Transitioning to an e-scooter – The safety concerns
In line with Government advice at present to avoid public transport, I’m sure quite a few of us will be thinking about alternative forms of transport as the lockdown starts to ease but social distancing measures continue. Walking and cycling are the preferred alternatives, as they involve so-called “active travel”, a key priority of the government pre- and post-lockdown. New modes of transport, particularly micromobility modes, are also increasing, in particular the use of e-scooters. These powered two-wheelers raise several problems for the current legal regime in England and Wales and have had something of a troubled development as cities and states have struggled to regulate safe use wherever they have been introduced.
There are a proliferation of legal and regulatory problems surrounding the growth and use of e-scooters. These problems fall into three categories: safety (for both rider and other road users); legality (criminal and civil law problems); and environmental concerns (manufacture, recycling and storage). In this first blog, I will discuss the safety issues that will need to be considered if e-scooters are to become more common on our roads.
Perhaps the most important concern arising from the growth of e-scooter use is whether their actual and intended use is safe for riders and other road users. The biggest concern for riders is that there are no applicable safety standards, as yet, regarding manufacture and safe usage. There are no construction and use regulations that govern e-scooters, thus rules around appropriate suspension, wheels, tyre inflation, handlebar design, weight, centre of gravity, lighting and registration marks are missing, leaving the user with no means of guaranteeing a safe journey. There are no rules requiring helmet or protective equipment use, so one can only hope the PPE crisis during the COVID-19 outbreak has some teachable lessons that transfer over to road safety. Studies from the USA all point to the need to have rules requiring, at the very least, a helmet.
As regards actual incidents, at present e-scooters are not separated in official statistics and thus there is no UK reliable data, although there are a number of high profile cases of e-scooter rider deaths. Data from the US suggests a growing problem: casualties tripled between 2014 and 2018, from 4,582 to 14,651, with hospitalisation for such injuries increasing four-fold (from 313 to 1,374). This report suggests that there are 22 e-scooter casualties per 100,000 people in the USA.
It is admittedly difficult to cross compare the USA and UK road safety statistics given the different road-policing environment. The UK has a far superior safety record in terms of road deaths, with the USA figures being four times higher than the UK per million population (28 per million for the UK compared with 114 per million for the USA). The most common injuries seen in e-scooter-related injuries in the USA are lower limb, upper limb and head injuries, with the latter accounting for approximately 10% of all injuries.
Regarding pedestrian injury, there is a dearth of data available, with just one case study examining the effects of e-scooter collision with a 60-year-old female who suffered traumatic back injury. The authors highlight the effect of the injury and the costs associated with treatment.
In my next blog, I will discuss why this is a problematic area in England and Wales, particularly with pedestrian collisions, and the lack of adequate road traffic insurance for riders in respect of payment for damages and medical bills.