I left my high school campus for the last time on a Lime scooter. It seemed fitting, leaving a ridiculous institution on a ridiculous vehicle. Speeding off campus with my friend, I was overcome by a sense of freedom, and we were laughing as we pulled into the street. My friend’s hat flew off, and we both cracked up, imagining the car behind us witnessing our tomfoolery. Then we looked behind us and saw that the car we had pulled in front of was a hearse. Again, very fitting. The universe’s sign to stop.
Coming to NC State two weeks ago, I was struck by the popularity and prevalence of the scooters on campus, which are present outside of most buildings and used by students to get to class, work, the store and to just have fun. The scooters are electric ride-share vehicles introduced to Raleigh in 2017 by the company Lime, one of several companies in a new wave of “micro mobility” and one that touts itself as providing an affordable, environmentally friendly, accessible mode of transportation.
Making a Lime account requires the account maker to have a valid driver’s license and to be 18 years old or older. When you make an account and start a ride, the instructions in the Lime app will tell the rider not to ride on the sidewalk and advises the rider to wear a helmet. Paying by the minute, riders can go as little or as far as they need, and with the company’s dock-free system, riders can park their scooters anywhere accessible, making these scooters especially helpful on campus.
However, shortly after coming to campus, I began to see issues with the scooters and the guidelines (or rather, lack of guidelines) with which they are used.
Part of the problem stems from the vagueness of Lime’s user instructions and in the redirection of responsibility onto the user to understand what is allowed and what isn’t. Lime’s instructions are ambiguous, instructing the rider with statements such as “Always follow helmet [and] traffic laws.” Instructions such as these put the responsibility on the user to determine what guidelines to follow — guidelines that are available, but only if one takes the initiative to look, a step that riders are likely to forgo.
These guidelines are also unable to be enforced because they are just that — guidelines. Lime can do little in the way of specification, as their products are deployed in diverse cities with diverse regulations. But Lime can do more to ensure that their customers — our students — are informed about the rules in place where they are. Of the dozens of scooterists I have seen in the past two weeks, only one has been wearing a helmet. And while riders are told not to ride on the sidewalk, many people still do. On the sidewalk, riders are forced to weave in and out of pedestrians, which is especially dangerous between classes, when the sidewalks are congested with foot traffic. Without a loud engine, pedestrians are given little to no warning of an approaching scooterist.
Questions have been raised about the number of injuries caused by scooters on campus, such as who would pay costs if a scooterist were to cause an accident with another vehicle. The short-term positive benefits of scooters on campus are undeniable, but also undeniable are the issues coming from the contradictions and ambiguities in how they are treated. The fact that a driver’s license is required implies that scooters should be treated with the same amount of caution and responsibility as when driving a vehicle such as a car, but with their unclear and unenforced guidelines, as well as their toy-like forms, these electric scooters seem like toys that are not subject to the law.
At this year’s Packapalooza, Lime hosted an event called “First Ride,” where participants were led through a safety training and taken on a guided Lime scooter tour. Events like these are going to be integral to increasing awareness of the dangers that come with riding any motorized vehicle, but until there are clearer guidelines and means to enforce them, Lime scooter safety will continue to prove an issue. Scooters need to be treated like the motorized vehicles that they are.