provided for bicycles.”
When riding in the street, scooters are supposed to follow the rules of the road. Obey traffic lights. Stop at stop signs. Signal before turning. While it may not be law, it is generally advisable to keep right to allow faster traffic to pass. One piece unique to the scooters, Doctor said, is that both Bird and Lime require users to be at least 18 years old to use their service.
The rental scooters, from Bird and Lime, have seen significant utilization since they were rolled out in October. About 64,400 riders have taken more than 241,500 individual trips since then, Doctor said. The total distance traveled was about 251,400 miles.
Tuell said it is recommended to wear a helmet while riding the scooters.
“You never know when your life will change in an instant,” Tuell said. “If you get so caught up in the moment that safety starts to go out the window, that’s when bad things can start to happen.”
Washington, D.C., had three scooter-related deaths in a one-month span during the previous summer. Nationwide, as electric scooters have become an urban craze coast-to-coast, the death rate has risen to roughly one fatality per 10.75 million trips, according to data analysis from Streets Blog USA.
City Councilor Kara Joy McKee, who represents the district in which the accident occurred, said Wednesday that she is working with the Mayor’s Office to come up with a public safety campaign to educate motorists and scooter users on the rules and regulations governing the use of the electric vehicles.
Oklahoma authorities do not explicitly track when they are dispatched to scooter-related crashes. Nor do they necessarily do that for accidents involving skateboards and rollerblades.
EMSA, local hospitals and Tulsa police do not have explicit coding for scooters in their reports.
Hospitals have anecdotal information, but they do not code injuries as scooter-related.
Adam Paluka, an EMSA spokesman, said he was aware of two previous injury crashes involving scooters since Bird and Lime, the two rental companies in Tulsa, arrived in October.
One crash occurred in downtown Tulsa and another occurred in Brookside, he said. Both occurred at night. Paluka did not have information for March, and those instances were informally collected.
By contrast, EMSA personnel responded to 15 bicycle-related injury crashes between October and mid-February.