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Austin scrambles to respond to electronic scooters

A lot has happened since late last year, when this blog last addressed the rapid rise of e-scooters in Austin.

The battery- powered vehicles, made available via mobile app-based services, have been getting the attention of politicians, lawmakers, researchers and attorneys across the nation, and nowhere more than in Austin.

Governor declares the need for action

On July 23, the Texas governor took to social media to call for action to control the use of e-scooters in the name of public safety and good government. His post was accompanied by a video of a scooter being ridden on I-35 in downtown Dallas.

Austin city officials partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a groundbreaking study of the public health aspects of scooters by interviewing those injured while using them. Their study, released in April 2019, described its purpose, “to try to better understand how their injury occurred and what the risk and protective factors for injuries might be.”

In the meantime, the San Antonio Fire Department reports that since late September, nearly 100 people have been taken to the hospital following scooter accidents.

Austin lawsuits seem to be multiplying quickly

On July 17, KVUE reported that in a span of 6 days at least 8 lawsuits were filed against electric scooter companies doing business in Austin.

Almost all were sued for “gross negligence for exemplary damages.” One plaintiff claimed to have been literally thrown under a bus and is suing for “negligence, strict product liability, breach of implied warranty of merchantability, breach of implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose, gross negligence, negligence and negligent entrustment,” KVUE. This plaintiff is requesting a trial by jury.

Austinites taking law into their own hands

Reports of scooters being vandalized have come from many cities around the country, and Austin is no exception. UT Austin’s paper, The Daily Texan, reports scooters being vandalized in large numbers.

Although they’re often blamed for injuries and are not universally appreciated by motorists or pedestrians, it’s not clear the campus vandals are making a policy statement.

Besides being a new form of old-school campus mischief, the crime has become a kind of online pastime. The Daily Texan reports that a social media account dedicated to photos of vandalized scooters has received more followers than the accounts of scooter companies themselves.

Austin police and scooter fleets are cooperating to permit the online accounts of known vandals to be suspended, thus denying them rental privileges. However, the dockless scooters are meant to be left wherever a is done with them, so no account is needed to get a hold of them.

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