Ga. Senate panel recommends statewide 20 mph scooter speed limit

    An e-scooter rider heads down Auburn Avenue near Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta. Beau Evans/Georgia Recorder

    Georgia lawmakers studying potential electric scooter regulations recommend that the state set speed limits and cap impound fees but allow local governments to decide if riding one on sidewalks is legal. 

    A state Senate study committee produced a report to balance free market inclinations with public safety and sensibilities if legislation to regulate electronic scooters takes shape in the upcoming 2020 legislative session.

    “We do not want to over-regulate something,” said state Sen. John Albers, a Roswell Republican, at the committee’s final meeting Wednesday at the Capitol. “I believe the private marketplace ought to have the opportunity to thrive.”

    Georgia lacks statewide regulations on e-scooters. Metro Atlanta and other Georgia cities struggle to manage conflicts between people riding the devices and pedestrians on sidewalks. Atlanta recently barred e-scooters from sidewalks. It also banned riding at night after several fatal crashes and placed a moratorium on new permits. Savannah bans e-scooters outright while Columbus, Macon and Athens recently imposed temporary moratoriums.

    Scooter companies including Bird and Lime started scattering rentable scooters around Georgia cities the summer of 2018, and they are ubiquitous in some urban areas.

    Georgia is one of many states with legislation pending on statewide e-scooter rules as their popularity soars. Twenty-two states have adopted e-scooter regulations so far. Rules in those states set speed limits and restrict where the devices can be ridden.

    The Senate committee report largely follows a bill proposing statewide e-scooter rules shelved last session by state Sen. Steve Gooch, a Dahlonega Republican who chaired the study committee this fall. That proposal sets a 20-mph speed limit for e-scooters and permits them on specially designated sidewalk lanes and bicycle lanes. It doesn’t address docking stations, liability insurance or inventory caps for companies that provide the devices.

    “I don’t think that banning the use of this technology is a good idea,” Gooch said Thursday at the last of the committee’s four meetings. Gooch said he plans to reintroduce his bill in the upcoming session.

    Gooch’s bill would match e-scooter rules with state regulations on bicycles, which riders are not allowed to use on sidewalks unless local governments say they can. The scooter companies prefer equal legal treatment with bicycles and are open to installing stationary docks for their devices, according to Bird and Lime representatives who attended a September meeting.

    Docking facilities that work like bicycle racks would help cut down on clutter and improve safety, said state Sen. Frank Ginn, a Danielsville Republican and study committee member. But the final committee report stripped storage requirements from the recommendations.

    Earlier versions of the report urged e-scooter companies to carry casualty and liability insurance for their devices. But that provision was dropped. Gooch said even suggesting e-scooters ought to be insured “would create a huge debate that we’re not going to settle here today and probably in the next session.”

    Beau Evans
    Beau Evans has covered local and state government and breaking news in New Orleans and California. He’s reported on immigration issues, the threat of rising seas to coastal areas, public safety and hurricanes. At The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Evans detailed the critical role government plays to ensure that people in a community have access to clean water and other public needs. In 2018, his investigative reporting revealed top officials at New Orleans’ cash-poor water utility dealt themselves huge raises, prompting several to resign. Evans’ prior reporting was in West Marin north of San Francisco for The Point Reyes Light. Evans is an Atlanta native who graduated with honors from The Lovett School and is an honors graduate of North Carolina’s Davidson College. Beau was with the Georgia Recorder until January 4th, 2020.