Micromobility device users operate without clear, consistent rules: Study

Posted on May 24, 2019

A new MTI report, “How and Where Should I Ride This Thing? Rules of the Road for Personal Transportation Devices,” analyzes existing personal transportation devices (PTD) regulations across the country and proposes state-level rules to balance safety and freedom of movement for all road users, including PTD riders.

“PTDs add a new user group to already contested street and sidewalk space, thus posing thorny regulatory challenges for cities,” said Kevin Fang, who authored the study with Asha Weinstein Agrawal and Ashley M. Hooper. The ever-growing number and types of PTDs have generated excitement about the devices’ potential as sustainable, affordable transportation modes, as well as serious concerns about how to integrate PTDs safely into communities.

After analyzing state, city, and campus rules for PTD riders, the study authors concluded that PTD users operate in a murky regulatory environment, with rules often poorly defined, contradictory, or altogether absent.

PTDs are often subject to regulations for other modes — in contradictory ways. As Agrawal pointed out, “riders face a confusing situation where, for example, Segway-style devices are regulated in radically different ways in different places; Segway riders are considered vehicles operators in Nebraska but pedestrians in Idaho.”

Regulations for a specific device type also vary widely from place to place. Hooper noted that, “depending on where one is riding, electric kick scooters are prohibited on sidewalks, allowed on sidewalks, or required to be on sidewalks.”

Drawing on their analysis of existing rules and expert interviews, the researchers developed model PTD “rules of the road.” Several core principles underpin the proposed rules for PTD riders: protect public safety, permit PTD use as a convenient travel option, be easy to understand and remember, and encompass new device-types as they appear without the need for new regulations.

Regulations for a specific device type also vary widely from place to place.
Photo via Bird
Regulations for a specific device type also vary widely from place to place.Photo via Bird

The authors concluded that states are the appropriate entity to set comprehensive regulations for PTD riders, though local jurisdictions should have flexibility to limit certain uses when necessary to protect public safety. “Just as we don’t expect car drivers to remember different driving rules for every community, PTD riders need consistency. However, policymakers also need the flexibility to account for differences in road conditions between and even within cities,” said Fang.

Among other specifics in the proposed state legislation, the authors recommend allowing PTD riders on both streets and sidewalks, subject to strict rules that protect safety and free movement for all travelers.

The final project report contains detailed information on regulations in all the communities analyzed for the project: 50 states and five U.S. territories, 101 cities, and 20 campuses. The report also presents the full text of the model state legislation and explains the reasoning behind each proposed rule.

The peer-reviewed study is available for free download, here.

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