In response to an alleged uptick in serious commuter injuries last semester, a survey was sent out to students, faculty and staff Wednesday to explore the use of electric motor-powered vehicles on campus.
The survey, created by a special task force established by Purdue President Mitch Daniels last December, is designed to better understand EMPV use, including skateboards, bikes and one-wheels with electric or gas motors.
“What we noticed last semester is that we have more than a dozen serious incidents (with EMPVs) that involved students getting hospitalized,” said Noah Scott, a senior in the Polytechnic Institute and Purdue student trustee. “From the data we had, it’s a statistically significant uptick.”
Scott is a co-chair for the EMPV task force, along with Carol Shelby, senior director of environmental health and public safety.
Data from the Purdue University Police Department shows that there were 23 reported accidents involving bikes, scooters and skateboards in 2019, with eight resulting in hospitalization of the operator or pedestrian that was hit.
The data did not specify whether the bikes, scooters or skateboards were equipped with motors.
Scott said he thought this uptick was due to the increased number of EMPVs on campus, coupled with the steadily rising enrollment rates of the last few years.
“Some of them have the ability to go at speeds you’d expect a car to go,” Scott said. “When you have an electric skateboard, scooter, bike, etc. that can go 20 to 30 miles an hour — well, a car can go 20 to 30 miles an hour, and this is now on a sidewalk.”
Speed data from PUPD shows that of the 28 electric skateboards sampled on campus, the mean speed was 16.4 mph.
Despite the incidents, Scott said the task force is not currently considering an all-out ban; it is instead using the EMPV survey to gather ideas.
“We’re just trying to collect input and make sure we understand the problem before we try to tackle something and propose a solution,” Scott said.
The survey asked students about several possible solutions and gave them a chance to propose their own ideas. It also asked respondents to self-report whether they have been involved in or observed an EMPV-pedestrian collision.
Scott said that while Indiana law requires people to report car-pedestrian accidents, it is not required to report EMPV-pedestrian accidents, and many of them go under the radar. The survey will bring a clearer picture, according to Scott.
He said he thinks any solution would rely partly on Purdue to improve infrastructure and rules and partly on students using EMPVs to follow all rules and practice safer use in general.
Bhavya Agrawal, a freshman in the College of Engineering, uses her electric scooter daily and said it saves her a lot of time while commuting.
Agrawal said a big part of the problem is that a lot of the time, there isn’t a place on campus for her to ride her scooter because the roads can be too bumpy or the traffic too fast. When this happens, she added, she is forced onto the sidewalk.
She agreed though that part of the responsibility falls on the students to use the EMPVs responsibly.
“When it’s icy or the roads are wet, we shouldn’t use the skateboards or scooters because we are at high risk that we will fall,” Agrawal said.
She also said that students sometimes go faster than they should.
The task force, which includes representation from students, a cycling club, administrators and campus fire and police departments, will continue to examine this issue throughout the semester. Scott said it’s particularly necessary to have feedback from students both in the task force and through the survey.
“It’s important to have their input,” he said, “because they live it every day.”