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Editorial: Try again on e-scooters

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made the right decision to put the brakes on legalizing electric bikes and scooters in New York State.

Legislation that passed both legislative houses did not adequately address safety or regulation. The governor had to reach for his veto pen in light of those missing details and mounting evidence from other cities and states and countries showing accidents, sometimes fatal, involving both.

These devices are becoming ubiquitous in major cities and, as any fad goes, there is a cool factor. All that ends when these devices collide with cars or trucks. The potential danger grows further when they are used on sidewalks and pedestrians are at risk of injury.

To Cuomo’s point, not many riders wear helmets, and there should be provisions in any legislation mandating such, along with guidelines on intoxication levels while operating what are, in fact, motorized vehicles.

These concerns and others should be addressed with the full understanding that, yes, times have changed. This is an increasingly app-driven society. It is true that these devices can provide a useful “last-mile” solution in areas where public transportation is scarce and that e-scooters and electric bikes are more environmentally friendly than cars and trucks. But that doesn’t absolve policymakers from the need to consider safe ways to integrate this increasingly popular transportation mode into public thoroughfares.

Companies such as Bird and Lime, both California-based, would love to enter into the New York City major market. The same goes for Buffalo, where some riders have been spotted downtown.

The governor has said that he remains open to allowing the companies to operate in the state but among the regulatory items he wants to see is a lower speed limit, restrictions on where the e-bikes and e-scooters could be used, a prohibition against operating while impaired by drugs or alcohol and mandatory front and rear lights. It’s not too much to ask.

He cited a recent study published in the American Journal of Otolaryngology reporting that head injuries have tripled in the past 10 years in relation to the use of e-bikes and e-scooters. An alarming two-thirds of the victims were not wearing helmets. Consider the tourist who decides to download the app and hop on the e-bike or e-scooter. He is likely not carrying around a helmet.

The governor cited the tragic accident in which a 16-year-old boy was killed by a tow truck in November while riding an electric scooter in Elizabeth, N.J.

The vetoed legislation would have allowed electric scooters on city streets, required the devices to top out at a maximum speed of 25 mph and banned their use on sidewalks. It also would have allowed for municipalities to determine how to regulate the devices. However, Cuomo is right to push for greater safety. A law should be passed authorizing the use of these devices, but lawmakers first need to offer more specifics on how they plan to keep New Yorkers safe.

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