2017 has been a great year for bike rental startups as they get more money and expand both domestically and internationally. However, that doesn’t mean that everything is rosy. On March 26, a boy under 12 years old was hit by a bus and died while riding an ofo bike. His parents are now suing the company for RMB 8.78 million ($1.3 million) in a wrongful death claim (in Chinese), claiming that company’s combination locks were in-part responsible for the death of their son.
This is not the only case of a tragic death for a minor while riding an ofo bike: On June 18, a 12-year-old boy lost control on an ofo bike and died after cracking the code on the manual lock.
When ofo first invaded China’s streets with its yellow bikes, the company exclusively used manual locks. However, these locks have come with a whole host of problems—not only can users choose to never lock them again, they are also easy to break (in Chinese). At the TechCrunch Beijing event last year, the company even said they had no plans to move away from manual locks.
Faced with these shortcomings—as well as regulations stipulating GPS and other “smart” functions in both Beijing and Shanghai—ofo has begun to introduce smart locks in cooperation with Beidou, the domestically-made alternative to GPS. It would seem, however, that not all these upgraded bikes have made it to all of their users in China.
On the other hand, Mobike, ofo’s largest rival, has included smart locks since they first hit the streets. Because of this, Mobike has done a better job controlling the use of their bikes. Not only do they lock automatically after a certain period of inactivity, but since use of the bike is directly tied to their online database (and Mobike does not allow registration of anyone under 16 years old), young minors are less likely to use the bikes.
A spokesperson for ofo has told TechNode that “we will strictly follow judicial procedures” and would not comment further on the case.
With additional writing from John Artman.