Electric Scooter Geo-Fencing Is Dangerous

Post By Corey Heit

Geofencing scooters factors into many plans for integrating rentable Lime and Bird electronic scooters into the transportation mix of Ohio cities. This is a bad idea.

While it does make sense to restrict e-scooter riders to certain areas to limit risks for crashes and catastrophic injuries, creating a Lime or Bird geofence could be the worst possible means for doing so. Understanding how geofencing would work for e-scooters reveals why it should not be done.

When put in place, geofences will render e-scooters inoperable outside the boundaries of a fence. The system works via beacons like cellphone towers, and they boundaries can be adjusted simply by redirecting the signals. The no-go line will not be visible (it’s just radio waves), and no permanent markers like signs will exist. This creates at least three serious problems.

First, a scooter geofence amounts to a kill switch. A rider who crosses the invisible boundary line will stop suddenly. Even if the scooter coasts for a short distance after its electric motor cuts off, the rider will be at risk for getting thrown when their ride ends even though they never applied the brake. It is unclear whether riders will receive visual or auditory warnings and alerts from the scooter or smartphone when they approach a geofence boundary.

Second, and as a clear consequence of the first issue, geofencing puts e-scooter riders at risk for unexpectedly coming to stop while operating in traffic. A principal intent of creating a geofence will be to keep Lime and Bird scooters off sidewalks and out of the path of pedestrians. Forced onto the roadway, an e-scooter without a motor becomes virtually unsteerable and a sitting duck for cars and trucks.

Last, geofences will not remain fixed. Unlike walls, curbs, buildings and other things that permanently block the operation of e-scooters, a geofence can be moved with the push of a button or by a few keystrokes. The decision to change a Lime or Bird geofence will probably not be made capriciously, but riders will have few ways to be sure exactly where their scooters will and will not work.

As a personal injury lawyer in Columbus, I am particularly concerned about what requiring geofencing for scooters will mean for the liability of companies like Lime and Bird. E-scooter companies already enjoy broad immunity from personal injury and wrongful death claims. Complying with a state law or local ordinance that mandates geofencing will further indemnify the companies even though a geofence itself puts riders in danger.

In addition, a driver who hits and injures an immobilized e-scooter can plausibly argue that the rider acted negligently by traveling outside the geofence. A jury might need to decide whether breaking through a geofence was more negligent than failing to avoid crashing into a stranded rider, but the question will definitely be raised by car insurance claims adjusters.

Having advised and represented numerous victims of car and truck accidents throughout Franklin County, I know that traffic laws meant to protect people also have unexpected consequences. This is not that kind of situation at all. The downsides of putting scooter geofencing in place should be apparent to everyone. Let’s prevent a bad idea from becoming worse policy.

Corey Heit offers free consultations on personal injury and wrongful death cases from his offices in Westerville, Ohio. You can connect with him online or call Corey at (614) 898-5300.


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