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Scooter company reps scolded by Oregon legislators over helmet law proposal

Posted by on February 20th, 2019 at 1:43 pm

Matthew Kopko with Bird Rides (L), and Jonathan Hopkins from Lime.

Senators Lew Frederick (L) and Cliff Bentz.

What was expected to be just another ho-hum hearing on one of thousands of bills working their way through Oregon’s 2019 legislative session, turned out to be anything but.

“What I’m hearing seems to be a bit counter-intuitive from a safety perspective.”
— Rep. Caddy McKeown, Co-Chair Joint Committee on Transportation

As we shared earlier today, House Bill 2671 seeks to require helmets for electric scooter riders 15 years of age or younger. Currently all e-scooter riders are required to wear a helmet. Backers of this bill — which include scooter companies, The Street Trust and Forth Mobility (an Oregon-based electric vehicle advocacy group) — say they merely want to harmonize the scooter law with the existing bicycle law which makes helmet use optional for everyone 16 years and older.

They say the existence of an all-ages helmet law leads to unequal enforcement against the very people most likely to need and appreciate scooters, and it could stymie adoption of scooters and other micromobility devices in the future.

“This bill creates consistency between green transportation modes,” said Jonathan Hopkins, a director of strategic development for Lime, during testimony in front of the Joint Committee on Transportation on February 13th, “Bikes and scooters are providing the same function, on the same number of wheels, at the same speed, and at the same places. While we always recommend users wear helmets, we also think users should be treated equally under the law when using very similar mobility tools.”

PBOT data from the recent pilot found that 90 percent of riders didn’t wear a helmet even though it’s required by Oregon law.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Hopkins was joined on a panel of scooter company reps by Jordan Bice and Matthew Kopko of Bird Rides. They came armed with data and talking points largely taken from the findings of the City of Portland’s successful e-scooter pilot program that wrapped up last year.

But state lawmakers weren’t having it. None of the half-dozen or so committee members who spoke during the hearing were impressed. Some of them even lectured the panelists with an admonishing tone the likes of which I’ve never heard in a legislative hearing before. The exchanges underscored the skepticism lawmakers have toward this new mode of transportation and toward the corporate lobbyists trying to make it more accessible.

The first one came from Senator Cliff Bentz (R-Ontario). Bentz touted his experience as a bicycle rider and said he knows people who’ve had crashes. “Had they not been wearing helmets they would have been dead,” he said, before adding, “And I mean it,” for emphasis. Bentz also expressed that if a low-income person who’s on Oregon Health Plan crashes and sustains a head injury, the bill for their care will, “Be on us.”

“So I’m asking, what are you guys, as an industry, doing to help solve this problem?” Bentz asked the panel.

Kopko, Bird’s director of public policy, began to respond. “We have to be mindful of the fatality and safety risks of automobiles as opposed to these type of vehicles,” he said; but was abruptly interrupted by Bentz, who sounded a bit annoyed:

“I want you to compare the number of scooters to the number of cars. Because you didn’t. You’re equating that we have exactly the same number of scooters on the road as we do cars. We have a gazillion more cars on the road than scooters. So don’t do that. Please don’t do that again. I suffered through it earlier [they’d met in Bentz’s office prior to the hearing] and I don’t want to do it again.”

Here’s video of the exchange:

Then Committee Co-Chair Rep. Caddy McKeown (D-Coos Bay) followed up on Bentz’s comments. “There’s an old adage.. ‘Whether the pitcher hits the stone or the stone hits the pitcher, it’s going to be bad for the pitcher,’ that’s what happens when your head hits the concrete,” she said.

Then McKeown continued:

“You say you’ve been providing helmets for people to use, which implies to me you understand the danger and the possible risk of riding these vehicles. And I applaud you for that; but I also hear you saying you’d prefer we not require it. What I’m hearing seems to be a bit counter-intuitive from a safety perspective.”

To which Kopko replied,

“We are very supportive of helmet use. What we’re talking here about is the diff between encouraging helmet use and mandating it by law. There’s a risk of disparate enforcement and how the helmet requirement would limit uptake of this new mode… We agree helmets should be used whenever possible… For us it’s about the consistency of laws across micromobility solutions.”

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Then there was a very tense exchange (in video above) between the Lime representative Jonathan Hopkins and Senator Lew Frederick (D-Portland).

Hopkins:

“There are certain communities that will have less access to helmets and therefore are more severely impacted by law enforcement efforts. Those happen to be the very same communities that are close to freeways or have lower lifespans by up to 10-15 years because of CO2 emissions. So there are areas where these tools have the potential to dramatically effect on our planet, peoples’ life spans, our health, and the health of our community. If there’s inequitable enforcement, you’re going to have communities that can afford helmets riding scooters and riding bikes more, and communities that are suffering from worse air quality and everything else, riding them less. And that actually exacerbates the very same problems they’ve been suffering from for decades.”

Frederick:

“I’m going to try to be kind about this. I appreciate you being concerned about disparate enforcement. Don’t use that as your argument. Please. I get a little tired of that… The next time someone will tell me that we’re looking at kids who are ‘at-risk’ and that’s why we’re doing this. Don’t do that. That doesn’t work. The issue we’re talking about now is safety. I live next to Lloyd Center and I saw a lot of scooters and I saw very few black folks on scooters. I saw very few older folks on scooters. The folks who were on scooters were of a particular economic class and race and particular age as well…. I’d suggest you speak to the safety issues. I would ask that you speak specifically to the safety issues and try not to act as though this is an issue where you’re trying to help the other social issues that we have in the community. You’re talking about transportation. It’s going to make you money, so let’s be clear about that. It’s not just an issue of trying to be helpful.. I’m not upset about you making money; but don’t use the other things to obscure that. Please.”

And Kopko got the last word:

“We have data that shows positive views of scooters increase as you go further down the economic ladder. The data also shows that people of color had a higher positive view than white people of scooter usage. I also want to note the affordability component here: When you can get a ride across town for one-fourth or one-fifth the price of Uber or other modes, it does have an impact for people. There are a lot of affordability and equity benefits for this solution.”

With exchanges like this it became clear the bill was in trouble and the hearing wasn’t going well for its supporters.

Another issue that came up (first from an ODOT Transportation Safety Division staffer, then from Co-Chair McKeown) was concern that the way the bill is written, people might get the wrong impression that people under 16 years old are allowed to use electric scooters even though current law prohibits them from riding one whether they wear a helmet or not.

After an hour-long discussion and with committee leaders like McKeown, Frederick, and Bentz clearly not enthused about the idea of loosening helmet regulations for scooter riders, committee Co-Vice-Chair Brian Boquist (R-Dallas) wrapped things up by saying, “There’s an immense amount of work to do on this. It’s not ready for prime-time at the moment.” That sentiment was echoed by McKeown when she said, “I have great concerns about this. What I think we’re doing is going a bit backwards here.”

There are no other hearings or work sessions current scheduled for this bill. Learn more about it here.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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JaredO
Guest
JaredO

Holy heck.

If legislators lectured other testifiers (like ODOT or AAA or the Truckers) like this about traffic safety, it might be interesting.

But as it is, it’s just disrespectful, abusive bullying of people testifying and reflects the car-blind thinking of legislators.

Don’t forget – it was Sen. Bentz who pushed to increase posted traffic speeds in Eastern Oregon, leading to more traffic deaths.
https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/oregon/articles/2018-12-03/increased-highway-speeds-in-rural-oregon-mean-more-deaths

So when he starts lecturing people on safety, he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

rick
Guest
rick

amazing that Oregon has elected officials like this, and anti-development of the rent control

Kelly
Guest
Kelly

Ban e-scooters

JJJ
Guest
JJJ

Old white men going to old white men

TheCowabungaDude
Guest

Gyargh. Was a Fossil representative there? Because these representatives sound like a bunch of clueless dinosaurs.

Frederick’s comment about not seeing very many black people on scooters is ridiculous. I live in the King neighborhood and saw plenty of black people using them. This is Portland! Most people I see driving cars aren’t black. And Bentz – Bentz! “We have a gazillion more cars on the road…” No duh! And that’s why making other modes more accessible will make the roads safer.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

It doesn’t help that Hopkins and Kopko look like the villains from a cheap action flick. I can’t say I like anyone involved with this money driven dustup.

encephalopath
Guest
encephalopath

Once people embrace the idea that the foam hat is a magic talisman, it’s nigh on impossible to have a reason, informed discussion about helmets use.

It just won’t ever happen with those legislators in the room. The only fix to that is to put different people in the room.

gneiss
Guest
gneiss

It’s frightening to think what would happen if a mandatory bicycle helmet bill came before this panel.

Glenn the 2nd
Guest
Glenn the 2nd

Senator, and I use the term loosely, did you just try to make the argument that cars are more lethal because there are so many of them, as if one scooter and one car are comparably lethal? Don’t do that. Please don’t do that again. That doesn’t work. Like your brain.

Glenn the 2nd
Guest
Glenn the 2nd

Special footnote for Bentz: Everybody seems to know this mythical person who “would be dead” if not for the helmet. My question is: How do you know that? And also: What’s their name?

And I mean it! (is not something an honest person says)

David
Guest
David

“We have a gazillion more cars on the road than scooters.” – Sen. Bentz

To utilize the senator’s own phrasing we also have a gazillion more deaths due to cars on the road than scooters. I know Jonathan has pointed out that perhaps people in cars should be required to wear a helmet to prevent but that might be a relevant counter to this particular type of argument/bluster.

The elephant in the room is that scooters are dangerous primarily because of cars; same with bicycles, walking, and driving. These legislators aren’t going to meaningfully address that because of the massive amount of introspection necessary to truly get at how much we have wrapped out society around the car – without regard to the health or other consequences (at least based on legislative history).

headfirst
Guest
headfirst

E Scooter companies are here for money. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Jillian Detweiler
Guest

I attend this hearing and it was my first. Interesting to have Jonathan’s perspective that there was “an admonishing tone the likes of which I’ve never heard in a legislative hearing before.” I assumed it was typical! However, the committee did not treat me unkindly. I’m hopeful our bill on bike lanes will be received more warmly, especially if we demonstrate that it has support from Oregonians.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

“people might get the wrong impression that people under 16 years old are allowed to use electric scooters even though current law prohibits them from riding one whether they wear a helmet or not.”

Do we currently have this problem with e-bikes? I haven’t heard of a lot of kids getting busted for riding e-bikes, which have the same age requirement as e-scooters.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

I never rented an e-scooter during the test. There were a few times I wanted to, but the helmet requirement made me decide against it. I took the bus instead.

If I had to wear a helmet while biking then I wouldn’t bike to all the local businesses like I usually do. I’d be walking. Then we’d have a lot less bicyclists and a lot less visibility and a lot more safety issues.

If you want to make alternative transportation safe without passing so many laws against driving then it has to be cheap and easy so that there are a lot of people using it and everybody driving knows to look out for those people.

encephalopath
Guest
encephalopath

In the discussion about whether to mandate helmet use for electric scooter riders, it occurs to me that there are lots of measures we could take to make operating a motor vehicle safer, but we don’t because it would make driving less convenient.

A roll cage would make cars safer if more difficult to get in and out of. Mandating helmets for drivers would also make driving much safer without question.

Helmets for drivers, however, would also require wearing a HANS device to mitigate the risk of basal skull fracture in the event of a head on collision. Additionally, a HANS device would mandate dual over the shoulder seat belts. This would mean you need a certain level of physical mobility and training to get in and out of the safety gear.

No question it would make driving much safer. Look at the accelerometer crash data in Formula 1: in excess of 45 Gs in a wreck and the driver walks away. But we don’t want to talk about those sorts of safety measures for cars because it would make driving much less convenient.

Inconvenient safety gear requirements for those scooter riding people over there, though, sure… whatever, I’m not one of them.

Thomas Ngo
Guest
Thomas Ngo

While I have no sympathy for the profit margin of a VC-backed company (partially because they’re usually not making a profit anyway), the proliferation of scooters has gotten people out of cars and on to roads as vulnerable users. People scoot on greenways (aka, “bike boulevards”), bike lanes, and multi-use paths (even if it’s operated by PP&R). And that means more people are more aware of the need for safe, adequate infrastructure.

Sure, there are going to be bad actors. They’re riding on sidewalks (I yelled at an older woman and her younger companion) on my street. And you have folks who park them in places where they shouldn’t, blocking people who depend on mobility devices. But that doesn’t mean we should inhibit more scooter usage on our roads. If anything, we should make it easier, and do a better job encouraging more civilized and respectful road manners for all road users.

Paul GOVAN
Guest

All round the planet weak legislators and politicians – most of whom themselves rarely if ever use,er, “undignified” 2-wheeled transport of any kind – are falling over themselves to perpetuate the primacy of cars – and the “ICE” Age that fuels global warming, environmental devastation and ethically bankrupt foreign policies/alliances/interventions(Mid East…Venezuela etc etc).
And almost everywhere local media outlets all-too predictably side with every and any business and vested interest that profits from the fossil-fuelled, 4-wheeled status quo. That includes taxi drivers/operators, car insurance companies, car repair shops, gas-station operators/owners, car dealerships…
All of the above know full well that forcing adults to wear helmets is a standard ploy to discourage people from switching to 2-wheeled transport. Self-image is important whether we like to admit it or not. Hollywood – movies, TV series, sitcoms – rarely if ever depict key or heroic characters using bicycles – much less ebikes or escooters – to impress audiences or move the plot along.
Image and self-image. That’s why Musk described escooters as “undignified”. That’s why near-zero politicians in Washington or Brussels – or even delegates attending climate conferences – use bicycles or ebikes or escooters to get to and from their hotels, meetings, favourite restaurants or pleasure parlours…
Paul G

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

Bentz, from Ontario, likes to bully those he opposes (personal experience), and he opposes just about everthing except public lands ranching. He supported the Bundy takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.

And, for a so-called “liberal” state, there’s a whole lot of reactionary thinking going on in its government. Even from the liberal side. More so even than “red, religious, and proud of it ” Idaho.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

Animus among the senators was palpable. I am not sure why; perhaps because lobbyists for large out-of-state corporations were seen as trying to bend our laws to reflect and enhance their interests.

Long, long, ago a similar thing happened with the bottle bill. High powered lobbyists blew into Salem and threw their weight around, antagonizing almost every legislator they encountered. They ensured that the bottle bill passed and remains popular to this day.

Lew Frederick has been around a while. His point was very well taken. He hears “equity-washing,” “at-risk-washing,” “people-of-color-washing,” “underserved-communities-washing” “diversity- washing” as condescending platitudes for encouraging continuing ethnic discrimination and oppression. He was polite, but he was definite.

Good for him!

If it is a safety issue, it is a safety issue for one and all.

Interesting political theater, well captured, J. M.

Orig_JF
Guest
Orig_JF

I find the testimony from Lime and Bird to be a little out of context. Yes, the motor assist scooters they rent are electric and cleaner than scooters using combustion engines. However, the bill applies to all “Motor assist scooters.” But the legislators seemingly against the Bill did not bring that up either…

Julie Hammond
Guest
Julie Hammond

I am little confused about why the scooter companies don’t just have helmets available with each scooter. Mobi, the bike share company in Vancouver, BC has helmets that attach to each bike with a cable that extends and retracts from the handlebars (helmets are required by law in Vancouver). I’m not saying that helmets should/shouldn’t be required, but it seems ridiculous to require them and ask riders to carry around their own. Doesn’t that take away from the very flexibility/spontaneity the scooters are trying to inspire? If a helmet is there, the rider can decide if they want to wear it or not.

For what it’s worth, I see plenty of Mobi riders with helmets on, and plenty with the helmet in the front basket. I’ve never seen anyone stopped by the police for lack of helmet. If you poke around their website (https://www.mobibikes.ca/), you can see photos of how the helmets attach to the Mobi bikes

DwaineDibbly
Guest
DwaineDibbly

I want an escooter with 700c wheels. Maybe I’ll build one. And I won’t wear a helmet.

headfirst
Guest
headfirst

9watts
Does that include your personal marriage to false equivalencies?Recommended 2

You must be fun at parties.
Any ways….
Clearly, all 4 people that do the majority of the commenting and the writer want the same thing: less cars. Okay, we agree. Now, how?
Bikes? sure, but not evveryone wants to be in the elemnts pedaling. Scooters? again, elements and less load capacity.
So, where are we at? Hmm we’ve got public transportation, but will that the plumber, the electrician, the landscaper, the parent with kids going to school on opposite sides of town…
You get the point, and yes, it could be done by bike. But guess what? not everyone wants to get up at 5am to make breakfast, ride to daycare/school and then ride to work where dry clothes and more a professional atmoshphere awaits. Before doing the same in revers after work with some shopping and errands thrown in.
I have no doubt it’s possible and there are bp staff writters that do it themselves, but not every family is able to. Okay? You’re bad asses in that way, now respect that some can’t.
Do you think scooters can fill in some gap here? NOPE. Theyre a fad, a toy and something I wouyld not want my grandmother using to go to church in the rain.
Here’s a thought, how about people start walking? Yeah, bikes and scooters are neat, nbut we’re in a town with Nike and Addidas and I have yet to hear of shoe or pedestrian advocacy. Is it too boring to start a blog about? Will the 4 super commenters not fill with 100s of comments debating the minutia of everyone’s ideals vs our flagrantly irresponsible bureaucracy? Kidding, of course.
You commenters and writers keep telling drivers that they are the problem and if it wasnt for city hall you would have gotten rid of those pesky cars. But im not so sure. and I think many others arent.
Arguing over escooters couldnt be sillier. They’re a trend that will go the way of segways and pet rock, let the city waste their money and get back to the human factors of transportation. Like, how can we get to where we need to go without ruining the earth or telling large groups of people they are the problem. Sorry for the long post, I sometimes get bp mixed up with nextdoor.
Bottom line, get off your high horse while waiting at the red light fuming and help that parent of three with groceries walk across the street like you have a heart instead of an ideal

tswaddell
Subscriber
tswaddell

I’m a cyclist and LCI. I’ve also driven an automobile around town as a ride share driver. In that role I saw up close and personal how the rental e-scooters were being ridden.

What struck me is that a typical beginning urban cyclist, on a non-assisted bicycle usually doesn’t know how to safely share the road with motorized users. However, they’re also slow and out of shape, and that does place some limits on how they tend to get in trouble. I think there’s a certain truth to the idea that beginning urban cyclists somewhat improve their road skills as they ride more and get in better shape. Call it close calls, and seeing how other riders do it—if nothing else.

E-scooter riders are just the opposite. They have no idea how to share the road safely in an urban environment. And they’re immediately able to weave in and out of traffic and on and off sidewalks at close to 20 mph. In additon, a lot of other people on e-scooters are doing the same thing, so there’s no positive peer interaction to help them learn any better.

I’m very receptive to the potential economic and environmental benefits of rental e-scooter fleets. I also believe that there are significant and real rider safety concerns that need to be addressed.

Overall, at this time, I think I’m in favor of requiring e-scooter riders to wear helmets. I think I would be more comfortable allowing adult riders to forgo helmets if we had significant separated infrastructure for cyclists and scooter riders to use.

Todd Waddell
Milwaukie, OR

mark smith
Guest
mark smith

Escooters have done more to get more people out of cars who would not normally. More than any bike share. Sorry, it’s true. Bikes take a specific skill. Escoots, anyone from 8 to 80. get on board or sound like a hater.

Boz
Guest
Boz

Why is Bentz, who represents Ontario (eastern) Oregon making decisions about scooter riding in Portland? wtf??

SilkySlim
Guest
SilkySlim

All things venture capital aside…

I found their argument regarding precedent to be very strong. Aligning with the helmet laws on the books for bikes (not required, except for <16 ages) makes sense. Both bikes and scooters can be privately owned or rented, use same infrastructure, same speeds, similar risks….