Scooter crash was a ‘horrific thing,’ council member says. What rules are needed?

It was the jarring collision that many had predicted: An electric scooter, headed the wrong way Tuesday on a one-way street in uptown Charlotte, met an oncoming motor vehicle.

Tariq Bokhari, a City Council member who will soon help decide how Charlotte regulates the ubiquitous two-wheelers, saw the crash and was still shaken by it Wednesday.

“I just witnessed literally one of the most horrific things I’ve ever seen,” Bokhari said in a Facebook Live post moment after the “dead-center” collision on South Brevard Street. The woman aboard the scooter was treated for a leg injury, Bokhari, in a later post, said police told him. A police report was unfinished Wednesday.

Scooters owned by two companies, Bird and Lime, appeared on Charlotte’s streets, initially without city approval, in May. Now they’re everywhere in uptown and in close-in neighborhoods such as South End as part of a pilot program that ends Nov. 1. Scooters quickly became more popular than dockless bikes, which are also part of that program.

The crash Bokhari witnessed adds to the urgency to decide how to regulate the scooters. For now, they’re not. And as scooters proliferate in cities nationwide, fatalities are rising.

The District of Columbia recorded its first scooter-related fatality last Friday, the Washington Post reported, when a rider collided with an SUV. The family of a scooter rider who died in Dallas this month believe he was hit by a car, the Dallas News reported.

Charlotte City Council member Larken Egleston, a member of the transportation committee, said last month that he saw a couple riding an electric scooter on Interstate 277. Charlotte scooter riders made 140,000 trips in August alone, transportation officials say.

“Someone will die on an e-scooter before the end of this calendar year” in Charlotte, Egleston predicted last month in calling for rules on the vehicles.

On Wednesday, Egleston said he’d like to see regulation “particularly around what roads we expect people to not be riding scooters, (such as) anything with over a 40 mph speed limit. I saw someone on 277, somebody else saw them on I-77. That certainly should be prohibited, along with riding them on sidewalks in the central business district and also an age limit.”

But other council members are leery of regulation.

“I want to keep my hands off this as much as possible. I don’t think we should jump to regulate these things,” at-large council member Braxton Winston said at a transportation committee meeting Monday. “We’ll strangle ourselves if we try to do too much.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police doesn’t collect data specifically on scooter-involved incidents, the department said.

Mayor Vi Lyles this month charged the transportation committee with assessing how scooters should operate in Charlotte, including rules for riders. The committee is to make recommendations in late October, with the full council’s consideration likely in November or December.

Bokhari, who represents south Charlotte, said Tuesday’s incident only confirmed his earlier sense that scooters need a light regulatory touch.

“I guess the real struggle with what I saw yesterday was in asking myself, could that have been prevented by the heavy hand of regulation?” he said Wednesday. “And the answer is no, anymore than you can regulate someone looking at his cellphone while crossing a street.”

That means, to him, a few simple rules for scooter riders: Follow the rules of the road; defer to pedestrians; don’t park scooters where they will block access or private property.

But because electric scooters fall in a gray area, the city needs clarity from the state before installing any regulations, City Attorney Bob Hagemann said Wednesday.

“In my view, the current regulatory regime, particularly at the state level, never contemplated these things,” he said.

A legal expert at the UNC School of Government opined last week that scooters are vehicles that must be registered with the Division of Motor Vehicles to be ridden on streets or sidewalks. Scooter riders should also be licensed, motor vehicle law specialist Shea Denning wrote, something the companies that operate in Charlotte already require.

Existing regulations don’t “appear to sanction their operation in many of the places where they are currently being used,” she wrote.

Denning offered a solution.

In 2002, state lawmakers exempted another type of electric two-wheeler, Segways, from vehicle registration requirements. Legislators could do the same for scooters, she wrote. Lawmakers also enacted legislation in 2009 allowing local governments to regulate golf carts, she wrote.

Hagemann noted that Segways are allowed to operate on sidewalks, bike paths and streets with no more than a 25 mph speed limit. “Maybe it makes sense that these things ought to be regulated the same way as Segways,” he said.

Staff writer Ely Portillo contributed.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051; @bhender