Before Covid hit, I was sitting in a stakeholders meeting in downtown Rochester discussing the prospect of scooter share coming to our city. The topic was “geofencing,” or the GPS-enabled system that can stop or slow an electric scooter when a rider approaches a restricted area like a public park. After all, the popular sentiment is that these machines are death traps, killing riders and wreaking havoc on pedestrians and the sidewalk environment. And yes, there is certainly room to improve these micro-mobility machines and their use to increase safety. As it is, most of these devices are restricted to 15 miles per hour, and for good reason.
Today I was on my way back from a photo shoot in Buffalo (I’m a portrait photographer on weekends) when a giant pickup passed me on the 490 expressway doing no less than 85 miles per hour, weaving in and out of traffic. The truck was in view just long enough to notice the rental car sticker on the back of the vehicle. Someone had rented this two-ton-plus monster and was driving it recklessly at more than 30 miles per hour over the speed limit.
I flashed back to the concerned parties at the stakeholder meeting, worried sick that “renting” a 40 pound scooter traveling at 15 miles per hour might be a danger to society. After the meeting was over, everyone exited the building and headed for the parking garage, where their 2500-5000 pound vehicles, capable of 100 miles per hour, waited for them to drive home at an unrestricted speed. I got on my single speed bike and rode home.
Where are we that we call for such drastic restrictions on electric micro-mobility options, while we simultaneously climb into our giant cars that can reach insane speeds with no restriction whatsoever? We glorify speed and acceleration in every car ad, boasting lofty top speeds and 0-60 times. We spit in the face of speed limits when shows like Top Gear showcase the power and awe-inspiring insanity of the newest “supercar.”
For the record, I honestly like to go fast. And I like Top Gear. I think fast cars are kind of cool. But I acknowledge the hypocrisy in worshipping these vehicles of lawless power that are synonymous with “freedom” while hyper-focusing on the danger of electric micro-mobility. Automobile crashes are the number one killer of children and teens, and yet our obsession with American freedom trumps our desire for sensible electronic speed restrictions in cars that would likely save tens-of-thousands of lives annually.
I get it, we will have self-driving autos before we ever implement speed limiters or geofencing on cars. Our country’s obsession with individualistic freedom (instead of an acknowledgement that freedom is a collective reality) will negate any possibility of saving real lives achieving public good. The only chance we have at relinquishing this thirst for unrestricted power is the autonomous vehicle. And while the technology shows promise in being a part of our roadways in the near future, failures have shown that the mastery of this technology is still in its infancy.
Our desire to speed will always eclipse our sense of responsibility to the health and safety of society.
If you find yourself demonizing micro-mobility while simultaneously climbing in your 4000-pound SUV and driving it 10-20mph over the speed limit (admit it, we’ve all done it), perhaps it’s time to think differently. If you’re worried that people will face injury or death on a scooter, perhaps you might remember that one of the most unsafe places for your child to be is in your vehicle.
The technology exists to limit car speeds within certain areas via GPS. It’s time to start exploring the possibility of electronic speed control for all American cars. If safety is truly a priority in our country, let’s get serious about one of our nation’s quiet killers.