First of all setting out the DfT’s definition of an e-scooter:
- is fitted with no motor other than an electric motor with a maximum continuous power rating of 500W and is not fitted with pedals that are capable of propelling the vehicle
- is designed to carry no more than one person
- has a maximum speed not exceeding 15.5 mph
- has two wheels, one front and one rear, aligned along the direction of travel
- has a mass including the battery, but excluding the rider, not exceeding 55 kg
- has means of directional control via the use of handlebars that are mechanically linked to the steered wheel
- has means of controlling the speed via hand controls and whose power control defaults to the ‘off’ position.
Unlike the early indications from the DfT this definition introduces a power limit of 500W, increases the maximum weight to 55 kg and perhaps most importantly increases the maximum speed from 12.5mph to not exceeding 15.5mph. It also allows seated variations of e-scooters.
The plan is to issue vehicle orders under s. 44 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 for rental (not private) e-scooters to be assessed as being suitable to participate in the trials. It is important to recognise that for these purposes of the e-scooter companies, working within local areas, will provide e-scooters on the street for hire, similar to the rental schemes seen in other countries.
These allow people to unlock the e-scooter using an app, ride to their destination, park the e-scooter and pay in the app, usually priced by the length or duration of the journey. Only selected rental e-scooters will be allowed in trials. Privately owned e-scooters will remain illegal to use on the road, cycle lanes, tracks and pavements.
All good, right?
In the rush to try different solutions it seems worthwhile restating the blindingly obvious: these things are dangerous.
The two studies listed below attempt to provide some analysis into the types of injury which can be sustained by those who adopt this method of transport:
The sample size from the first study is low [n=50] but the fact that 8% of injuries were classified as a serious head injury is worrying and that picture is intensified when one looks at the second study [n=249] where > 40% of injuries were described as head injuries.
Most of those seem to have been minor but there is reference to one traumatic subarachnoid haemorrhage and one subdural haemorrhage (not forgetting a cervical spinal fracture [n=1]).
There is quite a rich amount of data in this second study:
- Only n=10 [4.4%] of riders were wearing a helmet
- Mean age 33.7 years
- 8.4% of patients were non-riders: n=11 hit by the scooter
- Alcohol use seems to have been a relevant consideration [n=12]
- n=20 hit by a moving vehicle
- Most common cause of injury being a fall n=183
Some of these factors seems likely to be ameliorated (alcohol for example) in the UK trials given the DfT are proposing that e-scooters riders need to have insurance and the correct type of driving licence but I just wonder whether the opportunity also existed to impose requirements upon e-scooter riders to wear a helmet (of a required standard) which may well have had a positive impact on many of the minor head injuries which seem to arise from their use.
Hopefully that hasn’t been lost in the rush to commence trials and under pressure from the mobility companies who see huge growth in the UK market from e-scooter rentals. I go back to a 2009 review article which suggests that (in relation to bicycle related accidents) wearing a helmet provides a 63 - 88% reduction in the likelihood of suffering head, brain and severe brain injury.
We should not, however, view the wearing of a helmet as a panacea: unlike a bicycle, electric scooters typically have quite small wheels and given the imperfect nature of the urban environment they feel every bump and imperfection. On one level that creates a thrill and a perception of speed beyond the reality but it also means that, as can be seen, regular falls (in close proximity to 4 wheeled traffic) can be expected to be part of the reality.
It also seems to me that reducing the speed of e-scooters is only one element of the equation: as bicycle campaigners have long argued the whole urban environment needs to be considered: traffic free routes, better road surfacing, helmets and restrictions upon the speed of 4 wheeled traffic to, perhaps, match that of the e-scooters: the study below seeks to illustrate the impact of a reduction in speed on the prevalence of cycling related injuries in London:
Only time will tell: clearly we are talking about trials in limited locations but there are an awful lot of factors which need to go into making this as safe as possible for both e-scooter riders and car drivers if we are not to see a spike of e-scooter related claims notifications.