By Logan Quirk
If you live in Los Angeles, San Diego, or the Bay area, you’ve probably heard about the growing number of Bird scooter accidents. If not, you at least have seen these vehicles meandering around the city even if you haven’t put a name to the increasingly familiar two-wheeled wonders. It’s easy to overlook the blackbirds while sitting around in their nests. It’s the Birds being ridden throughout the cities that are getting the negative attention.
What Is a Bird Scooter?
Bird is an electric scooter startup started by a former Lyft and Uber executive. Bird scooters resemble Razor scooters but they are adult-sized. The California craze started in Pacific Beach, CA during September of 2017 and has since spread to other cities in the state and across the country. It works like Uber, Lyft, and other rideshare companies with one big exception. You do your own driving on the scooter whether it’s for fun or an economical way to get from Point A to Point B.
The business has already been extremely successful, but residents have mixed feelings about the scooters. On one hand, they offer a cheap way to get around and take away the frustration of sitting in traffic. However, those who aren’t users of the new service worry about the potential for being struck by a scooter driving on the sidewalk. There have already been reports of Bird scooter accidents causing injuries including a broken arm and a traumatic head injury. The latter is a serious injury more often seen with motorcycle accidents.
Why Accidents Are Becoming More Common
There are also those people who just want to ride the electric scooters for the fun. Anyone can rent a scooter, from surfers to business execs. There’s also such a large number of them that it makes monitoring the riders virtually impossible. Since Bird’s launch, other companies have also introduced their own brand of scooter rentals. Added to the existing rental bikes spread throughout the city, the population of two-wheeled rides has grown significantly since last fall. While some people are ‘okay’ with the bicycles, the speed and careless manner of the riders makes them leery of the electric scooters.
The scooters are bound to the same laws as bicycle riders but many of the people who use them aren’t familiar with what is and isn’t allowed. Many say they just go along with ‘what feels right.’ Too often, they end up riding on the sidewalk instead of in the street. To further complicate matters, the laws about riding on the sidewalks differ among California cities. The fact that scooter riders just go where they want ends up putting pedestrians in harm’s way.
Bird renters are supposed to be at least 18 years of age, have a valid driver’s license, and only ride one person at a time. The app may ask you to scan your drivers’ license the first time you rent a scooter. From the many teens and younger riding these scooters alone and in pairs, it’s easy to see why Bird scooter accidents are becoming more common.
In Santa Monica, riding on the sidewalks is illegal. When they noticed the unsafe behavior of Bird riders, the city took action by suing Bird for operating without a business license. Bird agreed to pay $300,000 in fines and fees and rolled out a public safety campaign as well. The company also began giving away free helmets to consumers who requested one and who agree to pay shipping costs. Now, when riders use the Bird App, they automatically see the rules of the road.
Bird had already reduced the speed of the scooters from 22 to 15 mph right after the business launched. Some people are quick to note that even going 10 mph on a sidewalk can result in significant damage if the rider runs into a pedestrian.
Since the law only requires riders under the age of 18 to wear a helmet, it also puts the riders themselves at a greater risk of head or brain injury.
The city also claims to be citing people who aren’t staying off the sidewalks. Residents say it isn’t happening. More likely, the high number of scooters in the city make it difficult to impossible to monitor them accurately.
Both drivers and pedestrians in Los Angeles find the scooters a nuisance. Many complain that it isn’t just a matter of riding on sidewalks. The riders also break other safety laws such as running red lights and stop signs. Some think it’s only a matter of time before there’s a fatality involving one of the scooters.
How Bird Scooters Work
You can rent a Bird scooter by using the Bird app. Once you find a scooter close to you, scan the QR code on the machine using the app on your smartphone.
This unlocks the scooter and lets you start it. Just lift the kickstand and propel the scooter forward with your foot. After the third ‘push’, push the throttle on the handlebar and the motor kicks on.
Once you reach your destination, press the handle brake to stop it. Leave the Bird in a ‘safe place’ with the kickstand down and end the ride using the same app. The app then charges you for the ride at a flat fee of $1 for unlocking the scooter and $.15 per minute used.
Riders should note that failing to choose the parking place wisely could result in other problems. While you can leave the scooter at your destination instead of a nest, make sure that it doesn’t block a doorway or sidewalk ramp. Nests are the designated pickup areas for scooters, each of which usually holds three scooters. Basically, you shouldn’t leave the scooter anywhere where it’s in the way of pedestrians or traffic. Otherwise, the city has the right to impound it. Clusters of scooters can also lead to Bird scooter accidents while they don’t even have a rider!
The Issue of Charging the Scooters
Bird scooters are electric, meaning that they require charging to keep them running. Bird has come up with a solution to deal with burned-out batteries, too.
Some people describe their fascination with the way the scooters seemingly disappear from sight at the end of the day, only to return in full force early the next morning. This is the result of ‘chargers’ or ‘Bird hunters’, people who Bird pays to pick up the scooters and charge them overnight. Chargers usually pick up the scooters around sunset and take them home to charge. The cost of energy is pretty much negligible, and the charger has the potential to earn between $5 and $20 for each scooter charged. It isn’t such a lucrative deal for anyone who needs full-time work. But it is a good way to make a little extra money in addition to your regular job. The scooters are then returned early in the morning when people are most likely to want them for a fast and affordable ride to work.
Becoming a charger is fairly easy and the company advertises for newcomers on the app. Just fill out your address, tax info, and bank account information so you can get paid. The app takes care of reading the charge when the scooter was picked up and how long it takes to charge it. Chargers are often teens who get a kick out of finding the Birds and making money to boot. Others look at it as a lucrative business with a lot of competition between them and other chargers.
Bird Fraud, Hoarding, and Theft
For some people, getting paid as a charger just isn’t enough. The scooters chirp if someone tries to steal them but this too is becoming commonplace. When a scooter goes missing, Bird puts out a $20 reward for its return. This has led some chargers to act as bounty hunters for missing scooters.
Some criminals who realize the competition between chargers use the scooters to lure them to isolated areas where they can rob them. Some of the same features that make being a bird hunter convenient also make it dangerous.
Another way that people make an illegal profit from the scooters is by stealing them and breaking them down into pieces. They can get $50 for the batteries and the likelihood of getting caught is minimal.
Why Bird Scooter Accidents Are Likely to Increase in the Future
It’s hard to ignore the success of Bird scooters and how quickly the concept has caught on. Before he was the CEO of Bird Rides, Travis VanderZanden worked as the chief operating officer for Lyft and then went to work for Uber. Since starting Bird, the company has climbed to have a valuation of $400 million. VanderZanden has raised $118 million in venture capital funding, an impressive feat for any start-up before its first year.
The potential for Bird scooters to continue to grow at the rate they have so far depends on whether the business can stay profitable. The company also needs to do more to win over city officials. For now, the number of renters and chargers enjoying the ride seem to outnumber the complaints coming from disgruntled pedestrians and drivers.
A Broad Range of Accidents and Injuries
The injuries from Bird scooters range from broken toes from falling over deserted scooters to severe injuries caused by impacts with vehicles. As with any injury, someone must be liable for those to Bird riders and those who are injured by them. Bird scooter accidents can happen in a number of ways including:
- A scooter strikes a pedestrian as they cross at an intersection
- A scooter crashes into a vehicle
- A pedestrian falls over an abandoned scooter on the sidewalk
- A scooter hits debris in the road and loses control
- A vehicle hits a scooter deliberately out of frustration
If the scooter is abandoned when you collide with it, you may have a valid complaint against Bird Rides. You could have a valid personal injury claim against the company. The company is liable for damages including your medical treatment costs and time off from work.
If the accident occurs with a scooter and rider, the liability depends on whether they were obeying the law at the time. Since riders aren’t legally permitted to ride on the sidewalks, the scooter rider is at fault. Riders are also legally required to follow traffic laws while riding on the streets.
In a case where the vehicle driver strikes a scooter while driving legally, the vehicle driver is at-fault. According to California’s comparative fault rule, both parties can be assigned some degree of fault. Even if the accident is intentional by the car driver, the scooter driver might be considered partially to blame if they were breaking the law at the time the impact took place.
In spite of their large success and quick expansion into many U.S. cities, Bird scooters are still a relatively new idea. There aren’t any laws specific to their use because we never needed them before. Regardless of the future success of the company, the scooters aren’t likely to just go away by any means. That means the laws will likely evolve to include specific rules and regulations for riding them. Until then, there is little anyone can do to prevent Bird scooter accidents from happening other than to stay alert while driving or walking in the city.
If the predictions for a future fatality from a Bird-related accident turn out to be true, the case could turn into one of wrongful death. Holding those who are liable for Bird scooter accidents is the best way to prevent the problem from getting worse. It’s also the only way to get the compensation you need to pay for your damages as a result.
If you’ve been involved in a Bird accident, contact Quirk to talk about your case. You don’t have to wait to get justice for your injuries. We can help you understand your rights and get you the most compensation for your case.