Why Riding a Scooter in Denver Can Kill You

An image from a promotional video for Lime electric scooters.
An image from a promotional video for Lime electric scooters. YouTube file photo
Riding electric standup or Vespa-style scooters can be a lot of fun, as well as a great way to get from one place to another more quickly than on foot (or often in a car, when traffic is bad). But the Denver Police Department has reported four crashes in which scooter riders were struck by automobiles in less than a month, including two within a single hour on the evening of October 5. Moreover, three scooter riders have been killed in Denver traffic incidents so far this year.

On September 17, we posted a Denver traffic map showing the locations of the 54 traffic fatalities so far for 2021, three shy of the 57 deaths in 2020. Since then, another seven people have been killed on Denver roadways, bringing the current total to 61.

The number includes a crash that took place at around 12:48 a.m. on October 6 that involved a motorist and a motorcyclist; the location was near northbound Interstate 25 and West Sixth Avenue. A thus-far-unidentified adult male was pronounced dead at the scene.

This was hardly the only Mile High City smash-up that day. At 7:36 p.m., Denver police tweeted about a hit-and-run crash involving a motorist and a motorcyclist close to the intersection of Sheridan Boulevard and Harvey Place; an adult male was transported to an area hospital with serious bodily injuries. And just nineteen minutes later, at 7:55 p.m., the DPD alerted the public to a hit-and-run at West 14th Avenue and Federal Boulevard in which a motorist struck a pedestrian. The victim, also an adult male, was rushed to the hospital with injuries characterized as "unknown."

Scooters are a relatively recent addition to the Denver transportation mix. When electric rental scooters were first introduced in the city in  2018, they were initially classified as toys. The next year, in August 2019, Denver registered its first scooter death, when Cameron Hagan, a 26-year-old from Montana, died in the days following a crash in the HIghland neighborhood.

Since then, serious injuries afflicting scooter riders have become all too frequent. "The street infrastructure isn't made for that mode," says Brad Evans, founder of the Denver Cruisers bike rides and a longtime traffic-safety advocate. "There are holes in the pavement, there are curbs that aren't cut right. A quarter of an inch can be the difference between being fine and wiping out if you're not prepared for it, and people can die."

He's right. The first traffic death of 2021, on January 1, occurred when an electric scooter rider struck a fixed object on the 1400 block of Elati Street. The next electric scooter fatality occurred on June 22, after a scooter/automobile crash at East 40th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard resulted in death. On August 30, a person on a low-power (read: foot-propelled) scooter in the 1800 block of East Evans Avenue was killed during a hit-and-run incident.

At 3:28 p.m. September 10, the DPD revealed that it was "investigating a traffic crash with serious injuries involving a motorist and a scooter rider in the 1200 block of Pennsylvania." Authorities issued a Medina Alert — a search for a suspect vehicle in a hit-and-run episode — for a 2021 Buick Encore that was subsequently located in Arizona. And at 11:22 a.m. on September 21, the DPD confirmed that a scooter rider had been seriously injured after being struck by a motorist in the area of St. Francis Way and Speer Boulevard.

Cut to 8:46 p.m. on October 5, when a woman riding a Vespa-style scooter was struck near Colfax and Broadway by a gold 2004 Acura TL whose driver didn't wait at the scene. A search for the suspect vehicle is ongoing; call Metro Denver Crime Stoppers at 720-913-STOP (7867) with any information. And at 9:19 p.m., another motorist-versus-Vespa-style scooter rider crash resulting in serious injuries happened at West First Avenue and Bannock. This time, the motorist stuck around.

On October 3, I got a personal reminder about how easily auto/scooter crashes can happen. Navigating through heavy traffic from Empower Field at Mile High following the Broncos' loss to the Baltimore Ravens, I stopped at an intersection where I needed to turn left. At that time of day, the sun was directly in my eyes, severely impairing visibility, so when the turn signal clicked on, I pulled out at a moderate speed — and it's a good thing I did. When my vision cleared, I saw that an electric scooter rider was already directly in front of my car, thanks to the gadget's speed (many can hit fifteen miles per hour) and rapid acceleration. I slammed on my brakes harder than necessary, since I didn't really get that close to the scooter — but if I'd been in more of a rush, the results could have been calamitous.

That's certainly been the case all too often in Denver this year.

This post has been updated to clarify that Vespa-style scooters were involved in two October 5 crashes.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts