Bill proposes statewide regulations for electric scooters, including minimum age, speed limit

Electric scooters have had a major impact on mobility in Austin since they were introduced in April 2018.

Electric scooters have had a major impact on mobility in Austin since they were introduced in April 2018.

A bill filed in the Texas Senate proposes statewide regulations for motor-assisted scooters, including a maximum speed limit of 15 mph and requirements that all users have a valid driver’s license and be at least 16 years old.

State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, filed the bill, which was taken up by the Senate Committee on Transportation on April 3.

“SB 549 would establish baseline regulations for the use of motor scooters,” West said during the committee meeting, citing concern about rising numbers of scooter-related accidents and injuries.

“We need to get ahead of this curve,” he said.

Electric scooter companies in the city of Austin can reach speeds of up to 20 mph. There are, however, exceptions, such as on certain trails and parkland, where the limit is 10 mph, and on the University of Texas at Austin campus, where a limit of 8 mph was recently implemented.

The bill also addresses where users can ride and park scooters. The current language restricts their use to bike lanes or roads where the speed limit is 30 mph or slower and prohibits parking scooters “in a manner that obstructs a roadway, path or sidewalk.”

“These scooters have provided a lot of convenient transportation for a lot of people, but for with people with disabilities, it’s really added extra difficulty and risk,” said Christa Walikonis, a policy fellow with Disability Rights Texas, in a neutral testimony on the bill.

Walikonis said many scooter users do not know the existing regulations and leave the vehicles sprawled on sidewalks, where people with vision impairments have tripped over them.

The city of Austin has issued permits for 15,300 electric scooters and has more than double the number of scooters per capita than Dallas.

“The cities are having a hard time keeping their ordinances up to date,” said Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, who chairs the Transportation Committee.

Austin City Council was scheduled to vote on a number of changes to its existing ordinance regulating rider behavior March 28, but policymakers and staff decided they needed more time to workshop the ordinance with the community.

The proposed rules range from creating “dismount zones” downtown where scooter riders would not be allowed to requiring scooter riders to obey all traffic laws, such as avoiding the use of mobile devices while riding. Riders under 18 years old would be required to wear a helmet, and all riders would need to ride at “reasonable and prudent” speeds.

The ordinance also proposes an increase in penalties for violating the ordinance—$40 for the first conviction, which is up from $20, and $80 for subsequent convictions, an increase from $40.

A new deadline to vote on these changes was set for May 23.
By Emma Freer
Emma Freer began covering Central Austin for Community Impact Newspaper in 2017. Her beat includes the Travis County Commissioners Court and local business news. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School in 2017.


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