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If you're hit by a Bird rental scooter -- or hit while riding one -- who's accountable?

If you're hit by a Bird rental scooter -- or hit while riding one -- who's accountable?
Posted at 4:34 PM, Aug 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-20 16:34:58-04

CINCINNATI -- When Dr. Kathleen Hawker moved to downtown Cincinnati five years ago, she was impressed by the neighborhood's walkability.

"It's a great walking city," she said. "We walk always. It's a wonderful downtown."

But the arrival of rentable Bird e-scooters has her and her neighbors a little worried, she said, and she's urging City Council to take time and listen to residents' concerns. 

In an Aug. 10 email to City Council, Hawker wrote, "I would really appreciate if the council members would hear the opinion of residents that live downtown."

For Hawker, it's a matter of street and sidewalk safety, and the subsequent costs associated if and when people start to get hurt while walking or using a scooter.

Hawker is worried about the scooters' impact on people like her who enjoy walking through the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine, the scooters' primary home neighborhoods.

"I think they're fun. For some people it's a great idea," she told WCPO. "But I'm afraid people are going to misuse them."

According to the rental company and the city's rules, what Hawker described is scooter riders breaking rule number one: no riding on the sidewalk. 

BACKGROUND: City issues interim rules for e-scooter rentals
RELATED: Scooter rider struck, killed in Cleveland

"In the past two weeks I have almost been hit by scooters three times while I have been walking on the sidewalk," she said. "I have observed scooters going the wrong direction down Liberty Street twice, once almost hitting an SUV trying to turn the corner, and on another occasion a man traveling with a small child riding in front of him while speeding down the sidewalk."

Cost and accountability top the list of Hawker's concerns. Having made a career working in the field of health economics, she said she has seen firsthand how innocent bystanders -- and entire communities -- can end up footing the bill when there isn't a clear answer to who's at fault when a collision occurs.

"I think there is a reason for car licenses; they hold people accountable for their actions, unlike the current Bird model," she wrote. "Somebody's got to pay for this."

Hawker worries without clear accountability, city governments, hospitals and individuals -- insured or uninsured -- will end up paying big in the event of a crash.

"I am wondering what the advantages of the scooters are to our city," she wrote. "We pick up the bills for more police time and money spend on accidents, the courts spend more time and money on litigation, and the ERs and hospitals spend more time and money on accidents and potentially long-term care."

Bird rentals require logging in with a valid driver's license before unlocking a scooter, but the scooters do not have easily visible identification numbers printed on them in the event of a crash or hit-and-run.

Hawker's concerns are not without precedent. The Austin American-Statesman recently reported a man there is suing Lime -- another scooter rental company -- after he said his car was damaged in a hit-and-run involving a scooter. An attorney involved in the case called it "uncharted waters."

As the city works to establish more permanent rules regarding Bird's rental scooters, Hawker remains cautious but optimistic.

"I hope people will report both positive and negative," she told WCPO. "As a realist, you're not going to change some people. The big question is: What's the next step?"

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation and mobility for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur) and on Facebook.