A large fleet of electric-powered shareable scooters has arrived in Calgary. Much like a car share program, these e-scooters are easy to rent, use, and leave for the next rider to enjoy. Powered by an electric motor, e-scooters allow the rider to reach speeds in excess of 20 km/h and under a City of Calgary pilot project, they can only be driven on sidewalks, pathways, and bike lanes. Notably, helmets are not mandatory under City bylaws.
The response to Calgary’s pilot project has been overwhelming. One e-scooter rental company, Lime, had its biggest opening weekend ever following its Calgary launch. However, this immense popularity has been accompanied by complications. In the first two weeks since e-scooters launched, Calgary emergency departments have seen over 60 patients with injuries resulting from e-scooter use. Fractures and head injuries have been the most prevalent (remember: helmets are optional).
With many injuries sustained in such a short period of time, it is unclear how this problem will evolve or if it can be contained. However, the question arises: who is at fault? Who is liable for the injuries caused by these e-scooters? The rider? The e-scooter companies themselves? The City of Calgary?
Consider this hypothetical scenario: the rider of an e-scooter travelling at 20 km/h on a public sidewalk hits a pedestrian, runs over their foot, and causes a foot fracture. The rider would likely be at fault, but would the City of Calgary also be liable? An injured party could argue that the City of Calgary is negligent for allowing motorized scooters on sidewalks and that resulting pedestrian injuries are reasonably foreseeable. After all, bicycles are prohibited from being ridden on sidewalks.
For the City’s part, there are bylaws governing the use of e-scooters during this pilot project. Fines include: $150 for any rider who “interferes” with a pedestrian, $75 for any rider on a sidewalk where signs prohibit e-scooter use, and $25 for riding in the street. The threat of fines can help deter the kind of misuse that can lead to injuries, but it would be impossible to prevent accidents entirely. With such a new program (the City’s pilot project ends in October 2020), much is still uncertain though users of these new shareable e-scooters should exercise caution and care to their surroundings. With great speed comes great responsibility and the future of e-scooters in Calgary is at stake.