Much has been written about the dangers posed by electric scooters – the latest craze in personal urban transportation.
Capable of speeds of up to 40 mph, a lot of focus has been given to the vulnerability of the exposed riders of these relatively flimsy but heavy devices, as they whizz through traffic and crowded public thoroughfares.
Indeed, research in the U.S. carried out by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that e-scooter riders sustained more injuries per mile than cyclists and were twice as likely to suffer injury due to potholes, cracks in the pavement and collisions with lampposts and signposts.
At the same time, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that accidents involving e-scooters resulted in approximately 50,000 emergency department visits and at least 27 fatalities between 2017 and 2019, with numbers continuing to rise.
Described as “absolute death traps” by Simon Owens from the London Metropolitan Police’s Road and Transport Policing Command, insufficient time and attention has been devoted to the very specific hazards e-scooters pose to pedestrians with disabilities, particularly those with sight and mobility impairments.
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A dangerous road ahead
Major hazards include an increased risk of collision due to riding on the pavement. This is banned in the U.K. but remains a persistent issue, with blind and partially sighted pedestrians unable to see the rider approaching and take appropriate evasive action.
It should also be noted that many individuals with sight loss do not use a white cane or a guide dog and are therefore not always visible to the rider themselves.
Irresponsible pavement parking is another issue, with rented e-scooters in London routinely strewn at the top of staircases, outside shop doorways and in the middle of pavements.
Instead, they should be parked in appropriate docking areas.
Last year, a 75-year-old man from Northampton died after fracturing his hip when he was forced to dismount from his own mobility scooter to move an e-scooter left on the pavement.
E-scooters are fast but also silent. In the U.K., the top speed for rental scooters is limited to 15.5 mph but there are models available for purchase that can reach a top speed of 40 mph.
Advocacy groups such as #StreetsForAll campaign are calling for the reduction of this limit to around 12.5 mph and the mandatory installation of Acoustic Vehicle Alert Systems (AVAS) on e-scooters to alert oncoming pedestrians.
More to learn
Even though electric scooters are becoming an increasingly familiar sight in towns and cities – their exact legal status remains shrouded in shades of grey.
In the U.S, the parameters of use widely vary from state to state, while in the U.K, they are only meant to be used on private land or as part of an accredited government urban trial scheme.
Currently, there are ongoing trials taking place in over 50 towns and cities across the U.K. where hired scooters can be used on roads and designated cycle paths and the trials are due to run until Spring 2022.
However, the priority of the safety of disabled pedestrians in the context of these trials was brought into sharp focus earlier in the summer when the U.K. Government point bank refused to halt the trial to ensure all rental scooters could be fitted with appropriate audio alert systems.
This is in spite of the fact that due to the limited number of rental scooters and models being used for the trial, such a measure could have been enacted within a matter of weeks.
This laissez-faire approach has led to Mike Bell, National Public Affairs Lead at The Thomas Pocklington Trust, a U.K. charity for blind and partially sighted people to comment, “The Government has promised to review the pilots before making decisions about the long-term of e-scooter rental schemes.”
Further continuing, “Early signs are that this will be an exercise in positive spin rather than an independent evaluation of their impact and effectiveness.”
Additional enhanced safety measures that should be continued post- haste include an increased use of geofencing or geotagging.
This involves an electric scooter simply having its power cut if a rider attempts to use it on a dangerous road or walkway.
A scheme currently being overseen by Neuron Mobility in Ottawa, Canada is encouraging and incentivizing riders to take an “End of Trip” photo of their properly docked e-scooter after each ride.
Ultimately, e-scooters will and should be a part of the urban landscape of tomorrow.
Though, not exactly a form of healthy active transport in the same way bicycles are, they offer a green alternative in the ongoing mission to reduce congestion and provide options for getting around.
Nevertheless, there seems little logic in matching the breakneck speed of the devices themselves with the pace at which the legislation needs to go through.
There is still much to learn from the trials particularly concerning their impact on vulnerable pedestrians. E-scooters should not be discarded, either on the pavement or as a future transport option in the round.
It might just be a case of all parties understanding a little more about when to apply the brakes.