Are Electric Scooters a Menace or a Modern Transport Solution?

Katherine McCallum
Jun 10, 2024
min read
Two women riding their electric scooters in Australia

Once seen as more of a gimmick, electric scooters are seeing a rise in popularity as a great way to get around Queensland’s cities. Quick and nimble, they reduce the need to use other transport, but at the same time, they produce their own problems, increasing the risk of accidents and potentially getting in the way of pedestrians. 

We’ll take a look at both sides of the debate on electric scooters. Are they the transport solution big cities have been looking for, or are they more trouble than they are worth?

The Rise of Electric Scooters

Electric scooters are gaining more and more prevalence, with multiple brands and companies offering their own vehicles with varying sizes and speeds. In most major cities around the globe, you will be very likely to see them and even rent them, with several electric scooter rental companies just in Brisbane alone as an example. Acquiring an e-scooter for most is as simple as a tap on your phone.  

Why Do People Use Them?

Not only are electric scooters an eco-friendly way to travel, but they also have a wider market than rental bikes and e-bikes thanks to being much more accessible to ride. They offer a very low maintenance cost, perfect for public transportation schemes and individual upkeep. With more people riding e-scooters, traffic congestion can be significantly reduced as the smaller, more agile scooters take the place of larger vehicles on the road as well as producing significantly less noise pollution. 

As a result, it’s easy to see why many people and cities are adopting this method of transport, but it’s not without its risks.

Safety Concerns and Accidents

With electric scooters on the rise, so too are accidents involving them. Since 2019, hospitals across Queensland as part of the QISU group have seen over 3,305 people who have been hurt in incidents with e-scooters, and the number continues to rise. To put this statistic into perspective, from the 1st January 2019 to the 31st December 2023, it would roughly equate to 1.8 people per day. When split up by area and hospital, Brisbane has the highest number of hospital presentations, due to the sheer number of e-scooters available.

The types of injuries sustained also vary, including lacerations and abrasions, sprains, upper limb fractures, and head injuries. Although all of these injuries are undesirable, it’s the head injuries that worry doctors the most, especially when they occur when the rider is not wearing a helmet. 

Potential Causes

While helmets are mandatory for use on e-scooters in Australia, some people can be lax in wearing them. In a study and survey carried out across 2022 and 2023, 29% of the riders polled had at some point not been wearing a helmet while on a scooter in the past 30 days. This increases the risk of head and facial injury when involved in a fall or an accident involving an e-scooter, but it’s not the only factor that can up the danger.

Another common correlation with electric scooter injuries is alcohol. At the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, at least 25% of e-scooter incidents that they saw involved alcohol consumption. With scooters being ridden at all times of day, and increasingly during the evenings, could they be seen as a substitute for other forms of transport to get home from the bar? And, would inebriated riders remember to wear a helmet?

It’s not just e-scooter riders who can get hurt. Pedestrians can also find themselves at the mercy of electric scooters when they are ridden on footpaths and public walkways. Due to their speed, e-scooters can come up quickly on walkers, potentially leading to collisions. Those renting the vehicles for the first time may also not have as much control as more experienced riders, leading to an increased risk of accidents as they struggle to maneuver around people and obstacles in their way. 

Regulatory Responses and Challenges

Safe to say, at the moment, e-scooters are not going anywhere from city streets any time soon. So, countries around the world, including Australia, have implemented various rules and regulations surrounding the use of them. 

The rules in Queensland cover the mandatory wearing of helmets, as well as imposed speed limits. E-scooters and other personal mobility devices are only allowed to reach a maximum speed of 12kmph on footpaths and shared paths, and 25kmph on cycle paths, roads, and separated paths. Mobile phones can’t be carried in your hands or visible on your person, but you can attach them to your handlebars to use as a GPS or speedometer. If you’re involved in an accident with your e-scooter, you are legally obligated to stay at the scene, give your details, and render assistance to injured persons where applicable. 

Other Countries and Electric Scooter Laws

Although these rules might seem rather robust, many people call for more to be done, especially when Queensland and other Australian governments’ policies are directly compared to those of other countries around the world. 

For example, in Singapore, anyone wishing to ride an e-scooter must first pass a theory test that covers the correct way to operate an e-scooter as well as the legal obligations of riders. Riders must be at least 16 unless accompanied by an adult, and they are completely banned on footpaths and roads. But, surprisingly, the use of helmets is not mandatory, but only strongly encouraged. 

In the UK, privately owned e-scooters are banned from use on public roads. Instead, rental scooters are available in certain trial areas but come with restrictions such as a speed limit of 15.5mph and can only be used with a category Q entitlement on your driving license. While like Singapore helmets are not mandated, UK electric scooter riders are prohibited from operating them while under the influence of alcohol. 

Are there further restrictions that Queensland should learn from, or are the current regulations enough?

Environmental and Economic Impact

There still remain major plus points related to electric scooter usage. They cut down on congestion as an alternative to cars and other petrol vehicles, which, often on shorter commutes in busy areas, will probably go as fast, if not even slower, than the scooters. 

In addition, due to being electric, they have a very low impact on the environment compared to other modes of transport. Research has shown that over an electric scooter’s lifetime, it will only produce between 35-67g of CO2 per kilometer travelled as opposed to 200-350g produced by petrol cars over the same distance. 

Despite the dangers, compared to other modes of transport, e-scooters are relatively safe. Between 2018 and 2022 only 7 deaths were recorded due to e-scooters, as opposed to 5,741 deaths related to other motor vehicles during the same period. However, it is important to note that the recording of deaths by electric scooters may be inaccurate as there is no consistent reporting system across states. 

Increasing e-scooter rental schemes also have a positive impact on local businesses and economies, with areas where e-scooters are available in the US for example seeing a 0.6% increase in spend in the food and beverage industry. Jobs can also be created in the operations sector for e-scooter rentals, as well as for vehicle and battery construction. 

Overall, there are clear benefits to electric scooters, especially as we move away from fossil fuels and figure out ways to navigate ever-growing and congested cities. But, at the same time, there are still teething problems regarding how to legislate them and keep people safe, including building essential knowledge on how to operate them effectively and avoid incidents. As time progresses, we’re likely to see more changes in this space, as countries learn how best to work with these relatively new modes of transport and integrate them into their transport infrastructures.

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