Image Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Driving under the influence has a new baby brother, and his name is Scooter. In a precedent-setting case, Los Angeles prosecutor Mike Feuer has secured a misdemeanor conviction for a man arrested after he hit a pedestrian while operating an electric scooter under the influence of alcohol.

The incident occurred in West Los Angeles, an area where on-demand electric Bird scooters are ubiquitous. Nicholas Kauffroath, 28, had been riding down the sidewalk (strike one) when he knocked over a pedestrian leaving a theater (strike two). While the unnamed pedestrian sat on the sidewalk suffering a knee abrasion, Nicholas drunkenly carried on without stopping to render aid (strike three).

When LAPD officers located him at a nearby apartment building, he was issued a field sobriety test, where he was found to have a blood alcohol content of .279, more than three times the legal limit (strike four).

It’s a conviction that is the first of its kind, and surely it won’t be the last. But as the popularity of electric scooters takes off, that’s going to be a big problem — especially for those who break the law.

Both driving under the influence and a hit and run are considered to be wobbler offenses in California, meaning these serious crimes can be prosecuted as either either a misdemeanor or a felony, either of which can carry a sentence of jail time.

Mr. Kauffroath got off lucky with only a misdemeanor charge, in this instance. “He was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to pay a $550 fine,” writes Laura Nelson for the Los Angeles Times. “He was also ordered to pay restitution to the victim, complete a three-month DUI program, and stay off scooters while drinking.”

Had the injuries to the pedestrian been more severe, or fatal, he would not have faired nearly as well.

DUI’s aren’t usually associated with two-wheeled vehicles. While the vast majority of arrests come from people getting behind the wheel while intoxicated, California law spells out the restrictions in no uncertain terms:  motorcycles, bikes, and scooters are not to be ridden while under the influence.

“Drinking while operating a vehicle, a bike — or a scooter — is not only illegal, but can lead to serious injury or worse,” said attorney Mike Feuer in a statement. “This conviction demonstrates our office’s continued effort to enforce our drunk driving laws and make our streets and sidewalks safer.”

Image Credit: Christina House / Los Angeles Times

As the electric scooter sharing companies like Bird and Lime-S sweep across the Los Angeles Basin, police have noticed an uptick in collisions between riders, drivers, and pedestrians. Given their immense popularity (the Venice/Santa Monica area is a veritable Bird-watching paradise), the city council has had to impose rules on the company to help curtail bad riding behavior.

For one, each electric scooter must have a label printed on it telling riders to stay off sidewalks (they’re only supposed to be ridden on the street), and cannot operate at speed above 15 miles per hour. The apps that riders use to rent the scooters (it’s $1 for a ride, and 15 cents per minute) requires you to check a box agreeing that you aren’t going to be riding under the influence, and also has messages urging people not to ride without helmets.

Even 30 seconds spent scanning the boardwalks of Venice and Santa Monica prove that next to no one follows the last rule. Of the dozens of people zipping quietly past pedestrians, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone wearing a helmet.

For those concerned about safety, such as us, this is especially troubling. Not only are adults making poor decision about their safety, but parents are allowing kids to ride without helmets as well. Frustratingly, there’s no easy way to fix this, short a law being passed requiring riders to wear helmets (just as laws have been passed requiring passengers to wear seatbelts).

It’s not likely that we’ll see that any time soon, though. In the meantime, it’s safe to assume that the streets and sidewalks of Los Angeles and beyond will see more and more incidents — including more convictions of the all new SUI — calling into question just how safe these electric scooters are.

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Check Out These References for Further Reading:

“Los Angeles has its 1st electric scooter DUI prosecution.” The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 5 October 2018. http://www.latimes.com/sns-bc-us–electric-scooter-dui-20180928-story.html

“L.A. approves rules for thousands of scooters, with a 15-mph speed limit and aid for low-income riders.” The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 5 October 2018. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-scooter-vote-20180904-story.html

“Another first for scooters in L.A.: a conviction for scooting under the influence.” The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 5 October 2018. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-scooter-dui-20180926-story.html

“Man charged with DUI while operating scooter in Los Angeles, a first for the city.” ABC News. Retrieved 5 October 2018. https://abcnews.go.com/US/man-charged-los-angeles-case-dui-motorized-scooter/story?id=58120020