6 sep 21

Micromobility: healthy, yes. But is it safe?

Mobility is changing, and one of the most visible examples are e-scooters: the preferred mode of urban transport for an increasing number of people. With both the European Mobility Week and a Smart Mobility Institute (SMI) session coming up this month, perhaps now is a good time to ask: how safe are e-scooters and other forms of micromobility? 

Click here to register for the SMI session on 16 September from 2- to 4:45 PM CET, theme: Employee Choice, Car or Mobility?

The European Mobility Week, each year from 16 up to and including 22 September, is the European Commission’s annual awareness-raising campaign on sustainable urban mobility. It promotes behavioural change away from ‘standard’ car-based mobility in favour of such alternatives as active mobility, public transport, and other clean and intelligent transport solutions. The Week traditionally closes with a Car-Free Day. 

Safe and healthy

Cities, NGOs, businesses and schools are encouraged to take part in the event. Each year has a different theme, and the 2021 edition’s slogan is: ‘Safe and Healthy with Sustainable Mobility’.

Micromobility encompasses not just e-scooters, but also free-floating bikes and e-bikes. By replacing car journeys, these sustainable solutions help reduce emissions. According to Flow, who provide e-scooters in Bucharest, one of their vehicles reduces CO2 emissions by up to 3.5 tons during its lifetime. 

And on top of that, e-scooters and other forms of micromobility are also a more active way to get around. Those are the two main ways in which micromobility promotes a healthier lifestyle. But is micromobility safe? That question is a lot more debatable. 

Vulnerable road users

By the flimsy nature of micromobility vehicles, it’s a transport mode that turns its practitioners into vulnerable road users. Yet there is little agreement on regulation to protect these users. For example:

  • Some cities impose a 20-km/h speed limit, while other jurisdictions allow higher speeds.
  • Several EU countries have rules that oblige e-scooter users to drive on the pavement, while others indicate e-scooters must use bike paths, or even the regular road. 
  • Some countries impose age limits and/or helmets for e-scooters, while others don’t.

Not only does this variation indicate a lack of knowledge and/or awareness about the safety of micromobility, it also creates uncertainty for travellers moving between areas with widely differing rules.  

For example, the Spanish city of Malaga (and others) have set up dedicated parking zones for e-scooters to avoid accidents caused by ‘rogue parking’ of free-floating e-scooters on pavements. Yet the latter remains the rule in many other places.

Getting strict

Strong local variation in micromobility regulation saddles users with uncertainty, and regulators with lots of rule-breaking. As a result, some local authorities are getting strict with transgressors. In Paris, for example, riding on the pavement will cost you €135.

Better, more uniform rules are necessary  for micromobility, and especially for e-scooters. Not just because it’s the most popular micromobility mode, but especially because it is a much more dangerous one. Recent Danish research has shown that risk of injury is eight times higher with an e-scooter, compared to a bicycle. Recent U.S. research indicates the risk of head injury is twice as high. 

665 projects

But it’s not just the bewildering variety or rules that is at issue. What’s also lacking are programmes to provide training for e-scooter drivers (and other micromobility users), and upgrades to the roads and pavements upon which these relatively unstable vehicles are forced to ride.

The upcoming European Mobility Week will offer cities, companies and organisations across Europe the opportunity to reflect on the necessity for better regulations, infrastructure and training when it comes to micromobility – as shown by the wealth of projects submitted: 665 projects across 48 countries. 

For more on the European Mobility Week, click here.

Authored by: Frank Jacobs