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State Bill Would Make Helmets Optional For Adult Scooter Riders

Dockless scooters are parked by Horton Plaza, downtown, May 30, 2018.

Credit: Renata L. Brandão

Above: Dockless scooters are parked by Horton Plaza, downtown, May 30, 2018.

A bill passed by the state Senate on Thursday would allow adults to ride motorized scooters without a helmet, offering a potential boost to the growing technology celebrated by environmental and mobility advocates.

Electric scooters have boomed in popularity in San Diego through "dockless" scooter sharing companies Bird and Lime. Those companies allow riders to unlock the vehicles with a smartphone app, ride them and park them anywhere.

Current law permits people 18 and older to ride helmetless on bicycles — but doing the same on an electric scooter can carry fines of around $200. Some advocates say while helmets can save lives in the event of a crash, mandating their use does more to discourage people from riding than it does promote safety.

In addition to the helmet issue, the bill — AB 2989 — would also cap scooter speeds at 15 miles per hour and would let local governments permit their use on more types of roadways. Riding a single scooter with more than one person would still be illegal.

RELATED: Dockless Bike Craze Leaves Some San Diego Neighborhoods Behind

Assemblyman Todd Gloria, D-San Diego, a co-author of the bill, said electric scooters have the potential to reduce car dependence and help San Diego reach its goals of addressing climate change.

"I think it's extremely important when talking about how we're going to get people out of their cars, particularly for short-term trips that are usually less than a couple of miles — this seems to be a solution not only that works, but that the people like and are embracing and is affordable," he said.

Gloria added that building more protected lanes for bicyclists and scooter riders would go a long way toward making streets safer for everyone on the road.

The bill was sponsored by scooter sharing company Bird, which said in a statement that the intent of the bill was to provide cyclists and scooter riders "more consistent ridership rules so that people can more easily embrace sustainable shared mobility options."

"Bird strongly encourages all riders to wear helmets and ride safely," said David Estrada, the company's chief legal officer. "This is why we provide helmet instructions on our vehicles and in-app — and why Bird has given away more than 40,000 free helmets to riders so far this year."

AB 2989 still needs to clear a final vote in the Assembly, then the desk of Governor Jerry Brown, to become law.

Many electric scooter riders in San Diego have been slapped with hefty fines for riding without a helmet. But a bill expected to pass the state legislature would make helmets optional for scooter riders, 18 and older.

This story has been updated with comments from Bird.

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