Balancing Act

With e-scooters come new options for our mobility, as well as a number of new risks. We explore what users need to be aware of.

E-scooter rental could be the answer to closing gaps in the public transport network. Photo: Dennis Lewczenko

E-scooter rental could be the answer to closing gaps in the public transport network. Photo: Dennis Lewczenko

City authorities see micromobility as an important tool in the implementation of future-oriented mobility concepts. E-scooter rental could be the answer to closing gaps in the public transport network and enabling seamless movement. On the other hand, these tiny vehicles harbor new risks. Whether they can actually assert themselves as a permanent feature of our streetscapes will depend not least on legislation and safety standards.

For short distances in particular, these small electric vehicles seem to be the ideal means of transport: faster than walking, less tiring than cycling and independent of public transport – journeys of a few kilometers are completed in no time. Yet the idea is not a new one: London activist Lady Florence Norman was one of the first to drive a motorized scooter, back in 1916. Surpassed by the motorcar after the Second World War, it is back with a vengeance: more practical, more modern, and powered by electricity.

35 percent of injured e-scooter riders suffered broken bones
37 percent of accident victims were travelling at excessive speed

The integration of e-scooters in present-day transport systems, however, has its difficulties. A series of studies performed by the NLC (National League of Cities) in the USA have revealed a lack of infrastructure for the new road users. In addition, the behavior of e-scooter users themselves is problematic – they often take to the sidewalk illegally and rarely wear a helmet. This behavior endangers themselves, other road users and pedestrians. This conduct with e-scooters – which are used primarily as rental vehicles – can be explained by a lack of familiarity with the technology and local regulations, explains the NLC. In an accident study commissioned by Austin Public Health shortly after the introduction of e-scooters for the city of Austin, Texas, lack of experience was revealed as a major factor in accidents. Two-thirds of the accident victims were novice drivers. Almost half of the casualties suffered head injuries.

Connected: Download the rental app, register your details and hire an e-scooter at the location of your choosing by scanning the QR code. Photo: Dennis LewczenkoEquipment: One of the two independent brakes, the bell and the accelerator are all ergonomically positioned. Photo: Dennis LewczenkoSafety: Feet should be positioned slightly oblique to the direction of travel, in order to have better balance on the e-scooter. Photo: Dennis Lewczenko

Individual governance

This problem is also evident in European cities, where accidents and complaints from other road users are piling up. In Vienna alone, approximately 200 accidents involving e-scooters were reported in the fourth quarter of 2018. According to the Austrian Road Safety Board, the biggest accident risks are collisions with curbsides, turning, being overlooked by other road users, as well as ruts, grooves and tracking in the road. Technical safety standards and usage regulations are currently regulated differently from country to country, and regulations sometimes even differ between cities. In Austria and Switzerland, e-scooters are grouped with bicycles for the purpose of legislation. In Madrid, electric scooters are only permitted for use on cycle paths. In the Brazilian metropolis of São Paulo, city authorities made it compulsory to wear a helmet shortly after market launch, as well as introducing a number of other regulations. In New York’s Manhattan district, e-scooters are completely prohibited. In order to develop a uniform set of requirements for the manufacturers and users of small electric vehicles globally, a technical committee has been set up by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), which is due to sit in fall 2019.

Observe equipment requirements

In Germany it is up to the manufacturer to apply for a general operating permit (ABE) for their products through the German Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA). E-scooters are considered motor vehicles in Germany, and thus models that can drive faster than six kilometers per hour require insurance and license plates. Eligible for approval are vehicles with a design-imposed maximum speed of 20 kilometers per hour and an engine power of up to 600 watts. Mandatory equipment includes a bell, headlamps, taillights, rear reflectors and side reflectors as well as two independent brakes. There is no requirement to wear a helmet.

Traffic regulations and the required equipment of e-scooters are not governed equally around the globe. Photo: Dennis Lewczenko

Traffic regulations and the required equipment of e-scooters are not governed equally around the globe. Photo: Dennis Lewczenko

Anyone planning to purchase an e-scooter should, however, consider other technical aspects. It was noticed in Vienna that users omit signaling by hand when turning right, due to the simple fact that the throttle is mounted on the right. “If you remove your hand from the throttle at 20 kilometers an hour, this can have an abrupt stopping effect,” explains DEKRA Accident Researcher Luigi Ancona. He recommends installing a turn signal both for this reason, and the fact that it is risky to take one’s hand off the handlebar when the vehicle’s rolling behavior is unpredictable.

“Tires are one of the technical weaknesses of e-scooters. While solid rubber is maintenance-free, it hardly compensates for bumps. Inflated tires have a dampening effect but are also subject to punctures”
Luigi Ancona, DEKRA Accident Research

In the NLC study, half of accident victims stated that their accident was caused by an uneven surface. “Bumps in the road surface and curbsides are felt as a sudden blow on the handlebars, and it is easy to lose balance,” explains Ancona. Larger tires offer more stability. Impact-absorbing inflated tires offer additional driving safety over hard solid rubber tires. The expert concludes by emphasizing how driving an e-scooter is nowhere near as intuitive as many users assume. Braking in particular is largely a matter of feeling. E-scooters are controlled by shifting one’s weight, which requires an engaged body, and the feet to be slightly oblique to the direction of travel, similar to a snowboarding stance. “This gives you better leg power and grants more control of the upper body – especially when accelerating and braking,” says Ancona.

In order to reduce the risks of one’s first trip, some e-scooter rental firms in Germany have started offering safety courses. During ‘first-ride’ training, one should practice braking maneuvers, cornering and how to behave in dangerous situations. In Sweden, a virtual driving school has been proposed to help electric scooter drivers develop improved safety awareness.

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