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Should the legal introduction of e-scooters on the roads raise concerns about their safety?

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Until recently it has been illegal to use an e-scooter on Great Britain’s roads. From Saturday, 4 July 2020 it has been permissible to use rental e-scooters on the public roads, although it will remain illegal to use privately owned e-scooters on the public highways.  E-scooters can be ridden on any road except a motorway   To hire and use e-scooter, a rider must have either a provisional or full driving licence. 

Middlesbrough became the first town in the country to trial e-scooters, with the objective of easing pressure on public transport. The initial reaction from the local population was positive.  They will cost £2 to hire for 20 minutes.

Government in favour of E-Scooters

The intention of the government in introducing rental e-scooter schemes is commendable with the hope that it will reduce crowding on public transport during the Covid-19 pandemic and minimise the risk of the virus spreading. E-scooters are also promoted as an environmentally friendly and cost-effective form of transport for shorter journeys, providing a green alternative to an over-crowded transport system.

Users will not be expected to have insurance but will be required to hold at least a provisional driving licence. A speed limit has been introduced for the rental e-scooters at 15.5 mph (25kph) and there is a recommendation for users to wear helmets (although not compulsory). However, concerns  remain that the initiative has been implemented without a full appreciation of the risks that will arise from their introduction to the roads.

Campaigners warn that the introduction of rental e-scooters will be a prelude to private individuals starting to take their own e-scooters on to the roads and also, potentially, illegally using the pavements.

E-scooter Safety Concerns

There are concerns that e-scooters could create a significant obstruction for pedestrians, with a particular worry that they will create a hazard for the disabled and especially those with impaired vision navigating roads and pavements. Charities have pointed to the absence of engine noise from the e-scooters making their presence hard to detect, together with the weight, acceleration capabilities and the permitted speed of the e-scooters adding to the risk of injury.

For those using the e-scooters, the inadequate road infrastructure and lack of segregation from other motorised traffic on busy roads has been identified as a safety risk. Critics have pointed to the risk of inexperienced riders of e-scooters on busy inner-city roads, vulnerable to traffic and exposed to the risk of serious injury. 

Indeed, this has been illustrated in the early stages of the trial in the Tees Valley area. In July 2020 Cleveland police said that they stopped two teenagers on the A19 to Teeside, on 16 July. The teenagers, who had hired scooters, were stopped as they were using them along a busy dual carriageway.

The police also reported that neither boy was wearing protective equipment, such as helmets or high visibility clothing, as recommended by government guidelines. As Temporary Superintendent Graham Milne said, “hiring e-scooters may seem like a bit of fun for some, but they’re not toys”. Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen described the teenagers as “idiots”.

Real risk of Serious Injury

Another concern arises from the poor condition of the surface of many roads and the danger that the small wheels of the e-scooter will be unable to cope with the many potholes that are prevalent on the country’s roads. It is not inconceivable that riders could be thrown from their e-scooter on striking a pothole on a poorly maintained road, placing them at risk of serious injury. This raises the wider question of whether sufficient resources are being invested into road maintenance at a time of increasing levels of traffic.    Significant and serious injury, particularly brain injury may also arise from riders not wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, such as helmets and high visibility clothing.

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