Scooters – those zippy little two-wheelers that populate seaside hamlets and trendy downtowns – are fun to ride, cheap to run, and a cinch to park. But are they safe? That one question remains at the forefront of prospective scooter shoppers. Many would-be buyers and users ultimately pass on the experience for fear of what could befall them during a riding session.
Their concerns are warranted. One look at a scooter and its small, exposed design is enough to induce anxiety. Statistics that back up these premonitions are not in short supply, either. No doubt about it – scooters can be dangerous to operate.
There’s more to it than that, though. We’ll shed some light on what makes scooters dangerous – and how you can mitigate that risk with a few easy behaviors and actions. First, a brief word on the two types of scooters we’ll be discussing.
Image courtesy of Pexels
There are two main types of motorized scooters: two-wheel ride-on motorbikes with full fairings and other more sophisticated equipment, and stand-on scooters resembling the foot-powered toys that are a favorite of suburban children.
The larger motorbike features a step-in design with a pass-through frame, a seat, and an electric or gas-powered engine. These models typically displace anywhere from 50 cc to 250 cc, though there are more powerful scooters out there. Top speeds of most models range from 25 mph to 60 mph.
The stand-on models run on electricity and feature little else than handlebars equipped with a throttle and brake. The top speed is rarely more than 15 mph for these models. This design has taken on prevalence as a cheap form of urban public transit.
What Makes Scooters Dangerous?
The two different scooter designs can be vastly different in riding experience, but both share many of the same dangers. Let’s look at each of these in turn:
This one probably isn’t the most obvious to anyone who hasn’t ridden a scooter. However, once you hit the throttle, chances are you’ll be surprised at the effort needed to stay upright at speed. This is due to two reasons: a high center of gravity and small-diameter wheels.
High Center of Gravity
Scooters are inhibited by a high center of gravity. The center of gravity is the point where the total combined weight of both the scooter and rider is focused and balanced. When the center of gravity shifts, everything else shifts in relation to that central point.
That’s why a lower center of gravity is beneficial to handling: it makes for better stability because that crux point is located closer to the road surface. There’s less than can shift or flex or tip when there isn’t much distance between gravity – or Earth’s surface – and the central balancing point of the vehicle.
With stand-on scooters, the rider’s torso ends up being the rough center of gravity. That puts the point of balance roughly three to five feet off the ground, depending on the rider’s stature. Such a high center of gravity means that fidgeting on the scooter results in erratic swaying, which can quickly lead to a fall or crash.
The heavier, larger ride-on scooters offer superior stability due to having the weight of the engine lowering their center of gravity. But they suffer from another issue, one also shared with the stand-on models: small wheels.
Small wheels are more likely than larger wheels to be affected by roadway imperfections, as they have less diameter and surface area to absorb an impact. A pothole that a bicyclist brushes off can potentially send a scooter rider face-first into the sidewalk.
Again, the stand-on scooters are more dangerous in this regard than their larger, ride-on counterparts, as they use wheels sized like those found on rollerblades. Big scooters use anywhere from 12- to 14-inch wheels wrapped in rubber tires. Larger wheels are now becoming prevalent in the scooter industry, so you will have an easier time finding a safe one.1
Between small wheels and a tall center of gravity, scooters can be trickier to maneuver than they seem. It takes focus to avoid road imperfections and not get sloppy during cornering. Forget this and you’re apt to go down.
Perhaps the most obvious plight of the scooter rider. Scooters are small and leisurely; cars are big and large and fast. Cars also have blind spots, and drivers – who are already over-stimulated by every other distraction on the road – may still not see a scooter even if it is directly in their line of sight.
This is particularly true in the city, where stand-on scooters are commonly used as urban transportation. Riders may zip up and down sidewalks, cross intersections at a whim, and otherwise ride unpredictably. That poses an even greater risk for drivers who are not paying full attention or are not expecting to see a scooter suddenly appear in front of them.
Another hidden danger. While motorcyclists are required to get an endorsement on their license before being allowed to legally ride, scooters under 50 cc –like the stand-on models – are not held to any such standard. Anyone able to do so can hop on and take off.
The lack of training can result in unpredictable behavior that motorists, pedestrians, and other users of the roads and sidewalks are not prepared for. That in turn leads to accidents and collisions.
How to Improve Your Safety While Riding a Scooter
Image courtesy of Pixabay
While scooters are dangerous, they can be made less so if you are careful and conscientious. We’ve outlined a number of steps that can be taken to ensure a safer riding experience.
Wear a Helmet and Reflective Clothing
What we haven’t mentioned yet is that hardly anyone wears protective gear when riding scooters. Only 4 percent of riders involved in accidents in Los Angeles were wearing a helmet.2 While the low speeds of scooters is disarming, getting pitched off one at 10 or 15 mph can easily lead to head trauma and other serious injuries.
If you plan on riding, invest in a quality helmet. Also, get some bright-colored clothing and a reflective vest to improve visibility. Protecting yourself against a potential crash and calling attention to yourself with bright and reflective clothing will help mitigate any chances of a serious accident.
It is the common refrain of any venerable motorcycle rider: ride like you are invisible. Don’t take your safety for granted, and don’t assume that everyone sees you. Odds are the small, slow, quiet scooter trundling along on the shoulder won’t be seen by those driving by. If you ride defensively and remain hyper-aware of the traffic patterns around you, you’re more likely to not get caught in a bad situation with a motorist or pedestrian.
If you plan on riding any scooter larger or faster than one of the 15-mph stand-on models, take a motorcycle instruction course.3 These courses – often required before getting the motorcycle endorsement on your driver’s license – go over safe riding techniques, proper motorbike handling, and the relevant local laws and regulations around two-wheeled motoring.
You might not be required to take such a course in your state, but doing so is well worth the time and money. If you pass the course, you’re not only ready to get a motorcycle endorsement – you’re also equipped with the knowledge and skills to ride safely and defensively.
Scooters are more dangerous than their low speeds suggest. Don’t ride one without understanding the risks and taking the proper precautions. As fun as scooters can be, getting in an accident is anything but fun. Be careful, be geared up, and educate yourself on the dangers of scootering before saddling up and getting on the road.
Ride Digest uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
- Jonker, Hein. Big Wheel vs. Small Wheel Scooters. msi.org.za. Accessed 27 Sept 2021.
- Trivedi TK, Liu C, Antonio ALM, et al. Injuries Associated With Standing Electric Scooter Use. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(1):e187381. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.7381.
- Basic Rider Course. msf-usa.org. Accessed 27 Sept 2021.