A new report from the International Transport Forum (ITF) says that concerns surrounding the safety of e-scooters have been overemphasised and that people are not at a significantly higher risk of death or injury when riding them than they are on a bicycle.
Pointing out that motor vehicles are involved in four out of five fatal road collisions in which an e-scooter rider or cyclist is killed, the report says that encouraging more people to switch from cars to micromobility vehicles or bikes will actually improve road safety.
Published today, the Safe Micromobility report from the ITF, which is a body of the OECD but operates independently of it, urges governments to draw up “future proof” safety regulations regarding micromobility vehicles given the pace at which they are evolving.
While e-scooters are legal to be used on the road or footway in a number of countries, including some EU member states, they are currently banned on the public highway in the UK.
However, the government has signalled that it plans to change the law, including permitting them to be ridden in cycle lanes, with a consultation due to be launched this month.
Speaking last month, transport minister George Freeman said: “We are considering this closely. The Department for Transport is committed to encouraging innovation in transport as well as improving road safety.”
The ITF report makes 10 recommendations that the ITF says can improve safety, as follows:
1. Allocate protected space for micromobility
Create a protected and connected network for micromobility. This can be done by calming traffic or by creating dedicated spaces. Micro-vehicles should be banned from sidewalks or subject to a low, enforced speed limit.
2. To make micromobility safe, focus on motor vehicles
The novelty of e-scooters should not distract from addressing the risk motor vehicles pose for all other road users. Where vulnerable road users share space with motor vehicles, speed limits should be 30 km/h or less.
3. Regulate low-speed micro-vehicles as bicycles
Micromobility can make urban travel more sustainable. To prevent over-regulation, low-speed micro-vehicles such as e-scooters and e-bikes should be treated as bicycles. Faster micro-vehicles should be regulated as mopeds.
4. Collect data on micro-vehicle trips and crashes
Little is known about micro-vehicles’ safety performance. Police and hospitals should collect accurate crash data. Road safety agencies should collect trip data via operators, travel surveys and on-street observation. The statistical codification of vehicle types must be updated and harmonised.
5. Proactively manage the safety performance of street networks
Many shared micro-vehicles possess motion sensors and GPS. These can yield useful data on potholes, falls and near crashes. Authorities and operators should collaborate to use them for monitoring and maintenance.
6. Include micromobility in training for road users
Training for car, bus and truck drivers to avoid crashes with micro-vehicle riders should be mandatory. Cycle training should be part of the school curriculum. Training programmes should be regularly evaluated and revised.
7. Tackle drunk driving and speeding across all vehicle types
Governments should define and enforce limits on speed, alcohol and drug use among all traffic participants. This includes motor vehicle drivers and micromobility users.
8. Eliminate incentives for micromobility riders to speed
Operators of shared micromobility fleets should ensure their pricing mechanisms do not encourage riders to take risks. By-the-minute rental can be an incentive to speed or to ignore traffic rules.
9. Improve micro-vehicle design
Manufacturers should enhance stability and road grip. Solutions could be found in pneumatic tyres, larger wheel size and frame geometry. Indicator lights could be made mandatory and brake cables better protected.
10. Reduce wider risks associated with shared micromobility operations
The use of vans for re-positioning or re-charging micro-vehicles should be minimised, as they impose additional risks on all road users. Cities should allocate parking space for micro-vehicles close to bays for support vans.
The report’s recommendations were welcomed by Fredrik Hjelm, the co-founder and CEO of Swedish e-scooter hire firm Voi Technology, who in November said he believed Brexit was to blame for the slowness of the UK in embracing micromobility.
“Keeping our riders and other road users safe is our number one priority and one accident is one too many,” he said, referring to today’s report from the ITF.
“But we need to be wary of stifling transport innovation by rushing to assume that e-scooters are less safe than other modes of transport.
“The ITF’s report makes clear that the real danger on the roads remains motor vehicles and we believe that improving city infrastructures to better accommodate bikes, e scooters and other light electric vehicles as well as decreasing the amount of cars in European cities will dramatically improve safety for all road users. It’s all about making the streets safe”
He added: “Policymakers, regulators and city planners are the people who can really make our cities safer - with infrastructure improvements like protected cycleways - for all users, whatever their mode of travel.”
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.