Photo | Dale Liesch
Just weeks after the vehicles made their appearance downtown, Gotcha electric scooters have garnered both positive and negative reviews from locals.
The scooters have seen many riders since they were first introduced, but since a number of incidents have been reported — including Mobile Police Department (MPD) reports of riders in the Wallace Tunnel — folks seem equally intrigued by safety concerns for the application-based service.
The city wants to let scooter riders know they must follow the normal rules for the use of vehicles downtown. City spokeswoman Jennifer Zoghby said these rules include only riding on the street and following all other traffic laws.
“We’re always concerned for the safety of our citizens,” Zoghby said. “I understand it’s exciting, but you still have to follow the rules of the road when it comes to safety. We advise everyone to be careful and watch yourself.”
In addition to the Wallace Tunnel joyride, MPD spokeswoman Charlette Solis reported a scooter rider lost control and hit a parked car on Dauphin Street. Officers were not dispatched to the location, she wrote in an email, but the victim reported the damage to be about $1,000.
In another incident, a rider fell off a scooter and had “some facial injuries,” Solis wrote. The victim transported himself to the hospital. Solis noted these and other incidents happened before officers began enforcing traffic laws on scooters. The department was in a period of trying to educate about the scooters.
In a statement released last week, MPD announced it would begin enforcing the laws on Monday, Jan. 13.
Scooters will be available from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily and only those 18 and older are legally allowed to ride them, according to the statement. In addition, only one person is allowed on a scooter at a time and the scooters must be driven with the flow of traffic signals, using extreme caution near intersections. If there is a dedicated bike lane it must be used, according to the statement.
Scooters should be parked upright with the kickstand out. They should not be parked blocking building entrances, crosswalks, driveways, sidewalk ramps, fire hydrants or loading zones, according to the statement.
In addition to the rules, MPD also suggests riders leave plenty of room to allow for gradual braking. Scooters should also always yield to pedestrians. Gotcha also suggests wearing a helmet.
While MPD officers will make a report of any incident that involves injury or property damage, it is the responsibility of the injured party to take civil action, according to the statement. As for how successful a civil action might be, it depends on the circumstances.
Personal-injury attorney Stephen Moore said the doctrine of “assumption of risk” would make it hard for any claim from an injured scooter driver to be successful in court.
“It’s a defense to any claim of negligence,” he said. “If you get on a scooter, it’s no different than if I get on a rock wall or a jet ski.”
While unlikely still, one area where a plaintiff could be successful in a personal-injury case against Gotcha could involve the company not providing safety equipment.
“I’ve seen dozens and dozens of people zipping down the street without a helmet,” Moore said. “While Gotcha has advised they should be driven with a helmet, no one is just walking downtown on the sidewalk with a helmet.”
While Moore advised to never “drink and scoot,” he said local bar owners could be at risk of liability if a customer is overserved, takes a trip on a scooter placed right outside the establishment and causes injury to another person.
“If I was a bar owner I wouldn’t be real happy,” he said. “I might be telling my folks to move those scooters away from my front doors.”
In case of injury or incident, the city has forced Gotcha to take on liability insurance worth $1 million per occurrence. The city has a similar policy, Zoghby said.
Despite taking out the policy, Moore said he doesn’t believe the city has much liability in any personal-injury case involving the scooters. He said the city only provided Gotcha with a business license and franchise agreement. He argued it would be similar to if someone was injured in a trampoline park. The claimant in that case wouldn’t successfully add the city to a lawsuit.
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