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California removes helmet requirement for electric scooters

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The state is loosening safety regulations for the vehicles

Bird scooter riders
Electric scooter riders over 18 won’t be required to wear helmets.
Mario Tama | Getty Images

Californians riding electric scooters will no longer be required to wear helmets, thanks to a bill signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown Wednesday. It will take effect January 1.

Under the new state law, only riders under the age of 18 will be required to don a helmet (though most dockless scooter companies prohibit riders under the age of 18).

The new legislation updates statewide rules for the vehicles, but leaves room for communities to impose stricter safety standards. It’s unclear whether officials in Los Angeles will move to require helmets in the city.

Cities from San Francisco to Santa Monica have rushed to regulate electric scooter travel since companies like Bird and Lime began flooding streets with rentable vehicles that can be picked up and dropped off at nearly any location.

Under a set of regulations approved by the Los Angeles City Council earlier this month, before the governor signed AB 2989, scooter rental companies will be required to notify riders that they must wear a helmet. Marcel Porras, chief sustainability officer for the Department of Transportation, tells Curbed it’s “too early to tell” what kind of helmet requirements the city may impose now that the state law has changed.

The new state law also increases the number of roads scooter users can legally travel on.

A provision of the state’s vehicle code that blocks scooters on streets with speed limits above 25 miles per hour has been updated to allow scooters on thoroughfares with speed limits up to 35 miles per hour.

Riders can use roads with even higher speed limits, as long as there’s a separate bike lane to travel in.

An earlier version of the state bill would have also done away with a requirement that scooter riders have valid drivers licenses, as well as allowing riders to use the vehicles on sidewalks.

As the scooters have proliferated, so too have complaints from residents about crowded sidewalks and unsafe conditions for pedestrians.

In July, Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz went so far as to propose banning the vehicles from city streets while the council ironed out its set of regulations.

At a meeting of the City Council’s public safety committee last month, Koretz questioned whether the city would even be able to enforce those rules once passed.

“If we shut down all of the riders violating the laws, 99 percent of the ridership is gone and the scooter companies are out of business,” he said. “The question is: Is there any appropriate way to enforce these? And I don’t see what that would be.”

Members of LAPD and the City Attorney’s office told the committee that they were unaware of any citations given to riders who weren’t wearing helmets, but that officers had been issuing warnings to these riders and many had simply chosen to abandon the vehicles.