With many accidents taking place regularly, as well as countless numbers of close calls with pedestrians, and vehicles, cities are now rethinking laws that pertain to e-scooters, or considering regulations if they are not already in place. In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, attorney David Blattner recalls his experience, when he felt his body slap against a pickup truck while riding an e-scooter.
David Blattner is a successful real estate attorney with the firm, Becker and Poliakoff. Blattner recounts the events of that fateful night, riding an electric scooter heading south on Federal Highway, zooming in the crisp December air en route to a popular downtown Starbucks to meet up with his mother. As he states, he was moving through in the crosswalk—the light was green—but to his surprise, before he could make it safely to the next curb, a driver in a truck took a right turn from Federal Highway and hit him. This was the account in the police report.
Blattner’s opinion about electric scooters, before his accident, was that they were, “cool and fun,” and a “fun way to get around town.” However, after suffering through the pain of multiple broken bones and two surgeries, Blattner has changed his tune. Now he believes that these electric scooters should be illegal. Realizing however that making them illegal would be a tall order, he states that at the very least comprehensive safety measures and reforms are absolutely necessary, reforms such as slower speeds, reducing the number of overall scooters, and intensifying the public awareness campaign to fully educate everyone.
Blattner is now quite vocal about his opinion stating that these electric scooters “don’t mix with cars,” and “certainly don’t mix with pedestrians.”
Now that there have been so many accidents and the one tragic death, Fort Lauderdale’s electric scooter program is under scrutiny, as the community and legislators consider imposing new rules to help ensure the safety of pedestrians, and scooter riders. Gov. Ron DeSantis recently enacted a new law that makes it legal for these motorized scooters to ride on Florida streets, in an effort to treat them in the same manner as bicycles operating in their bike lanes, which is a transportation flow that people are already used to that functions well.
Fort Lauderdale, perhaps too eagerly, welcomed these e-scooters to sidewalks this past fall, but now the city is taking a hard look at all issues related to them and considering their removal from at least some of the city’s more bustling sidewalks, including Las Olas Boulevard and State Road A1A. The city is also considering that scooter companies should decrease scooter speeds from their current 15 miles per hour to a speed that is slower and safer. Additionally, Fort Lauderdale leaders are considering making helmets mandatory for scooter riders and also enacting firm age restrictions. The city will have jurisdiction over how scooters are parked on all public streets and/or sidewalks as well.
While these e-scooters have taken the country by storm and their popularity is growing, there are certainly plenty of citizens who feel the scooters pose many problems. The burgeoning industry’s leaders, Lime, Bird, Bolt, and Gotcha, have introduced hundreds of these e-scooters to the Fort Lauderdale community’s thoroughfares. But those who oppose the scooters point to the undeniable fact that there are obvious dangers, evidenced by the near constant stream of emergency room visits by those who have been injured in accidents involving these loosely-regulated e-scooters. Indeed, the “gotcha” of companies like Bird, Bolt, and Gotcha could be an unexpected trip to the hospital.
Dan Lindblade, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, is a fan of the scooters, touting their new technology in a comparison to the Uber ridesharing app that has also taken the country by storm. Lindblade has urged commissioners not to over-regulate the industry.
But opponents cite the many emergency room visits as evidence that concerns over danger are quite valid. In a recent South Florida Sun Sentinel thorough review of Fort Lauderdale fire-rescue records on file, the Sun Sentinel staff found that an astounding 74 scooter riders in total were involved in accidents just in the short period from December through April. And sadly 57 of those people had to be taken to the hospital, 10 of whom suffered severe injuries from their electric scooter accidents.
The lion’s share of the accidents occurred during weekend hours, Friday through Sunday. Most accidents were downtown, on Las Olas Boulevard or occurred at the beach. More than fifty percent were people in the age range of 18 to 35 years old, with just five who were younger than 18 or older than 55.
Multiple people actually suffered fractured skulls and severe injuries that have altered their lives. Of those injured, to date only one person has died—Mathias Huff, just 27 years old. Mathias was killed in Fort Lauderdale when the e-scooter he was riding was struck from the rear by an approaching car. His mother, Tina Huff, a recent widow, recounts the terrible night she got the call from the hospital, and the tears she shed as she received the horrible news from, as she describes, “the call you never want to get.” Only one month prior to Mathias’s death she had stood by him at Arlington National Cemetery as they buried Mathias’s father—and now, Mathias is gone too.
According to official police reports of Huff’s tragic accident, Mathias was aboard a Lime scooter heading north at approximately 11:30 pm, traveling in the right traffic lane on Federal Highway, north of Broward Boulevard. The report states that a 22-year-old woman, also from Fort Lauderdale, was driving her vehicle northbound behind Mathias’s electric scooter in the same lane, when she struck him with her vehicle from behind causing Mathias’s head to strike her windshield, which fractured Mathias’s skull.
Mathias’s mother, Tina, a retired assistant school superintendent, recounts what an incredible future her son had ahead of him, such a young man with so much talent, whose life was cut dramatically short in an instant. Talking through her tears she remarked on how Mathias was “one of the most successful salespeople in his area,” and that he “had a great future.” In her grief she talks about his girlfriend and how he had not yet experienced marriage or family stating he had “no wife, no children.”
And unfortunately, Mathias’s story is not the only incomprehensibly tragic one. Ashanti Jordan, just 28 years old, a Broward Health Medical Center employee, and another victim of the onslaught of electric scooter tragedies, has been in a vegetative state since December. Ashanti was struck while riding her electric scooter downtown. Ashanti’s skull was fractured, which left her in the vegetative state she currently exists within.
The trail of tragedy continues—Alexis Gutierrez, a mere child 14 years of age, was critically injured, also on Federal Highway downtown, struck in December by a hit-and-run driver. Alexis suffered an injury to his head as well as multiple broken bones.
With the list of accidents and tragedies growing, Mathias Huff’s mother posed the question, “How can it be worth these lives of young people?” Having suffered such an unfathomable loss herself she asks, “How can it be worth it?”
According to new statistics from the noted periodical, Consumer Reports, an alarming eight people have died across the nation while using these rented electric scooters since 2017. Mathias’s death in Fort Lauderdale was not included in that report.
Fort Lauderdale was quick on the draw, becoming the very first city in Florida to pass a law that allowed these e-scooters on pedestrian sidewalks. Until the recently enacted statewide law, the e-scooters were not allowed on city streets. And in July, Fort Lauderdale’s leaders will come together to discuss the future of e-scooters and what needs to be done to ensure the safety of all citizens.
From the mayor’s perspective, current mayor Dean Trantalis feels e-scooter companies should work to improve safety. One way to improve safety would certainly be the requirement of helmets, and in the interim while there is currently no law on the books that requires riders to wear helmets, scooter companies could mandate that riders wear them. Mayor Trantalis acknowledges the immense popularity and now frequent use of the e-scooters and in his opinion he states, “I think it’s time for these companies to take more responsibility in ensuring the safety of their riders, and we’re happy to open a dialogue to discuss those options.” The mayor cites a city survey that demonstrated these e-scooters decrease the amount of traveling cars and thus ease overall congestion—filling short gaps in transit, taking a bus or train rider to the courthouse or other area around town. Currently, motorized scooters and bikes are strictly prohibited on the barrier island through August 18.
It’s always somewhat difficult to get a complete grasp of the data that is coming forth on any industry or product that is so brand new to the marketplace as e-scooters are at this stage. Thus, due to the fact that e-scooters are such a new concept born of the app-oriented tech world in which we live, there is a scarcity of data about accidents and deaths that are electric scooter related, and a real lack of data and information that might offer good ideas on how to improve safety.
In an effort to push the conversation forward and offer real safety recommendations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) embarked upon its first study of
e-scooter accidents in the state of Texas. The CDC’s study found that few victims were wearing protective helmets when their accidents occurred and nearly a third of victims were first-time riders illustrating that inexperience could be a factor. Additionally, the CDC study concluded that more than 50% of these accidents took place in the streets. The CDC stated that safety measures should be centered upon reducing preventable risks, and helmet usage could be one way to reduce those risks.
Citizens of Fort Lauderdale have been emailing City Hall, many pleading with officials to return the sidewalks to pedestrians, if not throughout the entire city then at least down at the beach. The risks are there and many citizens have complained. One citizen, Richard Kolodynski, who resides in a condo by Sunrise Boulevard, contacted City Hall. In his email he lodged a formal complaint that aggressive riders regularly zoom by him, within a few inches of his body, at incredibly high speeds. The vocal senior citizen stated that he may now be forced to purchase a double-wide sized baby carriage to ensure his own safety, as the carriage would provide a buffer zone to protect him from careless riders.
Fortunately for citizens like Mr. Kolodynski, a majority of those on the City Commission are in favor of more regulation of these e-scooters that are taking over streets and sidewalks at a dizzying pace. Chiming in on the issue, City Commissioner Heather Moraitis acknowledged her support for the permanent prohibition of scooters on the barrier island. The commissioner opined, “We already have limited walking options in the city … and I want to preserve A1A for pedestrians.”