As motorized scooters gain popularity as a form of personal transportation in Florida and around the country, accidents involving these two-and-three-wheeled devices also continue to rise. Some of these accidents reflect the predictable result of the introduction of a new transportation technology into an urban environment. Riders and pedestrians relatively unfamiliar with the operation of the machines make mistakes responding to them, and end up getting hurt. In cities and towns around Florida and nationwide, however, confusion about when, where, and how motor scooters can operate has also led to preventable incidents and severe injuries.
In this blog post, we tackle the emerging legal and practical issues surrounding motor scooters. If you have sustained an injury in a motor scooter accident, give yourself the best chance of recovering the compensation you deserve by seeking advice from the team at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers. We stay on top of transportation trends and their associated legal developments to provide the most sophisticated, informed legal services to injured Floridians and their families. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.
Just What Is a Motor Scooter Anyway?
Let’s start with the basics. Broadly speaking, we refer to a motor scooter as any form of personal, single-rider, urban motorized transportation that isn’t a motorcycle, ATV, or moped (even though, confusingly, some manufacturers and retailers market road-legal mopeds as “scooters”). As a vehicle category, motor scooters have two basic features in common. First, they rely on electric or internal combustion engines for propulsion. Second, they are usually (but, as you’ll see below, not always) banned from operating on most public roads. Beyond those two characteristics, however, motor scooters vary widely their design and utility, and include:
- Two or three-wheeled vehicles, with or without seats, that resemble a grown-up version of the child’s toy;
- Two-wheeled “hoverboard” or “Segway” style scooters, with or without seats and handlebars, with side-by-side wheels and an internal gyroscope for balance and steering;
- Motorized skateboards;
- Miniature motorcycles; and
- So-called “mobility scooters” that are popular among senior citizens and others with mobility limitations.
Confusion Over State Law
Technology has a way of outpacing the law, unfortunately. When it comes to motor scooters, Florida law contains a relatively incomplete and confusing set of definitions of the different devices that could qualify as “motor scooters,” leaving Floridians with a lack of guidance on their use and misuse. For example:
- The law defines motorized scooters as “Any vehicle not having a seat or saddle for the use of the rider, designed to travel on not more than three wheels, and not capable of propelling the vehicle at a speed greater than 30 miles per hour on level ground.” This definition only covers a fraction of the types of vehicles above, and would seem to exclude motorized skateboards, miniature motorcycles, and any scooter with a seat.
- The law defines electric personal assistive mobility device as “Any self-balancing, two-nontandem-wheeled device, designed to transport only one person, with an electric propulsion system with average power of 750 watts (one horsepower), the maximum speed of which, on a paved level surface when powered solely by such a propulsion system while being ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 miles per hour.” This would seem to cover hoverboard or Segway style devices, but none of the others above.
- The law makes mention of miniature motorcycles, motor-driven cycles, and neighborhood electric vehicles, but does not define them, and suggests motorized disability access vehicles—which one would assume includes mobility scooters—are limited to those designed to be fueled by gasoline, seemingly excluding the vast majority of these devices.
The Florida statutes governing motor vehicles contain a smattering of provisions dealing, in some form or other, with the proper use of each of these types of transportation, but by no means are they coherent or easy-to-follow. A casual reader would have difficulty, for instance, finding clear instruction in the Florida statutes on where it is legal to operate a motorized skateboard, or a motor scooter with a saddle seat, or an electric-powered mobility scooter.
Fortunately, two bills recently introduced in the Florida legislature propose to update and simplify the laws, creating a new definition of micromobility devices and mandating where they can be ridden. According to Florida political news site FlaPol, however, the bills face some opposition over the extent to which their provisions would intrude on local government control over licensing and regulation of the devices and their operators.
How Three South Florida Cities Have Confronted Scooter Use, So Far
In the void left by state statutes for now, individual Florida cities and towns have adopted and amended their own ordinances to govern the rising use of motor scooters within city limits. Their efforts have followed, in many cases, a spate of accidents on city sidewalks, streets, and crosswalks, and confusion over just what devices people are allowed to use, and where they’re allowed to use them. The divergent approaches of three, neighboring South Florida cities—Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, and Miami—to motor scooters offer a vivid illustration of the state of legal flux that reigns in the Sunshine State for the time being on the topic.
In July 2018, the mayor of Fort Lauderdale signed a new city ordinance creating a dockless bike and scooter-sharing program to give city residents and visitors the option of navigating the city via rented electric scooters (or e-scooters). When the program went live in November 2018, users could rent any e-scooter they found parked on a city sidewalk (there are no docking stations) via a smartphone app, and could simply park and leave the scooter on any sidewalk when they finished using it.
The program almost immediately ran into complications. According to the Sun-Sentinel, by February 2019, city government had been flooded with complaints about scooters left abandoned by riders on city streets, sidewalks, and private property, of dangerous riding behaviors, and of uncertain rules-of-the-road (or sidewalk). The complaints also focused on reports of severe accidents involving e-scooters, including that left a local woman in a coma after a car struck her while she rode an e-scooter, and another that sent a local judge to the hospital after an e-scooter hit her while she jogged. Notably, the Sun-Sentinel reported e-scooter operators may have caused confusion and put lives at risk by instructing riders not to ride e-scooters on sidewalks, whereas the city instructs riders to ride only on sidewalks.
Just south of Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood has taken an entirely different approach. In March 2019, just a month after Fort Lauderdale city leaders decided to stick with their e-scooter program, the city commission in Hollywood voted to ban motor scooters from city streets and sidewalks there. However, the new ordinance contains a somewhat limited definition of “motor scooter,” restricting the banned devices to “vehicles” (as defined in Florida statutes) that lack a seat or saddle and have no more than three wheels. Notably, Florida law explicitly excludes “hoverboard” and “Segway” type devices from the definition of “vehicle” under Florida law, motorized skateboards have four wheels, and many e-scooters have seats or saddles as an available option. Nevertheless, we doubt local law enforcement will necessarily observe those distinctions in enforcing the new ordinance.
Continuing southward, Miami seems, for now, to have adopted a middle-ground view on motor scooters, after flip-flopping on its policies toward them. On April 1, 2019, Miami launched a six-month pilot program, similar to Fort Lauderdale’s, permitting the operation of e-scooters in and around the city. Unlike its neighbor two cities to the north, however, Miami’s program permits operation of the scooters on sidewalks, bike lanes, and city streets, according to Miami Today. The program took effect after a year of wrangling over whether to permit the devices, which the ordinance defines by reference to the statutory definition above but with further clarification that it encompasses “a device, with an electric motor, designed to transport only one person, exclusively or in combination with the application of human power, which cannot attain a speed of more than fifteen (15) miles per hour without the application of human power on a level surface.” According to the Miami Herald, the city banned the devices in June 2018, only to reverse course later the same year, ultimately adopting the ordinance that took effect on April 1.
Scooter Accident Fatalities and Injuries on the Rise
In cities that have permitted scooter use, serious accidents have started to happen. Fort Lauderdale’s first, known scooter-related fatality happened in April 2019, when a man died after being struck by a car while riding one of the devices (illegally) city street, according to Local 10 News. But, Fort Lauderdale’s fatality is hardly a rarity. Scooter-related deaths have been reported all over the state recently, from Orlando to Destin.
Even when riders cheat death in a scooter accident, many suffer serious injuries. Local 10 reports Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale sees 5-10 scooter-related injuries per week in its emergency department, many of them life-threatening or severe, including broken bones and head trauma.
What Florida doctors are seeing follows a national trend. Consumer Reports recently conducted a study based on spot interviews of hospital emergency departments nationwide, and found at least 1,500 reported e-scooter injuries since 2017 (with more likely unreported), many involving deadly trauma.
Similarly, in a study of 249 patients admitted to emergency departments with scoot-related injuries over a one year period, UCLA researchers recently found that broken bones and traumatic brain injury accounted for a significant portion of the injuries, and that the vast majority of injured riders were not wearing a helmet. Finally, so prevalent have scooter-related injuries become in Austin, Texas (another city that has embraced e-scooters) that the city recently asked the country’s top public health watchdog, the Centers for Disease Contol and Prevention (CDC) to conduct a study of them.
Scooter Safety and Accident Tips
In light of the steady, upward trend in scooter accidents and injuries, the team at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers urges our fellow Floridians to follow these critically-important safety tips when riding any form of motor scooter:
- Wear a helmet. This is the single most important takeaway from medical professionals thus far. Motor scooters can travel up to 30 miles per hour. That’s faster than any human can run. So, the next time you get on a motor scooter, think what it would like to sprint as fast as you can into a brick wall. That is at least the force with which you’d land on the sidewalk in a crash. So, wear a helmet.
- Know the rules of the road, bike lane, and sidewalk. As our review above reveals, where and how local law permits you to ride a motor scooter varies widely from city-to-city. Before you step or sit on a scooter, understand exactly where you can ride, and what rules govern how you can ride there. If you don’t have a firm understanding of how law-abiding car and truck drivers, and pedestrians, expect you to act on a scooter, then avoid riding one until you do.
- Treat a scooter accident like any other motor vehicle accident. Call first responders, take pictures/video of the scene, get contact information for the others involved and for any witnesses, and seek medical care no matter how minor you think your injuries are.
- Speak with an experienced scooter law attorney. Motor scooter laws in Florida consist of a dense, confusing, and changeable collection of state and local rules and regulations. If you have any doubts about those rules, or have suffered injuries or tragedy in an accident in which those laws could play a role, contact an experienced Florida scooter law attorney immediately. The sooner you do, the better your chances of protecting your rights and recovering the damages you deserve.
Florida Scooter Accident Lawyers
With offices in Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, and New Port Richey, Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers is the premier personal injury law firm on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Our team of legal professionals makes it our mission to stay current on developments in Florida law that could affect the rights of our clients who have sustained injuries because of someone else’s negligence or recklessness.
If a Florida scooter accident leaves you or a loved one badly injured, then you will need a legal advocate by your side who can help you navigate Florida’s tangled swamp of scooter laws. Contact Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers by phone at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH) or visit us online to schedule a free consultation. We have offices in Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, and New Port Richey.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765