Helmet laws surrounding electric scooters have recently undergone a change in the state of California. Helmet laws are generally put in place to protect motorists from sustaining an injury, should they be involved in an accident, collision, or sustain a fall. The state previously required all riders to wear a helmet, but the recent changes now offer a much less strict approach to the previously held law. The changes are now causing controversy among California residents from both sides.
California’s previous helmet laws held that all riders – even adult riders – were required to wear a properly fastened and fitting helmet to prevent injury while riding electric scooters. It should be mentioned that this law applied only to motorized scooters, not manually-powered scooters. Any motor scooter operator that was found not wearing a helmet could be fined up to $200.
Some residents found this law restricting for ride-sharing scooter riders, as it limited their use to only those riders who carried a helmet with them, as opposed to residents who found themselves looking to make use of them spontaneously or on occasion.
The new law signed into effect by Governor Jerry Brown, California AB 2989, which was signed into law last year, and went into effect January 1st, 2019, states that individuals under the age of 18 must wear a helmet on all motorized vehicles, including electric scooters of any type. The new law now no longer requires adult riders older than 18 to wear a helmet. However, Governor Brown did leave additional safety measures up to local communities.
Advocates of using electric scooters as a mode of transportation note that the previous law did not necessarily encourage helmet use, but rather the law, in effect, discouraged many riders from using motorized scooters to travel merely because they did not have a helmet with them. Ride-sharing electric scooters, such as those from Bird and Lime, benefit from having riders pick them up and drop them off wherever they are, which meant that potential riders did not always carry a helmet with them. Spokespeople from several of these companies cited the previous law as incredibly damaging to their business.
Many adults who ride scooters assert that helmets do not necessarily increase safety, especially when riders interpret the helmet – which is only a safety measure – as an overall safety cushion and protection guarantee. This leads to increasingly risky behaviors while riding that consequently injure the riders, regardless of helmet use.
Opponents of the new law remain puzzled, however, over the leniency of the helmet law for electric scooter riders in a state that requires helmets for motorcyclists, despite both operating on the same roads. Some are worried the law, while encouraging more riders to use the scooter services also puts more riders on the road and, therefore, increases the potential for accidents.
State helmet laws aside, each community holds responsibility for regulating electric scooter use, including which streets the scooters are allowed on, and for enforcing the helmet laws for minors.