CHICAGO — E-scooter safety has been an issue since scooters first rolled out in the city’s test pilot zones, but one local scooter company is trying to combat unsafe riding with new technology.
Chicago-based scooter company VeoRide unveiled a new app feature that can detect when riders are wearing a helmet, with the goal to improve safety and incentivize riders with rewards. Though it’s only an option and not required to unlock the scooter, VeoRide users will be given a 20 percent discounted ride for wearing a helmet.
The AI Helmet Detection Technology, released Sept. 25, uses a person’s phone camera to detect a helmet in a selfie and won’t work with previously stored photos. It’s currently being tested internally but will be available on the VeoRide App next year, according to Candice Xie, CEO of VeoRide.
“We have found it is the right approach because it encourages people with good behavior while riding a scooter and makes sure they wear a helmet,” Xie said.
However, some riders disagree. Scott Jauch, a Logan Square resident who rides socially on the weekends without a helmet, thinks the reward aspect would not influence his decision to wear a helmet while riding.
“I never grew up wearing a helmet but I could see how helmets could be an asset,” Jauch said. “But at the same they cannot force [helmets] without providing their own, which is kind of gross.”
Xie acknowledges that it is difficult for the company to force riders to wear helmets, but hopes the new feature will positively impact the e-scooter community and influence better interactions between scooter riders and cyclists, pedestrians and cars.
VeoRide’s helmet feature is the company’s first foray in AI empowered safety advances, she said. The company is also working on similar detection technology that can determine when e-scooters are being ridden on sidewalks, which is prohibited in Chicago and several other major cities.
“We see this as a win-win — the rider can better protect themselves while getting some incentives,” she said.
According to a January scooter study by the Journal of the American Medical Association, 249 patients went to the emergency room with injuries associated with e-scooter use during a one-year span. Almost 11 percent of patients were younger than 18 years and only 4.4 percent of riders were documented wearing a helmet. The most common injuries were head injuries, fractures and soft-tissue injuries, the study found.
Although helmets are not required to ride e-scooters in Chicago, several of the 10 scooter companies involved in the city’s pilot program have been working to enhance safety.
Lime, the San Francisco-based company, has held nearly 50 safety academy lessons that teach riders how to safely operate and responsibly park scooters across the city’s pilot area since June, said Matthew Lehner, Lime spokesperson.
Since then, Lime has given away more than 300 free helmets and launched a partnership with Bern helmets in August that provides a 40 percent discount to Lime riders, he said.
“We are really focusing more on making safety first, making it accessible [and] equitable,” Lehner said.
In September, Lime replaced the Chicago fleet with the new Lime Gen 3 scooter that has better safety features, including bigger wheels, better suspension, additional braking and improved balance, he added.
Lehner said the company is taking a holistic approach to safety and looking at all issues of the challenge.
“There is no single solution to safety, it has to be something you are focused on every aspect [and] follow-up with action,” he said. “But also educating riders in safe scooter riding is incredibly important.”
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