Fight or flight: How safe are Bird scooters?

by Soomedha Vasudevan

Zoom. When walking anywhere on campus, you’re sure to see students and faculty zipping down Bruin Walk and the roads of Gayley on electric Bird scooters. With their large size and tremendous speed, Bird scooters attract many customers. Most people turn their heads to look at these modes of transportation, but what runs through the heads of bystanders? What does the average student think of these machines?

According to their website, Bird scooters pride themselves on helping “ease congestion,” being “environmentally friendly” and having “greater availability.” They are located all around campus and students can easily find flocks of Birds using the corresponding app. After unlocking them, riders are charged by the minute. Students typically find this vehicle affordable and often use them to get to class, to the city or to their apartments.

Unfortunately, there is a darker side to the scooters: people falling off, crashing into inanimate objects and breaking traffic laws. With so many students using Birds on a daily basis, there is a question begging to be answered: Do the pros outweigh the cons?

Sasha Barinksy, a sophomore majoring in molecular, cell & developmental biology, sure thinks so. Barinsky is an avid supporter of scooters and said he uses them “multiple times a day… to get to classes and then while returning to (his) apartment.” While he trusts his own skills and believes that he follows all scooter traffic laws, he does believe that “some of the users are not (as safe) and there should be a limit” on who should be able to use them. There is a requirement to be over 18; however, this rule can be evaded through getting an older friend to unlock a scooter. Thus, the requirements aren’t as enforced since it’s all done through the app.

After talking to several students, it seems that many express positivity or neutrality towards scooters until they have a negative experience. Tushar Gopalka, a third-year graduate student studying physics, commented, “I feel like scooters are fine, as long as there are proper bike lanes and nearby pedestrians are not wearing headphones.”

Taking a deeper dive into the consequences, we have the horror stories and the accidents. Michael Macaya, an alumnus who studied political science, explained that he was once walking down Bruin Walk and the pedestrian light turned on. He described what happened as he crossed the road: “I noticed this guy coming down on his scooter really fast. He had a red light and he was kind of wobbling, and he started losing some control… Sure enough, he actually hit me, but the actual scooter didn’t make contact, just the guy’s shoulder.” Macaya feels that scooters are especially dangerous. “Since they’re electric, there is no way to hear if a scooter is passing,” he said. After this incident, the student stands by his pledge to never ride one.

While a lot of students see Birds all the time, not many people ride them, especially after hearing about and witnessing people stumble and fall from the fast machines. One student had a particularly risky encounter with the scooter. Arhan Misra, a sophomore studying linguistics and computer science, explained his experience: “I have fallen off of one. During orientation, I was with a group of about 10 people. We were all on Birds, going as fast as possible. Collectively, we decided to go down a really steep hill, while still maxing out the accelerator. I was having a great time until someone shouted, ‘Speed bump!’ I tried to go through the little space between the bump and the curve and failed miserably. I wasn’t too hurt, but I’m still a little scared of Birds now.” Despite his harrowing experience, Misra explained that he still supports using the scooters. “They definitely make college life easier despite being a little exorbitantly priced.”

It seems as though experiences definitely shape students’ thoughts regarding scooters. Of course, this makes sense — how could a student love Birds after falling off one? However, more students appear to think of Birds in a positive light due to their overall practicality or simply because riding one can be a fun experience.

Featured Image Photographed by Uriel Meza/BruinLife.

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