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Bird will give you free scooter rides if you take a selfie while wearing a helmet

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It’s the company’s plan B to improve safety

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Bird says it will start giving out free rides to customers who take selfies of themselves wearing helmets in an effort to promote safety while riding electric scooters.

How to get customers, who often take scooter rides impulsively, to wear helmets has been one of the more intractable problems of the shared electric scooter industry. According to a recent study, only one in 190 people injured while riding e-scooters was wearing a helmet. Researchers calculated that there were 20 individuals injured per 100,000 e-scooter trips taken during a three-month period in Austin, Texas. As scooter companies grow, the need to ensure that customers are taking their own safety into account has become a central challenge.

Initially, Bird tried to attack this problem by simply giving away free helmets in the cities in which it operates. The company ended up giving away 75,000 helmets over the last 18 months alone, but it found that these pop-up events didn’t result in increased helmet adoption (and likely were costing Bird a hefty sum). So its plan B is to offer credit to customers who demonstrate helmet use.

The Santa Monica, California-based company is updating its app to invite customers to submit a photo of themselves wearing a helmet at the end of each trip. People can also post their selfies on social media using the hashtag #BirdHelmetSelfie. Bird says it will use machine learning to successfully recognize which riders are really wearing helmets. “Riders who demonstrate helmet usage will receive incentives such as future ride credits,” the company says.

The debate over helmet use is heating up after a federal safety panel recommended mandatory helmet laws for all 50 states. While helmets have been shown to reduce traumatic brain injuries, requiring their use has also been proven to discourage cycling. Most experts agree that the best way to protect bike and scooter riders is by building protected infrastructure, reducing car speeds, and supporting policies that improve road safety for all users.