Even though the average rental scooter scarcely goes over 20mph, many people worry that it will prove to be more dangerous than other vehicles on the road. While you can’t deny that a commuter standing on an electric scooter is more exposed than car drivers, there are safety precautions that you can take. Granted, electric scooter riders don’t have a metal box shielding them from impacts as cars do, but with the right safety precautions, they can be as safe as riding a bicycle.
Electric scooter safety can sound arbitrary since laws largely vary amongst jurisdictions. This is because electric scooters and micro-mobility are relatively new forms of transportation and there just isn’t the same wealth of research that’s available for automobiles. However, this is changing as electric scooters are steadily gaining popularity to pave the way for a cleaner, greener future.
If you’re a beginner to electric scooters, this guide covers everything you need to know: road safety, traffic laws, safety accessories, and the right locks to prevent your scooter from getting stolen.
How to Ride an Electric Scooter Safely
1. Buy the right safety accessories
Even if your electric scooter crawls at snail speed, wearing helmets is crucial to avoid head injuries. Head and neck injuries make up the majority of most electric scooter injuries — and wearing a DOT certified helmet goes a long way in keeping your head safe.
A CPSC-certified bicycle helmet is an alternative for electric scooter riders, but DOT helmets are more crash-tested and provide better protection. It’s been common knowledge for electric scooter riders to use bicycle accessories over the past few years, since the speeds of both vehicles are comparable. However, electric scooters are fundamentally different from bicycles since riders stand up, and a DOT helmet will keep you better equipped.
If your electric scooter has a powerful motor and goes at speeds faster than 20mph, steer clear away from light foam helmets. You will need a helmet with full-head reinforcement as well as a visor to protect the upper half of your face.
Visibility is an extremely important component of road safety, especially if you do a lot of night riding or live in foggy weather conditions. Most electric scooters come with LED lights (tail lights and headlights), but make sure these are bright enough and functional.
Many budget scooters have lights that are too dim with a beam that doesn’t travel very far. Some scooter lights tend to flicker or dim when the battery is running below 50%. Make sure you test out your electric scooter lights before you decide to take it out for a night ride. You might want to consider buying rechargeable LED lights that you can attach to your scooter to improve visibility.
It’s also important that night riders are as visible as their electric scooter. When riding long distances or in foggy conditions, wear a jacket with reflective lining so that you can’t be missed. You can also consider adding a rechargeable light to add to your helmet.
2. Road Laws for Electric Scooter Safety
Road laws for electric scooters are arbitrary, to say the least. Micromobility scooters haven’t been around for a long time, and state traffic laws are quickly adapting to better accommodate scooters in their region. There are few federal traffic laws on electric scooters in the USA, and there is no DMV test necessary to start riding an electric scooter, but this may soon change as the industry grows.
Sidewalks vs. Streets
Most states either mandate that you ride your electric scooter on the sidewalk or on the street. Both of these options have their benefits and drawbacks when it comes to electric scooter safety. Riding electric scooters on the sidewalks can be dangerous for pedestrians, often causing injuries in limited sidewalk space. Pennsylvania and Delaware are two states where electric scooters are limited to riding on the sidewalk and banned from the streets.
If you’re from an area like this, make sure to invest in a scooter with low speed to avoid accidents with pedestrians, especially for inexperienced riders.
The vast majority of states in the US allow electric scooters to ride on the streets, but not on high-speed streets. These are streets with a speed limit typically above 35mph. If you’re riding an electric scooter that’s capable of more than 35mph, you might have to register your vehicle to get special permission to ride on bigger streets.
Some areas require you to stick to bike lanes instead of riding on the street or sidewalk. Many riders consider this to be an ideal solution since bike lanes reduce traffic congestion for cars, and keep lighter two-wheelers with similar speed ranges in one lane together. However, not all city infrastructure is built with bike and scooter lanes.
Many cities ban electric scooters altogether, citing reasons like ‘city de-beautification’ or claiming scooters are a nuisance. For example, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood do not allow electric scooters.
Most scooter safety laws mandate a maximum speed limit of 20 mph. This is a comfortable upper limit if you often use rental e-scooters that can only manage about 10-15mph, but riders with more powerful electric scooters may want to experience faster rides.
You may need to register your vehicle and procure a driver’s license for really powerful electric scooters with more than 350watts. It’s best to confirm with local authorities beforehand instead of getting pulled up on the street during your commute.
Helmets and License
Only 10 states require you to wear a helmet while riding an electric scooter. Some cities also require helmets for scooter riders below 18 years old, namely NYC. Many of the electric scooter helmet laws are an extension of moped laws to avoid accidents. Electric scooters are often treated similarly to professional bicycles or mopeds, and while helmets are not mandated, they are strongly recommended for your own safety.
North Carolina requires a DMV registration for your electric scooters, while 10 states require you to have a valid driver’s license in order to ride your scooter. These states might require a driving license for cars or motorcycles, or both since there isn’t a license specifically for electric scooters.
3. Get Comfortable Practice Riding
Other vehicles like motorcycles and cars have regulated processes for beginner riders. Whether you attend riding school, or practice to pass a DMV test, all vehicles require certain levels of skill to maneuver, as well as sense of spatial and timing awareness on the road.
Since there’s no driving test for an electric scooter, the onus is on the rider to get good at riding before you hit the road. In fact, studies might indicate a higher percentage of accidents from rental e-scooters since riders don’t have a public area to practice riding in.
Start by practice riding in an open empty space. A parking lot or public park can be a great place to do this as long as its not too crowded. Make sure to wear a helmet and some elbow and knee pads for safety measure. Practice riding at different speeds — many electric scooters have three speed modes, so get comfortable with these.
Place an extra focus on being aware of the road and surroundings, the tiniest bump or crack in the road could give you a jerk and lead to scooter injuries. You should be paying attention to the terrain in front of you, a tiny nail or thorn can definitely puncture your tire’s inner tube if you don’t avoid it.
Place a few obstacles in your path (bonus points if you have access to a few traffic cones) and practice maneuvering around them. You’ll need this swerving skill for riding in traffic to avoid hazards. Turning on an electric scooter is more than moving the handle, and involves leaning with your body weight for smoother turns as well.
As much as you need to practice starting your electric scooter with the throttle, you also need to practice braking. Get comfortable with quick and sudden brakes and placing one foot on the road as you come to a halt. Having plenty of braking practice will stop you from losing control on the road in traffic.
4. Check your scooter before you ride
Many accidents and scooter injuries take place because of a fault with the vehicle and not the rider. To reduce chances of that happening, always check your electric scooter before you decide to hop on and ride.
This is especially important if you’re using a rental e scooter where its working condition is not guaranteed. You should still do pre-ride checks to reduce injury risk and ride with an ease of mind.
- Check the tires first. The wheels should be inflated and without punctures. They should have grooves in them, and should not look too worn in. Air filled tires are at greater risk of going flat so it’s really important to check this. There is no AAA for electric scooter failure, and it can be tough to find a spare tire once you’re stranded mid-ride.
- Check the folding mechanism. The stem should fold and unfold as well as lock properly. Make sure that there are no lose hinges or missing screws. You don’t want the electric scooter to buckle and fold down while you’re riding it. The folding mechanism generally has a colored switch or tip that indicates whether its locked securely.
- Brakes adjusted and braking properly. Before you start the electric scooter, move the scooter around and press the brakes to ensure they’re working. You can even ride at a very slow speed for a few meters just to test out the braking mechanism. Look out for obvious brake failure or any strange screeching sound.
- Look out for any strange sounds. Any kind of dragging, screeching, or squeaking sound can be an indication that something has gone wrong or come loose. Of course, different scooter engines will have louder volumes, but your scooter shouldn’t have any obvious signs of damage.
- Check the display and battery. Most electric scooters will display the battery level for you to easily check. You want the battery to be enough for your trip, but try not to ride a scooter with a battery level below 50%. This is because many scooters start draining battery faster once below 50%, which leads to a greater chance of user error, dimming lights and accidents.
- Check the lights. Good lights are bright and cast a long beam, making night riding easier and safer.
- Mobile phone on your person. Since there’s little intervention for electric scooter accidents, it’s really important to have your phone with you in case of emergencies.
5. Plan your Route
Riding an electric scooter safely requires both hands. You don’t want to be dividing your attention between the road and the GPS on your phone screen, so it definitely helps to plan your route before hand. That way you can keep yourself from losing control on the scooter and focus on the other riders and pedestrians on the road.
There are certain scooter riding conventions when it comes to signaling. Since an electric scooter doesn’t have turn lights, you’ll need to signal when you’re taking a turn. Many riders do this by signaling with one hand when they’re comfortable, but you can use an elbow or foot if you want to keep both hands on the handlebar.
Always slow down when it comes to turns, especially if there are many pedestrians around. If you’re riding in a neighborhood or park, you may find that hazards are not fast-moving cars but other riders with earbuds plugged in! Signal with a bell or alert when you’re planning to overtake someone.
6. Never Ride Intoxicated
Drunk driving is equally, if not more, dangerous when it comes to electric scooters. A UCLA study reveals that most accidents take place between 3pm to 11pm, when people are likelier to be traveling to and fro bars and clubs.
Many people can be tempted to take a cheap rental scooter for their commute when tipsy or drunk (or impaired by other substances) but this can be downright lethal. Riding an electric scooter requires vigilance and alertness which alcohol consumption messes with. You are much more likely to put yourself and others at risk when you ride under the influence.
This also applies for when you’re extremely tired. After having finished a long work shift or returning from a strenous activity, you may not want to ride an electric scooter that requires so much motor control.
How to Lock your Electric Scooter and Keep it Safe
An electric scooter is notoriously easy to steal. They’re lightweight, and generally roll away without having to be started. That’s why it’s recommended to buy a folding electric scooter so you can carry it along with your wherever you go.
But for the times when you have to leave your precious vehicle in a parking lot, it’s extremely necessary to use a scooter safety lock.
U locks are premium scooter locks that connect the wheel to a pole. They can also be connected through any permanent point on the scooter, such as the deck or shaft. U locks are tougher to pick and cannot be cut in the same way a chain lock can. They can easily be attached to bike racks and prevent the scooter from being picked up and swiped away.
Disc Brake Locks
Many scooter owners choose to use Disc Brake Locks to prevent their vehicle from being towed away. While it’s a great concept — barring the wheels from moving, it works better on motorcycles and other vehicles. A scooter with a disc brake can still be carried up and taken away, especially if it weighs under 45 lbs (most of them do).
Electronic locks can be installed on your scooter and will sound a loud alarm when someone attempts to steal it away. This is particularly useful in a crowded area where the thief can get scared off easily. In isolated areas, the loud alarm can do little but to alert you of the thief.
Many electronic locks immobilize the scooter, so that it cannot be rolled away as well.
Electric Scooter Safety vs. Bicycle Safety
Scooters are often compared to cycles when it comes to safety practices and laws since both vehicles are closets to each other in speed ranges (although premium scooters can go much faster). However, a scooter is fundamentally different from a bike and will need more stringent safety practices.
A study indicates that only 10% of scooter owners wear a helmet, which is significantly low population. By comparison, almost double cycle riders wear a helmet when riding, protecting them from getting injured. Greater helmet usage on bikes could be a leading reason why accidents are lesser.
Helmets are also specifically built for different grades of cycles, beginner, amateur and professional cyclist helmets are available everywhere. Scooters do not have designated helmets freely available for purchase, and riders often use helmets meant for a bike instead.
Always wear helmets on an electric scooter, no matter what the speed capacity is.
Assumptions and Associations
Many people take bikes and cycles more seriously than scooters.
Scooters can be associated with children’s toys and taken less seriously. This is a dangerous assumption since a scooter is powered by an electric motor that can be capable of significant torque and horsepower.
Bikes that are operable through gears also leave more control in the rider’s hands, making it easier to brake swiftly. The same can’t be said for electric counterparts, that require more skill and driving experience to operate.
It doesn’t take a mechanic to realise that tires are way smaller on electric scooters, making riding that much tougher.
Small wheels are also narrower, contributing to less stability on the road. Obstacles can significantly jolt the entire vehicle, while potholes can cause you to slip and slide.
Learning how to ride with small wheels calls for greater skill and experience.
Additionally, you find air filled tires and solid rubber tires on scooters more often. These are lower maintenance, but also have poorer grip and control in wet conditions.
While the data can seem alarming, a lot of accidents can be chalked down to lack of riding practice and user error. Electric scooters are not inherently more dangerous than other forms of transport, but undeniably require some skill and vigilance to be safe on the road.
Make sure to use safety accessories to protect yourself from possible impact, as well as any reflective apparel for visibility during night riding. Always wear a helmet: this safety tip is non-negotiable and goes a long way in reducing chances of a lethal head and neck injury.
Ultimately, riding an electric scooter should be fun. Once you’ve gotten some practice in and taken safety precautions, there’s no reason why you can’t begin falling in love with your daily commute.
Ready to switch from rental e scooters to your own vehicle? Check out our reviews on the best commuting scooters here.