Georgia senators consider statewide e-scooter rules

A Georgia Senate committee is studying statewide regulations that could set limits on electric scooters.

Advocates say the devices can be part of the solution to the region’s traffic mess. Critics say they’re a menace to public safety.

Either way, they’ve been popping up in parts of the region for more than a year. And state lawmakers are examining ways to regulate them without squelching innovation.

"We don't want to throw water on it," said Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, the chairman of the committee that is studying regulations. "We want it to flourish."

Gooch’s committee met for the first time Monday. It’s the latest government reaction to the proliferation of scooters in parts of Atlanta and elsewhere. Between February and June of this year, Atlanta alone saw more than 2.2 million scooter trips. During the same period, there were 286 scooter-related crashes and 125 injuries.

Related: Which metro Atlanta cities have banned e-scooters? 

In January, the Atlanta City Council approved rules that — among other things — required scooters to be parked upright on sidewalks, leaving room for pedestrians. But several scooter-related deaths this summer prompted Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to impose a moratorium on permitting new scooters while the city revisits its regulations.

Cities such as Marietta, Norcross and Smyrna have banned the devices, and others have issued temporary bans while they decide how to regulate them.

State lawmakers also have taken an interest.

Earlier this year the House of Representatives considered a bill that would prohibit people from parking "motorized mobility devices" on sidewalks, crosswalks, intersections and other locations that could hinder vehicles or pedestrians. The bill also would allow electric scooters on bike paths, in bike lanes and on roads with speed limits of 35 mph or less if no bike path is available.

But negotiations over the legislation bogged down. And senators created the Senate Study Committee on Evaluating E-scooter and Other Innovative Mobility Options for Georgians. That's a mouthful of a title for a committee that will sort through some complicated issues.

Among other things, it must consider a legal definition for scooters, which could prove tricky as new models develop. For example, some e-scooters have seats while others don’t. Industry representatives told senators Monday that they want a definition that’s flexible enough to accommodate innovation.

“We don’t want to have to revisit that definition year after year,” Nick Juliano, Uber’s public affairs manager for the Southeast, told the committee.

Senators also may consider rules of the road for scooters and whether state regulations should pre-empt local rules.

Some industry representatives want statewide rules so their customers have some certainty as they travel between cities. But local governments want to tailor regulations to fit their circumstances. For example, some cities have bike lanes while others don’t.

“The locals would like the ability to have regulations that fit their infrastructure,” said Michael McPherson, government relations associate for the Georgia Municipal Association, which represents cities across the state.

Throw in the tension between encouraging new transportation alternatives and protecting pedestrians and others, and senators face a delicate task as they seek to draft legislation for the upcoming session of the General Assembly.

“We obviously have competing interests,” Gooch told his colleagues Monday.

Electric scooter regulations

Local governments are struggling to regulate electric scooters, which have proliferated over the past year. Now Georgia senators are studying statewide regulations they hope will address safety concerns without stifling innovation.