As New York City pursues its Vision Zero goal, electric micromobility, including electric scooters (e-scooters), is becoming a larger part of the transportation mix.
E-scooters are touted as an innovative, convenient, and sustainable way of getting around NYC. They fit somewhere between cycling and driving, helping to reduce traffic congestion and improve transportation options, particularly in underserved neighborhoods such as the outer boroughs.
But as they grow in popularity, there has been a rise in e-scooter accidents and injuries. The injury patterns associated with e-scooters are different than those from traditional bikes and scooters. E-scooter crashes may also be more likely to involve a product-related issue, such as brake problems or power loss. And it’s not just riders, but also pedestrians and cyclists, that can be hurt by e-scooters.
E-scooter accidents can raise unique insurance issues that should be discussed promptly with a New York personal injury attorney.
NYC Pilot Program Looks to Make E-Scooters a Permanent Fixture
Electric scooters are growing in popularity across the United States and New York. The number of shared e-bike and e-scooter systems almost doubled nationwide from 2015 to 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
In July 2020, the New York City Council passed Local Law 72, which legalized the operation of e-scooters in the City. Also in 2020, Local Law 74 ordered the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) to establish a shared e-scooter pilot program. The program launched in the East Bronx in the summer of 2021, deploying thousands of scooters operated by Bird, Lime, and Veo.
NYC DOT recently touted the success of the pilot program, claiming it resulted in more than 1.4 million rides with zero fatalities and few serious injuries as of November 2022. Based on its initial success, NYC DOT wants to expand the program for at least 5 years.
“This pilot met and exceeded its ambitious goals around safety, mobility, and equity. And now we are ready to do even more for more communities,” said Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez in a press release.
Concerning Increase in E-Scooter Accidents and Injuries
The NYC e-scooter pilot program demonstrated a good safety record, but it doesn’t tell the full story about e-scooter injury risks.
From 2017 to 2020, there were around 190,000 emergency room visits associated with all micromobility products (i.e., e-scooters, e-bikes, and hoverboards), reports the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Much of this increase is attributable to e-scooters accidents. The number of e-scooter accidents resulting in an ER visit more than tripled over this period, from 7,700 to 25,400.
In NYC, e-scooter injuries nearly doubled from 2020 to 2021, an ABC investigation shows. ABC also reports that, from January 1 to July 27 of 2021, 680 people were injured in NYC e-scooter accidents—up 16% compared to 2021. And in many cases, it’s not the scooter operator who is injured, but a pedestrian, says ABC.
The New York Times writes that “the e-mobility boom has brought significant safety challenges to New York’s already congested streets.” At least 17 people in New York were killed on electric mobility vehicles in 2021. Three pedestrians were also killed, including actress Lisa Banes when she was struck by a hit-and-run scooter rider on the Upper West Side.
Pedestrians and cyclists have complained about e-scooter riders speeding, riding on sidewalks, running red lights, and driving the wrong way on streets. A man told ABC News he was knocked unconscious by an e-scooter rider in Riverside Park, where electric scooters are not permitted.
The safety challenges posed by e-scooters include obstructing sidewalks when parked, distracted, impaired, and inexperienced riders, and collisions with cars or pedestrians, according to a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and the Transportation Research Board.
Relatively few e-scooter accidents involve a collision with a pedestrian or automobile, the report states. However, scooter-auto collisions tend to be severe, and fatal e-scooter crashes frequently involve a car or truck.
Research from BMJ indicates that e-scooter injuries are three times more likely to result in a concussion compared to traditional bikes and scooters, while CPSC says that e-scooter injuries most frequently occur to the upper and lower limbs and the head and neck.
In addition, the CPSC notes that e-scooter accidents often stem from product-related issues, such as:
- Brake problems
- Unexpected power loss
- Stuck throttles
- Footboard or handlebar breaking or detaching
New York City E-Scooter Laws
New York’s streets were not designed with e-mobility devices in mind, but city officials have set rules for their operation as they surge in popularity.
- New York City allows e-scooters in bicycle lanes and in streets where the speed limit is no greater than 30 MPH. However, there is a citywide speed limit of 15 MPH for e-scooters.
- E-scooters are prohibited from riding on sidewalks. They must obey red lights and other traffic signals, ride in the same direction as traffic, and yield to pedestrians.
- No license or special insurance is required to operate an electric scooter.
- The minimum age to ride an electric scooter in New York is 16. Riders under age 18, delivery drivers, and anyone operating a scooter that can go more than 20 MPH must wear a helmet.
Does No-Fault Insurance Cover New York E-Scooter Accidents?
Normally, persons injured in motor vehicle accidents have “no-fault” coverage under their insurance policy. But New York State insurance law excludes motorcycles and mopeds from no-fault insurance coverage. Owners of these vehicles have to buy a separate insurance policy.
- The New York DMV has a very specific definition of what qualifies as an e-scooter: a device that weighs less than 100 pounds and (a) has handlebars, a floorboard or a seat that can be stood or sat upon by the operator, and an electric motor, (b) can be powered by the electric motor and/or human power, and (c) has a maximum speed of no more than twenty miles per hour on a paved level surface when powered solely by the electric motor.
A motorized scooter that doesn’t meet this definition may instead be considered a moped, which might need to be licensed and insured. But e-scooters and other micromobility products fall into an insurance gray area. They’re not considered motor vehicles, but they’re also not considered motorcycles or mopeds. This can make it difficult to determine insurance coverage in the event of an e-scooter accident.
Here are a few different scenarios and how insurance might apply:
- If an e-scooter rider falls or crashes into a stationary object, and no one else is involved, auto insurance probably won’t cover the incident, but personal health insurance could pay for the rider’s medical bills.
- If the rider is injured in a crash due to a mechanical or electrical issue with the scooter, the manufacturer might be liable.
- If the rider crashes and is hurt because of a roadway defect, such as a pothole, it may be possible to file a personal injury claim against the City of New York.
- If an e-scooter hits and injures a pedestrian or cyclist, the victim can file a claim with their own no-fault policy, or a household member’s no-fault policy. When no other insurance is available, the pedestrian or cyclist may be able to file a claim with the Motor Vehicle Accident Indemnification Corporation (MVAIC).
- If an e-scooter rider is injured by a motor vehicle driver (including somebody driving a motorcycle or a moped), they can file a claim against that driver’s policy.
- Scooter share companies like Bird, Lime, and Veo have insurance, but the operator may be agreeing to a liability waiver when they rent from one of these companies.
- Generally, auto insurance, homeowners insurance, and rental insurance do not cover an e-scooter rider, but a homeowners or renters policy may have an umbrella policy that covers the policyholder when they’re driving an e-scooter.
- When no insurance coverage is available from an e-scooter rider who causes an accident, they may have to pay out of pocket for any bodily harm and property damage they cause.
- In cases where an e-scooter rider is an accident victim and has expenses exceeding the $50,000 available under New York no-fault, they may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the responsible party.
- An e-scooter injury that happens to somebody who is on the job may be covered by workers’ compensation.
As these examples show, a New York City e-scooter accident can have a lot of moving parts depending on how the accident occurred. Anyone hurt on—or by—an e-scooter should discuss their legal rights with a personal injury attorney.
The Sanders Law Firm has been trusted by injured New Yorkers for more than 50 years. We offer free consultations and accept all injury cases on a contingency-fee basis. To understand your legal rights after an e-scooter crash, call (855) SANDERS or contact us.