International Society of Primerus Law Firms

New Scooters + Old Roads = Big Liability

Foland, Wickens, Roper, Hofer & Crawford, P.C.
Kansas City, Missouri

Every year society sees technological changes in the way people transport themselves over distances.  The scooter and hoverboard revolution joined the bicycle revolution to demand a greater share of public roads.  This has resulted in greater mobility for children, people with disabilities, people ineligible for a driver’s license and those who cannot afford to drive.  The way automobiles and alternative transportation devices intersect on our roads is calling the design and maintenance of aging transportation networks into question.

Typically, bicycles and scooters are required to obey all provisions applicable to cars.  Key differences between bicycles, scooters and cars include size, speed, fenders, restraint devices, lights, and survivability.  These differences mean unique laws are sometimes necessary to provide for safety. RSMo § 304.285 provides an affirmative defense to riding through a red light where the cyclist came to a stop and the red light failed to detect the cyclist after a reasonable amount of time.

This bicycle specific rule deviation is necessary for safety.  If a traffic signal is not designed to pick up a certain mode of transportation, why would it be safe to abide by its pre-programmed directions?  This is an example of challenges alternative transportation users face everyday as they navigate roads designed for efficient automobile traffic at the expense of safety for alternative transportation users.

Is there a more controversial aspect of the rise of scooters than scooters riding on sidewalks? Given the option of personal preference without regard to the governing laws, would you, the reader, rather ride a scooter down an empty sidewalk or down a city street full of vehicular traffic?  Let us consider just how safe the two options are by envisioning a line of twenty cars behind you as you ride down the city street and the likelihood one or more drivers are impaired, distracted, and/or uninsured.

According to the Missouri Department of Insurance, “an estimated 421,000 people were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2012. That’s more than the population of St. Louis.”  The Center for Disease Control tracked 3,314 people killed by drunk drivers in Missouri from 2003 – 2012 which is higher than the national average.  A study by an independent organization found Missouri drivers are the third worst in the entire country. The Insurance Research Council found 14% of motorists in Missouri and 7.2% of motorists in Kansas were uninsured.

These concerning statistics may make you want to stay off the roads in anything short of an armored vehicle, but now you should consider the opioid epidemic and lack of statistics surrounding drivers impaired by prescription medications.  The legalization of cannabis also creates questions about potential impaired driving.

If you ride on a road with light automobile traffic for any period of time, you will have drivers pass you who are impaired, distracted, uninsured, or any combination of the above.  Using public roads is dangerous, especially considering cyclists lack a metal frame, airbags and a seatbelt.

Now consider the earlier example of an alternative transportation user waiting patiently for a stop light designed for automobile traffic and a line of cars pulling up.  A rear-end collision from an impaired, distracted and uninsured driver would likely cause catastrophic injuries to an alternative transportation user.

Jumping the curb to ride the sidewalk becomes just a little less heinous given this perspective.  In fact, the tables have turned and leaving a roadway may be necessary to ensure the safety of the rider in a situation where negligent design or maintenance are involved.  Necessity would be a defense to any criminal charge and the elements of the necessity defense are located at RSMo § 563.026.

RSMo § 300.347 prohibits riding a bicycle on a sidewalk in a business district but ALLOWS riding a bicycle on a sidewalk outside of a business district if they yield the right of way to pedestrians and give audible signal before overtaking and passing a pedestrian.

The definition for “Business district” is territory contiguous to and including a highway when within any six hundred feet along the highway there are buildings in use for business or industrial purposes, including but not limited to hotels, banks, or office buildings, railroad stations and public buildings which occupy at least three hundred feet of frontage on one side or three hundred feet collectively on both sides of the highway;  RSMo § 300.010

Unfortunately, the state of Missouri and most municipalities do not publish maps of business districts and there is no business district filter to add to smartphone map applications.  This is not for a lack of resources considering the current functionality of GPS applications and the raging smartphone epidemic. The legality of sidewalk use comes down to individual analysis of the alternative transportation at the time and place of use.

Government transportation departments know alternative transportation users and automobile users share streets which were not designed for the mixed use they are currently being put to.  Many departments have implemented alternative transportation specific plans in response to these changes. This in conjunction with publicized and ongoing transportation projects mean the painted lines on the roads are going to be changing, further complicating an already complicated situation.

This raises questions of comparative fault.  Government entities have a duty to maintain roads in a manner that is safe for the users.  This duty applies to shifting traffic patterns. Personal injury cases should be carefully screened for negligent design and negligent maintenance where the alternative transportation user’s safety was deliberately or negligently disregarded in favor of automobile efficiency. Criminal defense cases should look to whether the conduct of the alternative transportation user arose out of necessity due to the resulting safety problems from a government entity’s negligent design and maintenance.

It is important to act quickly where a party suspects a government entity may be at fault for injuries because RSMo § 82.210 mandates notice be given in writing to the mayor of the city within ninety days.  Filing suit without obeying this notice provision could result in default judgment for the City.

Happy riding.


Sources:
https://insurance.mo.gov/moeyesontheroad/
2 Center for Disease Control, Sobering Facts: Drunk Driving in Missouri, December 2014.
3 Derek Miller, States with the Worst Drivers – 2018 Edition, SmartAsset’s, 2018.
4 David Corum, One in Eight Drivers Uninsured: Countrywide Rate Increases as Several States
Experience Significant Decrease, Insurance Research Council, p.2, October 9, 2017.

 


The general information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances.

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