Bird will give free scooter rentals to riders who prove they're wearing a helmet by taking 'helmet selfies'

Scooter helmetStar Max/IPx

  • Electric scooter startup Bird announced Tuesday that it was rolling out a new initiative to encourage riders to start wearing helmets.
  • By taking a 'helmet selfie,' scooter users are eligible for 'ride-centric incentives' including credit for free rides in the future.
  • Safety has long been a barrier for scooter rental companies. Cities like San Francisco and Washington have restricted or banned access to scooters, in part due to safety concerns.
  • Bird said it previously tried giving away close to 75,000 helmets to boost rider safety, but concluded that the program had not had a meaningful impact on injuries.
  • The company said it hopes its new product will boost helmet-wearing among its riders. But it also said that better city infrastructure was still the most effective way to improve rider safety.
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Electric scooters have become ubiquitous in most American cities over the past two years, partly in thanks to the scooter-rental services provided by the California-based startup Bird. But a slew of safety concerns have followed the company's rapid proliferation across the country.

Bird wants to get ahead of those concerns. The company announced Tuesday that it was rolling out the Helmet Selfie product to encourage riders to start wearing helmets.

Here's how the initiative works: At the end of a scooter ride, users are asked to take a selfie. The new add-on allows the app to register whether the rider is wearing a helmet, and if so, award them incentives like future ride credits.

The company said the new initiative was intended to address some of the safety concerns raised by partner cities and safety experts.

Scooter companies have come under fire over the past two years due to safety concerns as scooters take over city sidewalks and streets. San Francisco placed a temporary ban on all scooter-rental companies last year, before lifting it to allow a restricted number of scooter-rental companies to enter the city. Scooters are still banned in Washington, Seattle, although the city has reportedly announced plans to lift the ban beginning next year.

Bird, along with other e-scooter rental companies like Lime, has long advised riders to wear helmets on websites. Although helmets are not provided with the scooters themselves, the company press release said that it had tested giving away close to 75,000 helmets over the last 18 months. The company said that program had done little to meaningfully improve the number of helmet-wearing riders, citing an Austin Public Health study, with the Center for Disease and Control, that found only one helmet user among 190 injured scooter riders in Austin.

But the company has also been criticized for having a double standard when it comes to rider safety and its own profitability. Bird supported a bill in California that repealed the helmet requirement for e-scooter rides.

The company said it hoped that its latest initiative would boost helmet usage. But it also said that helmets were not the most effective way to reduce accidents.

"While the most effective way to reduce safety incidents is to improve infrastructure, we also want to help improve adoption around helmet usage to reduce injury severity in the event of an incident," said Paul Steely White, Bird's Director of Safety Policy & Advocacy.

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