15 Jun 20

E-scooters are 'unsafe' says influential safety organisation

An influential safety organisation has raised serious doubts about the safety of electric scooters on public roads and pavements.

While fleet managers and corporate safety officers decide whether to include e-scooters in company Mobility as a Service programmes, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS), which advises MPs and members of the House of Lords in the UK parliament on air, rail and road safety issues, has described e-scooters as having features which are ‘inherently unsafe’.

Safety concerns

In a report submitted to the UK’s Department for Transport, PACTS raises the following concerns:

  • The small wheels of e-scooters are incapable of safely negotiating the ruts, potholes and uneven surfaces of many urban streets.
  • E-scooters have neither mirrors nor indicators, which make it very difficult for riders to see vehicles approaching from behind or to signal their intentions to drivers. With the throttle on the handlebar, riders cannot lift off a hand to signal a turn in the way that a bicycle rider can.
  • The standing position of an e-scooter is unstable, putting riders in danger of being thrown forward more quickly and with more force than a cyclist. This leads to much higher rates of head injury – eight times higher than a cyclist according to the Danish Transport Authority.
  • The lights on e-scooters, if there are any, are at a very low level, which makes them much less visible than a bicycle.

The report also says that first-time e-scooter riders have a high incidence of falls; that their rapid, silent approach represents a hazard to pedestrians; and that dockless e-scooter rental schemes can block pavements.

E-scooters are illegal in public places in the UK, although the Government is accelerating trials to see whether the scooters could provide an alternative to public transport after coronavirus. 

Mobility as a Service

Internationally, e-scooter hire and share schemes are increasingly considered as an important piece in the Mobility as a Service jigsaw as a cheap, clean and convenient means of micro-mobility.

A spokesman for e-scooter share company Bird, which has operations across the United States and 22 major European cities, said all e-scooter companies take the safety of their riders and other road users very seriously.

E-scooter safety technology

Bird’s technology, for example, has a ‘warm-up’ mode which limits the acceleration of a scooter until the rider feels sufficiently confident. The company also limits the maximum speed of its scooters, and has geo-fencing capabilities that allow it to work with city authorities to restrict further the speed of its scooters along particular streets or even to de-activate them completely in areas where safety may be an issue.

E-scooters present same risk as bicycles, says ITF

A report published earlier this year by the International Transport Forum (ITF), an intergovernmental organisation with 60 member countries, found that the risk of an injury that requires a hospital visit is similar for e-scooter riders and cyclists, and that the danger of a road fatality is not significantly more likely when using a shared standing e-scooter rather than a bicycle.

But the ITF does suggest that regulators should consider imposing indicator lights on powered micro-vehicles controlled by switches on the handlebar. The Forum also concluded that e-scooter safety should improve when riders learn to navigate urban traffic and car drivers become accustomed to the scooters. And it recommends that governments create traffic-free cycling infrastructure and introduce safety regulations for micro-vehicles, including banning them from pavements (or enforcing a lower speed limit).

Bike and e-scooter lanes

At Lime, an e-scooter sharing company with stations around the world, including 45 across Europe, a spokesman said: “We work closely with local governments to support infrastructure for scooters and bikes as protected lanes for bikes and scooters are proven to make riding safer. Our riders want micromobility infrastructure too as 52.2% of Lime survey respondents ranked a protected bike lane as their number one choice for riding. Continued government investment in protected bike lanes and paths is critical to providing a safer environment for all road users.”

The company has also introduced First Ride safety courses to educate riders and more than 4,000 people across 60-plus cities have taken part.

Fleet advice for e-scooter riders

For fleet managers and corporate safety managers looking to advise employees on how to use e-scooters safely, Lime offers this advice:

  • Before starting your trip, walk around the scooter and do a visual inspection. Don't use that vehicle if something isn't right and report it to our customer service team.
  • Once you start your trip, give the brake a tight squeeze to ensure it's working properly.
  • Comply with any scooter audible or visual warnings to slow or adjust your speed.
  • Ride defensively: wear a helmet and reflective or bright clothing, respect the right of way, and don’t ever ride under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and always ride in bike lanes when available.
  • Ride smart: follow the rules of the road, keep both hands on the handle bars, don’t use your mobile device while riding and avoid wearing headphones.
Authored by: Jonathan Manning