Deadly escooter accidents highlight a new technology at odds with South Florida lifestyle


A Broward County Sheriff's Office deputy investigates the scene where a child riding a scooter was struck by a vehicle on Monday, March 18, 2024. — South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida: The victims of scooter accidents are often young.

In the last month alone, two scooter accidents left South Florida students dead while commuting. On March 18, 16-year-old Anthony Malec was hit and killed by a Tesla while riding his electric scooter to school. On March 5, Daniel Bishop, a senior at the University of Miami, was struck and killed while riding his scooter to class. Bishop had attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas and survived the mass shooting in 2018.

In car-reliant areas like South Florida, scooters have served as a makeshift solution to the “last mile” problem, or the last leg of a journey, such as from home to campus or between a Brightline train station and an office. The “micro-mobility” devices present an appealing choice to those who live close to a destination and may not have immediate access to a car.

But the region’s reliance on cars also makes it a deadly place for scooter-riders, often silent, unexpected or barely visible at roads and intersections. The deaths of two students in a matter of weeks have underscored the dangers of a growing new technology at odds with South Florida lifestyles. And like the state’s roads, its laws and accident-reporting procedures often fail to account for scooters.

“It’s a case of technology which has raced ahead of our infrastructure and resources,” said Todd Falzone, an attorney with Kelly Uustal who has represented victims of scooter accidents. “Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.”

Falzone represented the family of Ashanti Jordan, a 27-year-old who was left in a vegetative state after an accident on a Lime scooter on her way home from work in Fort Lauderdale.

“The injuries I’ve seen are just horrible,” he said. “Horrible, horrible injuries and deaths.”

‘More and more mainstream’

Colton Ralston runs Boca Scooters, one of South Florida’s only electric scooter shops. He says his clients are often commuters who appreciate the low-cost option, from one-car families to college kids and hospitality workers.

The technology “really started to take off” in 2018, Ralston said, but each year he sees new clients looking to join the trend.

“They’ve become more and more mainstream,” Ralston said. “Just like technology and everything has evolved, so has the culture around it. It’s like anything technology-based: It’s an ever-evolving process, and electric scooters, kick scooters, have certainly been accepted by the masses.”

Along with the rise in popularity, accidents from micro-mobility devices like escooters and ebikes have surged nationally. A recent report from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission found that injuries increased 21% between 2021 and 2022. Over a third of the injured from 2017 to 2022 were children 14 and younger.

Scooters began to arrive in South Florida through rideshare programs beginning in 2019, though many services shuttered after a surge in accidents. Some had to do with the sheer number of scooters suddenly available, while the impromptu nature of the rideshare system meant riders were often inexperienced, helmetless, or combined drinking and riding.

The number of accidents in Fort Lauderdale increased year after year between 2019 and 2022, according to Fire Rescue data. Paramedics responded to 175 accidents in that time frame: 47 accidents in 2020, 52 in 2021, and 72 in 2022.

Similar trends took place elsewhere: A recent study of emergency rooms at Tampa General Hospital found that the greatest number of scooter accidents, or close to a third, involved people aged 21-30. Injuries spiked right after the scooters were introduced in 2019, followed by a steady increase each year after.

Bans reduce accidents, but not uniformly

Since 2019, some South Florida cities banned scooters and scooter companies to quell the accidents. Hollywood first banned the use of all types of scooters “on any city street, roadway, sidewalk, or on any other private property where the public has the right to travel by motor vehicle within the city,” according to its city code. The city of Miami revoked permits from several scooter companies in 2022, followed by a drop in accidents, according to a 2023 study of a trauma center.

Those measures have continued into 2024: In February, Key Biscayne banned scooters. In March, Miami-Dade County began considering a speed limit on scooters and ebikes.

But privately owned scooters remain unregulated in many cities, all the while growing in popularity nationally. At the same time, scooter-riders are often lumped in with pedestrians or other types of mobility devices in official reports, making the accidents harder to track. A 2022 National Transportaty Safety Board report on escooters and ebikes identified a lack of law enforcement and injury data as one of the main safety issues.

In Fort Lauderdale, Battalion Chief Greg May said that the number of accidents dropped so dramatically after the city revoked the ordinance allowing rideshare scooters that Fire Rescue stopped tracking them after 2022. Privately owned scooters remain legal, however.

“When all those companies took scooters out, we just stopped having incidents,” May explained. “Now a kid might have a scooter and get in an accident on it, we just treat it as any other call.”

The Broward Medical Examiner’s Office has recorded 49 deaths related to accidents involving scooters since 2019, though it’s hard to say how many involved electric scooters or sit-down, motorised scooters that look more like motorcycles. Only three of the deaths specifically mentioned an electric scooter, according to Director Thomas Steinkamp.

The study at Tampa General ran into a similar problem where the type of scooter was not specified, forcing researchers to remove swaths of data, according to Theo Sher, one of the study’s lead researchers.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office could not provide exact data on scooter accidents because state traffic crash reports do not specify them, said spokesperson Carey Codd.

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles groups scooter accidents in “other non-motorist” data, said spokesperson Molly Best, which includes those who are not pedestrians or bicyclists. A 2022 report, the most recent report for which data is available, found that “other non-motorist” accidents increased by 20% between 2021 and 2022.

The legal situation surrounding scooters is also confusing, experts say. State law allows for scooters but leaves much of the regulating up to local governments, where lawmakers have struggled to decide where they should go.

“You basically have two options,” said Falzone, the Kelly Uustal attorney. “One is put them on sidewalks. Then you have the risk of the scooters running over people on the sidewalk. The other option is you put them on the street, and then you have the problem of people running over scooter operators with their cars.”

As a result, laws vary dramatically between cities. At one point, Fort Lauderdale was the only city to prohibit scooters on roads and require them on sidewalks, Falzone said, while other cities forbade them on sidewalks and required them on roads. Still others, like Tampa, have allowed them in bike lanes.

And while some South Florida municipalities have all-out bans, others have no regulations on scooters. Broward County does not have any overarching laws regarding scooter use, according to spokesperson Greg May.

In Fort Lauderdale, people must ride their personal scooters in bike lanes, and are allowed to ride on sidewalks only when no bike lane is available, according to city code.

In Coral Gables, where Bishop was struck, city code states that scooters are allowed on sidewalks only but must stay below 15 miles per hour.

Meanwhile, Cooper City, where Malec was struck, “does not have regulations specific to an electric scooter’s speed or where and how it can be utilised,” city spokesperson Michael Cobelo said in an email. Currently, electric scooters are included within the definition of “vehicle.”

Accidents continue

Despite the bans, scooter accidents continue to happen, often involving collisions with cars.

In March 2023, an 18-year-old student was hit while riding her electric scooter in Wellington by a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office deputy who ran a stop sign, according to local media and a PBSO crash report. That September, a 49-year-old man on an electric scooter was struck and killed in Greenacres by a car turning left at an intersection.

It’s unclear how many total accidents Palm Beach County has seen in recent years; officials were working on a request for scooter accident data but did not respond in time for this story.

Dr. Jason Mansour, an emergency care physician at Broward Health Medical Center, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that, though the number of scooter accident trauma patients he sees has decreased since the rideshare scooter craze, the accidents are still “one of the most common mechanisms of traumatic injuries”.

Oftentimes, as with bicyclists, accidents are not the scooter-rider’s fault, Mansour said, though scooter-riders may be more vulnerable.

“When they’re on something like a bicycle, they have a little better of a chance of avoiding a collision,” he said. “I don’t think motorised scooters are as agile to make sudden turns or things like that.”

Ralston says the clients who buy his scooters are responsible. He encourages them to use helmets, but doesn’t think the dangers are greater than for any other form of transportation.

“Any time you leave your house, you’re worried right?” Ralston said. “You look both ways before you cross the street. It’s the same thing, it depends where you’re riding. If you’re talking on campus at FAU, right along the beach, it’s not, it’s a much more controlled environment.”

Falzone, meanwhile, argued that scooters should be banned until South Florida’s infrastructure supports them.

“Given the resources that governmental entities have, it’s not like someone can spend a billion dollars and retrofit Fort Lauderdale for scooters to operate on them,” he said. “... I think it’s just a technology that we’re not ready for. Maybe 20 years from now we might be, but right now, we’re not there.” – South Florida Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service

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