- LUCY NICHOLSON/Reuters
- Helmets are required by most startups to ride their electric scooters. Still, emergency rooms are being flooded with injured riders.
- On Instagram, startups Lime and Bird don’t appear to be practicing what they preach when it comes to safety, despite commitments to give out free helmets.
- Bird was a vocal supporter of a new California law which will nix the helmet requirement for scooter riders on January 1.
Gruesome injuries from riding e-scooters are popping up left and right across the country.
In Austin alone, one emergency room is seeing 10 injuries per day from scooters, the hospital’s ER director told CNET. The site estimates injury rates could be in the thousands, with examples of broken arms, major head injuries, and extensive bruising – with examples from doctors in San Francisco and Denver as well.
Safety is the top priority of every scooter company, their websites and promotional materials are quick to point out. The user agreements of Lime and Bird, for example, even specifically mention the helmet requirement and have decals on the scooters remind riders.
But while Lime was busy distributing 250,000 helmets as part of its “respect the ride” campaign, its marketing efforts were telling a very different story. On Instagram, photos of helmets are interspersed with photos of riding in direct contradiction of the pledge, most notably without helmets.
Lime isn’t the only company. Bird, whose scooters do say on the deck that a helmet is required, hasn’t shown a rider with a helmet on its Instagram page since Nov. 6 – and has posted more than a dozen photos since. (Bird has also distributed about 50,000 helmets, it told CNET)
- Bird via Instagram
Jon Patrick Allem, a research scientist at the University of Southern California, went more in-depth with his analysis. According to his findings, 69% of Bird’s more than 300 Instagram posts show a person on a scooter, and only 6.2% of those showed any protective gear.
Lime did not respond to a request for comment.
In a statement sent after this story’s publication, Bird took issue with Allem’s research, saying “posing beside a Bird should not require a helmet, just as posing by a parked car should not require a seatbelt.”
Still, many photos on the company’s page appear to show riders in motion, as opposed to posing.
“We welcome productive conversations around safety and ideas on how to improve the safety of everyone in the communities we operate in,” it said. “We have however found Instagram is not a platform best suited for rider education. Instead, we have invested millions of dollars on providing online and offline rider safety programs.”
Helmets have been a pivotal point in the ongoing tussle between some cities and scooter companies. Bird was a major supporter of a new California law which, when it takes effect in January, will repeal a helmet requirement for e-scooter riders, but allows local municipalities to pass stricter laws. Santa Monica, for instance, has instituted a speed limit on its boardwalk which Lime was able to program into its scooters.
Los Angeles in September approved a bill requiring scooter companies to notify riders of helmet requirements, and sets a cap on the number of scooters that may be deployed, according to Curbed.
“With the introduction of any new consumer product, you will not see everybody follow the rules,” Kyle Lui, a principal at Lime investor at the $4 billion venture capital firm DCM Ventures, said in an interview with Business Insider.
“The law in the vast majority of states is that you need to wear a seat belt when you’re in the car and yet you still see people not doing that. A lot of accidents you see – whether auto, bike, or scooter related – some are wrong place wrong time, and some are due to unsafe practices. That’s one of the reasons why companies like Lime need to have a local presence to easily distribute things like helmets.”