Podcast: The Detail

E-scooters - ban them or embrace them?

In the wake of the first death from an e-scooter accident, The Detail today looks at the proliferation of the newest mode of transportation to hit city streets. 

Fast, fun, and readily available, e-scooters were lauded as a quirky disruption to the public transport landscape when they came on the scene a year ago.

Need to zip up the road? Take a Lime, said the proponents. They’re environmentally friendly, and with a max speed of 27 kilometres an hour, a heck of a lot faster than walking.

Others, though, were less excited by the arrival of the new kid on the micro-transport block. The speed and lack of enforceable rules around their use saw e-scooters become one of 2019’s top accidents-waiting-to-happen.

And over the weekend, that ‘accident waiting to happen’, happened.

A 23-year-old man died while riding a Lime scooter in the Auckland suburb of St Mary’s Bay. An investigation into his death is now with the coroner; the key question being whether a mechanical fault or human error is to blame.

While the death is the first directly attributed to e-scooters, the year since their arrival has been punctuated by headlines of serious injuries – broken bones and people landing on surgeon’s tables.

“It’s hard to imagine the inner-city without scooters,” says Simon Wilson, a columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

The company arrived in New Zealand so suddenly that they got here before the rules.

“The Ministry of Transport has regulations that cover all vehicles and proscribe… that you’ve got to behave in a safe and reasonable manner with due regard for everybody else around you.

“However, the regulations were written well before the scooters arrived – and there are no specific regulations yet covering the scooters.

Wilson blames that lack on the fact the scooters are ‘on trial’ in the main centres, but also, because changing legislation is slow.

“The wheels of government don’t move quickly enough when you get sudden disruptive technology like this,” he adds.

The big bug-bear for Wilson is that e-scooters aren’t allowed in cycle lanes.

“It is surprising to me that almost a year into the trial there hasn’t been a change to the regulations that simply makes it legal for a scooter to be in a bike lane.

“I dare say that’ll be one of the things that comes.”

Wilson says the complaints about e-scooters came as quick as the scooters themselves.

“There are two complaints about e-scooters; one of them is that they endanger pedestrians and the other is that they’re inherently unsafe and the number of crashes is too high.

He says while the first complaint is true; many scooters riders, initially, had never set foot on one before. “It’s really important, in my view, that we separate scooters and pedestrians” – which he says would be done by improving infrastructure for micro-mobility transport methods.

“Clearly there have been far more accidents than people have expected.”

“Little wheels, uneven ground ... our footpaths are not built for them. That means councils, and the Ministry of Transport have to consider the issues of speed, helmets and so on.

“My personal view is it would be wrong to treat them as so dangerous they can’t be used. They’ve got to remain reasonably fun.”

Wilson says the recent death is tragic but shouldn’t be taken as a reason to ban or overly restrict the availability of e-scooters.

“If you look at the crash statistics in this country, scooters are not causing most of the deaths and serious injuries - cars are.

“We don’t ban everything just because misuse happens, and they cause injuries. So it’s a question of managing the risks around the scooters, rather than saying, ‘If you use them, you might die’.”

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

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