Lime-S dockless electric scooters were introduced to the Bay Area last month, but most riders violate California law when riding (including those pictured above). Source: Limebike


As dockless bike share startups expand across the Bay Area, a new mode of shared mobility has emerged: electric scooters. With tons of cash in hand, Lime-S and Bird have big plans for expansion in the Bay Area. Dozens of Bird and Lime-S scooters recently landed in Oakland and San Francisco. Both cost $1 per ride plus $0.15 per mile and travel at speeds up to 15 mph.

However, there’s a catch. Motorized scooters are much more heavily regulated than bikes in California, and violating these laws could result in sizeable fines. Riders may not be aware of the risks they assume when going for a joy ride.


Bird dockless scooters recently launched in San Francisco. Source: Bird App

The California Vehicle Code (CVC 21235) defines several restrictions to which riders of motorized scooters may be in violation, including riding on streets with speed limits greater than 25 mph, riding without a helmet or driver’s license, and riding or parking on a sidewalk:

“The operator of a motorized scooter shall not do any of the following:

(a) Operate a motorized scooter on a highway with a speed limit in excess of 25 miles per hour unless the motorized scooter is operated within a class II bicycle lane.

(b) Operate a motorized scooter without wearing a properly fitted and fastened bicycle helmet that meets the standards described in Section 21212.

(c) Operate a motorized scooter without a valid driver’s license or instruction permit.

(d) Operate a motorized scooter upon a sidewalk, except as may be necessary to enter or leave adjacent property.

(e) Leave a motorized scooter lying on its side on any sidewalk, or park a motorized scooter on a sidewalk in any other position, so that there is not an adequate path for pedestrian traffic.”


Lime-S discloses some of these restrictions on the scooters themselves, though some are worded as suggestions (“please wear helmet”) rather than laws. Other key restrictions are omitted altogether, including rules against operating a motorized scooter on a sidewalk. Bird similarly discloses these restrictions in their app, and is providing free helmets to riders upon request. The CVC allows cities flexibility in setting their own local ordinances governing motorized scooters, but we are not aware of any Bay Area jurisdictions that have their own ordinances.

Unsurprisingly, it seems like most Lime-S and Bird riders violate the law, including those shown on its own website.

Riding without helmets on sidewalks is the norm. This could be a costly mistake. While electric scooters remain relatively under the radar in the Bay Area given their small numbers, a backlash in Santa Monica has prompted a police crackdown: officers are beginning to distribute $190 tickets for any of the above violations. San Francisco may commence a permit program for their operation to better enforce these laws.

Shared electric scooters show promise in providing convenient car-free mobility, but their rollout is going to be messy under California’s current laws. Moreover, a large volume of electric scooters could wreak havoc on street safety if used improperly: riding on sidewalks is not only dangerous for pedestrians, but also dangerous for scooter users given the potential for right-hook crashes with vehicles. As tempting as it is to revive childhood memories of Razor scooters, it’s best to avoid using Lime-S or Bird scooters in restricted areas and without a helmet.

Frequently asked questions about electric scooter lawsuits

Are electric scooter injuries increasing in the United States?

According to a case series conducted in Southern California, injuries associated with standing electric scooter use are a new and increasingly common phenomenon. From September 1, 2017 to August 31, 2018, 249 patients presented to two urban emergency departments with injuries associated with standing electric scooter use, with the majority of injuries occurring while riding the scooter. Of these patients, 10 riders were documented as wearing helmets, and 27 patients were younger than 18 years of age. Frequent injuries included fractures, head injuries, and contusions, sprains, and lacerations without fractures or head injuries. Among 193 observed electric scooter riders in the local community, 94.3% were not wearing a helmet.

These findings suggest that injuries associated with standing electric scooter use are increasing in the United States. GJEL Attorneys, a personal injury law firm in California, can use this information to inform their legal strategies and better advocate for clients injured in electric scooter accidents. It is important for electric scooter companies and local governments to establish and enforce safety regulations, such as requiring helmets and enforcing age limits, to prevent these types of injuries from occurring in the first place. Additionally, electric scooter riders should prioritize safety by wearing helmets and practicing safe riding habits.

What trends are emerging among electric scooter lawsuits?

GJEL Attorneys in California have noticed several trends emerging among electric scooter lawsuits:

Lack of safety regulations: As electric scooters are not classified as motorcycles, there are few laws to govern their usage, and there are no obligations for rideshare companies to maintain their vehicles and enforce safety standards.
Class action lawsuits: In October 2018, a class action lawsuit was filed by pedestrians alleging that Bird, Lime, and other electric scooter companies failed to take necessary precautions to prevent injuries to the public.
Types of injuries: Litigation in California and other states points to a high number of shoulder, wrist, arm, and foot injuries, ranging from sprains to broken bones.
Causes of accidents: Riders have fallen off electric scooters due to sudden locking of wheels, loose handlebars, and dim headlights. In addition, some electric scooter companies use geo-fencing, which can cause accidents when the scooters automatically slow down in high pedestrian traffic areas.
Responsibility: Electric scooter companies have attempted to place responsibility on the rider by claiming that the user is at fault for not reading the complete agreement before signing.

If you have been injured as a rider or pedestrian, GJEL Attorneys suggests that the electric scooter company’s negligence may be to blame. Depending on the nature of the incident, an electric scooter injury may be a product liability claim, slip and fall, or pedestrian accident. It is important to contact a lawyer to help pursue a claim.