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New 2019 Scooter helmet law: No helmet, no problem

Riding a motorized scooter such as those offered by Lime, Bird, and other companies are fun but riders must comply with the California Motor Vehicle Code or face a ticket. According to Vehicle Code section 21235, any person operating a motorized scooter must have a valid driver’s license or instruction permit and:

  • may not carry passengers;
  • may not carry any package, bundle or article that prevents him/her from keeping at least one hand on the handlebars;
  • may not ride on any sidewalk, except as necessary to enter or exit adjacent property; and
  • may not exceed 15 mph regardless of a higher posted speed limit for other traffic.

Prior to January 1, 2019, the Vehicle Code also prohibited riding without a properly fitted and fastened helmet. However, new changes to the law effective January 1, 2019 will eliminate the helmet requirement for operators 18 years or older, bringing it in line with California’s bicycle helmet law. Some worry that eliminating the helmet requirement for scooters will significantly increase the occurrence of head injuries and other serious injuries in the event of a crash or being struck by a vehicle. A recent San Diego Union Tribune article on the subject quoted Michael Sise MD, chief of medical staff at Scripps Mercy Hospital as saying, “Injuries [from scooters] are coming in fast and furious. It’s just a matter of time before someone is killed.”

The article goes on to report that the City Council is considering regulations to discourage risky behavior that could result in injuries to riders and pedestrians, but so far the council has not acted. Last spring, the City Council considered banning scooters on city boardwalks, but ultimately voted against the proposal. Some scooter companies are working on ways to make scooters safer to use in busy pedestrian areas. One such proposal uses GPS information known as “geofencing” to reduce scooter speed from 15 mph to 8 mph in pedestrian heavy areas like Balboa Park, the downtown Embarcadero and beach boardwalks. San Diego needs responsible regulation of scooters to help ensure the safety of riders and the public.

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