By A Mother of Teen-age Boys
Electric scooters have flooded Oakland. With at least three different companies competing for business, you see them on corners everywhere, ditched in parks, people’s yards and Lake Merritt. The City Council has taken up the question of how to regulate them, and school sites wrestle with how to keep them off-campus. The assistant principal at my son’s high school told me that the kids make memes about him, using a picture of him confiscating a Lime scooter.
Posters on Nextdoor and parents I speak to want this blight to be gone, or at least limited to older millenials who conscientiously wear bike helmets everywhere they go (which is to say, no one). Kids are banned from riding them to school and banned by parents from getting the app. Some of the companies even require riders to upload a picture of their ID proving they are over 18, and might require people to take a photo of themselves in a helmet in order to unlock a scooter.
In the world of parenting on this question, I am once again an outlier. I’m fine with my older son (age 15) taking a scooter to school. He’s more likely to get there on time, which is a minor miracle. I do wish he would wear his helmet, but I’m a realist. If there’s something cornier than wearing a helmet when you are 15, I don’t know what it is. When I was in DC this summer, I let my 12-year-old ride a scooter all around town. Instead of complaining about all the museums I was dragging him to, he would ask if we could go to another, so that he could ride.
“But scooters are unsafe,” says the worried parental figure. It’s true that emergency rooms are reporting an increase in injuries to e-scooter riders. The main reason for this increase is actually the rise in e-scooters, not unsafe riders. Unsafe teenagers have existed since the dawn of time. In point of fact, e-scooters account for an unbelievably low rate of fatality and injury. Ranker that claims to list every electric scooter incident on record has only 11 cases in this article.
What is really unsafe are the cars that hog the roads that e-scooters share. Fatalities from car accidents in 2016: 37,461. Approximately 2,000 children a year die in car accidents. (Stats from Wikipedia and the National Highway Safety Transportation Administration). And most of the e-scooter and bicycle accidents on our roads are caused by cars. The fatality rate for pedestrians hit by cyclists is very very low.
The problem is cars. The worried parent might ask, “Well, I can’t get cars off the road, so what can I do?” I think this is a defeatist attitude that is ultimately harmful for kids and for the environment.
If we believe climate change is real (I do), and we want to do something about it (I do), we need to shift away from a car-centered transportation culture. In order to make that shift, we need to use alternative ways to get around, and we need to encourage our kids to do the same. This is not only good for the environment, it also delays or limits your kids’ reliance on cars. They may delay getting their driver’s license, which is great, because teen drivers are a terrible threat to themselves and others.
Instead of limiting scooters in school zones, we should be limiting cars in school zones. We should have e-charging banks for electric bikes and scooters at schools, parks, stores and office buildings, so people can ride their own vehicles. All vehicles should have security systems that reduce theft. Kids should be taught how to build and repair their scooters and bikes.
People who are personally worried about kids on scooters should be driving cautiously in high traffic areas, or consider abandoning your own car every now and then. A scooter-, bike- and public transit-based transportation system is much safer for our kids and healthier for our planet.