Photo by Lydia Chávez, taken 2018

Electric scooter trips, and collisions resulting in injuries, are on the rise in San Francisco, according to a Mission Local analysis of city transportation data.

More people were injured in scooter crashes last year than in any year since 2017, when companies began putting scooters on city streets. The numbers include collisions between vehicles and scooters, scooters and pedestrians, and solo scooter crashes.

Although rare, the city has also seen fatalities related to scooters. The first scooter-related death of 2022 occurred earlier this month, when a truck struck and killed Abraham Joshua, a 23-year-old teacher, while he was riding in the Mission.

The number of trips on rental scooters in San Francisco jumped to 1.72 million in 2021, a 48 percent increase from 2020, according to Municipal Transportation Agency data. The same period saw a 58 percent increase in collisions involving scooters, including those owned by individuals, from 97 in 2020 to 153 last year.

The city’s TransBASE data, which includes police-reported collisions and uses information from multiple city departments, shows that last year’s crashes resulted in 21 severe injuries and one fatality. Minor to moderate injuries were also up.

Scooter collisions rose 58% last year.

Fatal injury

Severe injury

Mild to moderate injury

Collisions involving scooters

160

In 2021, San Francisco

saw 21 severe injuries

from scooter collisions

– double the previous year.

140

120

100

80

60

40

20

0

2019

2017

2018

2020

2021

Scooter collisions

rose 58% last year.

Fatal injury

Severe injury

Mild to moderate injury

2017

2018

2019

In 2021, San

Francisco saw

21 severe

injuries from

scooter crashes

– double the

previous year.

2020

2021

80

100

20

120

140

0

40

60

160

Collisions involving scooters

Data from city’s TransBASE dashboard. The data includes all police-reported traffic crashes, with more details added by other city departments such as Public Health. Collisions not reported to police may not be included in this dataset.

While the total number of injuries is small, the increase is noticeable, according to Dr. Chris Colwell, chief of emergency medicine at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.

“There has absolutely been a sense of increase, not only in the numbers, but in severity,” Colwell said. “We get a lot of head and face injuries, which is a direct result of the lack of protective gear. There is no mandated protective gear for scooters.”

State law requires helmets for scooter riders under the age of 18, but adults can ride without protective gear.

Colwell said that some riders who would not consider driving drunk might have fewer qualms about getting on a scooter after a trip to the bar.

Who is “at fault” in crashes?

Police found scooter riders were at fault in 55 percent of crashes, while drivers of passenger vehicles were at fault in 41 percent.

Most scooter crashes since 2017 have involved motor vehicles. The most common type of collision occurred when a car broadsided a scooter in an intersection. Although scooters can be a menace when driven on sidewalks, which is not permitted by law, fewer than one in 10 reported collisions involved pedestrians.

Men under the age of 35 were most often involved in scooter collisions, the data shows.

Where do collisions occur?

Since 2017, 46 percent of scooter crashes occurred in SoMa, the Tenderloin, and the Mission.

This northeastern area of the city likely sees more collisions, at least in part, because scooters are used there more often. Data from the Municipal Transport Agency (SFMTA) shows that 43 percent of scooters from companies like Lime, Scoot and Spin are rented in SoMa, the Downtown/Civic Center area, or the Mission.

What is more, that part of the city tends to see more crashes in general. Many streets in those areas are part of the city’s “High Injury Network.”

Take a look at our map to see each of the city’s reported scooter collisions since 2017. Click each dot for more detail and use the buttons to see different years.

Data from city’s TransBASE dashboard. The data includes all police-reported traffic crashes, with more details added by other city departments such as Public Health. Collisions not reported to police may not be included in this dataset.

Why did collisions increase last year?

The most likely explanation: scooter use has increased. Data collected by the SFMTA shows that trips taken on rental scooters surged in 2021, after a pandemic lull in 2020.

Rental scooter rides jumped to 1.72 million last year.

Scooter trips (1000s)

Lime

Skip

Jump

Scoot

Spin

220

200

180

160

140

120

100

80

60

40

20

0

Jan

Apr

Jul

Oct

Jan

Apr

Jul

Oct

Jul

Oct

Jan

Apr

2019 total: 1.37 million

2021 total: 1.72 million

2020 total: 1.16 million

Rental scooter rides jumped

to 1.72 million last year.

Skip

Jump

Scoot

Spin

Lime

Jan

2019 total: 1.37 million

Apr

Jul

Oct

Jan

2020 total: 1.16 million

Apr

Jul

Oct

Jan

2021 total: 1.72 million

Apr

Jul

Oct

0

40

80

120

160

200

Scooter trips (1000s)

Data from Municipal Transport Agency.

When did scooters become so popular?

When they first launched, scooter companies had a bumpy ride in San Francisco. City Attorney Dennis Herrera temporarily banned them from the city in 2018, after several companies began putting scooters on the street without permits.

“We can have innovation,” said Herrera at the time. “But it must keep our sidewalks safe and accessible for all pedestrians.”

Since then, the city has required permits for scooter companies, and has punished those operating outside of the rules. Last year, the city fined Scoot and briefly banned it from operating after determining the company violated its permit. The city has now granted yearly permits to three companies: Lime and Spin are allowed to operate up to 2,000 scooters each, and Scoot can operate 1,500.

The city’s data does not always specify the brand of scooter involved in a collision, but at least 37 Lime, 21 Spin, and 13 Scoot vehicles have been involved in crashes since 2017. The two deaths, in 2020, involved a Spin scooter and a Lime scooter.

Mission Local contacted the three permitted rental companies for comment about their safety strategies, but they did not respond by the time of publication.

Stephen Chun, deputy spokesperson for the SFMTA, wrote in an email that there are a number of safety requirements in place for rental scooters in the city.

“Currently we are requiring permittees to begin implementation of sidewalk riding technology, which slows a scooter down once detected on the sidewalk,” he wrote. “Additionally, permittees have an escalating penalty structure for unsafe riding or parking.”

He added that the SFMTA meets with the permitted scooter companies every two weeks to “discuss issues such as rider accountability and safety.” The city issues citations for scooters found to have parked improperly.

How do scooter crashes compare with bikes and cars?

Although scooter crashes are increasing, they make up a small proportion of vehicular collisions. Last year, scooter collisions accounted for about 6 percent of crashes in the city. By comparison, bicycles were involved in 14 percent. Passenger vehicles were involved in four out of every five collisions.

Nonetheless, the steep rise in scooter crashes worries Colwell, the ER physician who treats many of the injured.

“We need to recognize that this is becoming a very prominent form of transportation in the city,” said Colwell. While bikes, cars and other well-established forms of transportation follow defined regulations, he added, the rules around scooters are less clear. And that can be dangerous.

“We need to figure out some rules,” he said, “to ensure they are safe.”

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DATA REPORTER. Will was born in the UK and studied English at Oxford University. After a few years in publishing, he absconded to the USA where he studied data journalism in New York. Will has strong views on healthcare, the environment, and the Oxford comma.

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  1. Is there anyone out there who wants to put a stop to motorized scooter and bicycle riding on the sidewalk. It’s not cool for me to give contact information because there are too many nuts out there who will harass me, even physically harm me. I have had enough of scooters on the sidewalk. As written above these people, and I’ve all kinds including a giant drag queen who was riding her scooter on the upper Polk in front of St. Frank’s. I told her to get off the sidewalk and she called me an “asshole.” Yesterday a young Chinese girl gave me the finger. These people are filth. They are arrogant, nasty, and don’t give a damn if they kill a little child, or seriously injure a disabled person or senior. I’ve had it. If the San Francisoco and our stupid mayor, and she is stupid, won’t do anything about this, then it’s time we people did. I intend to start my research with this web site. I plan to go to the City Business and Licensing dept. and file a complaint against the grocery delivery business at 1812 Polk street because those boys ride furiously up and down the sidewalk. Will many of you please join me in forcing the City to do something about this very serious issue.

  2. Dismayed with some of the comments here – is pushing someone off their scooter and injuring them or perhaps even killing them ok for you b/c the person wasn’t allowed on the sidewalk? What kind of society do we live in? To be clear, the sidewalk where I rode was 15 feet wide and was empty with plenty of space and no need to push anyone. The person who did this committed a felony and critically injured me. I could have been dead had I fallen a bit differently. Do you think that’s an ok response for riding on the sidewalk? Want this to happen to you or your family?

    1. Well. We’re frustrated, and they put myself, my animals and kids in danger. I’ve asked them kindly and I get yelled at or given the finger or ignored. I wish I had a baseball bat. So no, I’m not ashamed of my feelings, and if I had the guts I’d push them off the sidewalk.

      1. I understand being frustrated. That does not, however, give you license to injure and kill. You have no idea why people do what they do – they may have very legitimate reasons. Not everyone is like one of those a-holes that curse so don’t throw them all in one bucket. I for one would always ride on the street unless I deemed it unsafe and even then I’d only go on the sidewalk if there was plenty of space and I didn’t crowd anyone. To want to hurt someone for doing something that frustrates you, or to outright harm or kill them by pushing them or hitting them with a baseball bat is the epitome of what’s wrong with our society. It makes you worse than the scooter riders. Imagine someone was frustrated with one of your dogs or kids because they did something that annoyed them. Would you think it’s appropriate behavior for that person to to wack them with a baseball bat, disable them for life, or kill them because the person is ‘frustrated’ with them? That’s essentially what you just indicated to me you’d like to do. Perhaps take a step back and think about this some more.

  3. The safety issues with scooters are the same problems that bikes have: when something goes wrong—whether it’s a “solo fall” or a motor vehicle—there’s nothing to protect the rider. Scooters and bikes apparently help mitigate city traffic overall, but both are risky ways to get around. The city should warn people that those are risks the city can’t realisitically prevent.

  4. It would be interesting to see whether the rate of injuries on streets without protected bike lanes is higher.

  5. I like the “scooters” that are capable of ~30 mph. Blowing through a stop sign at that speed while pretending nothing can happen is genius. Also, though it’s only part of the problem, scooter riders (particularly Urban Alchemy “practitioners”) ride wherever and however they want in the Tenderloin. Bike lanes full of scooters going the wrong way are increasingly common. A head-on collision between a bike and a scooter will make a bloody mess – or, if it’s two 30 mph scooters, either a bloodier mess or one or two fewer electric scooter riders.

  6. California Vehicle Code §21235
    The operator of a motorized scooter shall not do any of the following:

    (a) Operate a motorized scooter unless it is equipped with a brake that will enable the operator to make a braked wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement.

    (b) Operate a motorized scooter on a highway with a speed limit in excess of 25 miles per hour unless the motorized scooter is operated within a Class II or Class IV bikeway, except that a local authority may, by ordinance or resolution, authorize the operation of a motorized scooter outside of a Class II or Class IV bikeway on a highway with a speed limit of up to 35 miles per hour. The 15 mile per hour maximum speed limit for the operation of a motorized scooter specified in Section 22411 applies to the operation of a motorized scooter on all highways, including bikeways, regardless of a higher speed limit applicable to the highway.

    (c) Operate a motorized scooter without wearing a properly fitted and fastened bicycle helmet that meets the standards described in Section 21212, if the operator is under 18 years of age.

    (d) Operate a motorized scooter without a valid driver’s license or instruction permit.

    (e) Operate a motorized scooter with any passengers in addition to the operator.

    (f) Operate a motorized scooter carrying any package, bundle, or article that prevents the operator from keeping at least one hand upon the handlebars.

    (g) Operate a motorized scooter upon a sidewalk, except as may be necessary to enter or leave adjacent property.

    (h) Operate a motorized scooter on the highway with the handlebars raised so that the operator must elevate his or her hands above the level of his or her shoulders in order to grasp the normal steering grip area.

    (i) Leave a motorized scooter lying on its side on any sidewalk, or park a motorized scooter on a sidewalk in any other position, so that there is not an adequate path for pedestrian traffic.

    (j) Attach the motorized scooter or himself or herself while on the roadway, by any means, to any other vehicle on the roadway.

    California Vehicle Code §22411
    No person shall operate a motorized scooter at a speed in excess of 15 miles per hour.
    California Vehicle Code §21224
    (a) A person operating a motorized scooter is not subject to the provisions of this code relating to financial responsibility, registration, and license plate requirements, and, for those purposes, a motorized scooter is not a motor vehicle.
    There is no enforcement of any of these regulations.

  7. A 58% increase in accidents after a 48% increase in use and traffic levels coming back to normal isn’t that alarming or surprising. Converting the accident rates to incidents/mile would probably be statistically more meaningful, as would maybe skipping the covid years. I rode a bike in the NE part of the city quite a bit during the beginning of the covid years, and downtown vehicle traffic was non-existent.

    1. Yep, the motorized vehicles are now packed in with the human powered bicycles in the two way separated bike lane.

      We really need to include e-bikes specifically into the data mix, as power allows the inexperienced to write checks, as it were, that their lack of experience just cannot cover, and which get balanced on the backs of other bike lane users and adjacent peds.

    2. How can we get them off Embarcadero? They believe Lincoln’s sidewalk is a bike lane as well!

      They shout obscenities and give you the finger when questioned.

    3. SCOOTERS ARE NOT ALLOWED ON ANY SIDEWALKS!!!! No exceptions. I want to get a taser gun and zap them. My doggie was injured!

  8. I was assaulted and pushed off a scooter while riding on the Embarcadero (the extra wide sidewalk x Brannan where there was plenty of space for everyone) by a pedestrian in Oct 2019. Police report filed and required ER visit. Does not seem to be recorded in the data shown above. Police didn’t seem to be interested either. The man was never caught. I am still dealing with the injuries over two years later. Do yourselves a favor and wear a helmet while on a scooter and stay a distance from pedestrians and cars. There are unfortunately crazy people are out there that don’t mind injuring or killing people.

    1. There’s definitely missing data; I witnessed a scooter accident last year which resulted in the rider going to hospital in an ambulance and police taking statements from witnesses and the car driver. Not in the data set. (But what is there is fascinating, great visualization by ML!)