29 September 2022

E-scooter death demands new safety campaign in changed traffic environment

| Ian Bushnell
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e-scooter accident in Kambah

The e-scooter accident scene in Kambah last Sunday. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

Last Sunday’s tragic e-scooter collision which took the life of a 19-year-old rider in Kambah highlights the increased risk on roads and paths from the new travel entrants, and the need for government and police to respond to Canberra’s new traffic environment.

What exactly happened on Sunday is still to be determined and I’m not about to suggest where blame should be apportioned. That is up to police and the coroner.

But the growing number of people using e-scooters is leading to an inevitable rise in injuries and now a death in the ACT, as is happening in other jurisdictions in Australia and overseas.

Their popularity is understandable – they are a fun, agile and cheap way of getting around, with the added feel-good factor of being emission-free.

The ACT has recently expanded the range of the two hire companies operating in the Territory to more suburbs, so riders will be able to travel all the way from Woden to Gungahlin.

The ACT Government says 2.1 million trips on e-scooters have been taken since they were first trialled in the Territory in 2020.

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Then there are the private users, many of whom are commuting to work. Throw in the e-bikes and e-skateboards and you can see how more congested our paths are getting.

While scooter riders are not meant to use roads, including bike lanes, they can if there isn’t a path or it isn’t practical to use one.

Of course they are also supposed to observe the traffic rules, wear a helmet and not drink and ride.

But it isn’t uncommon to see riders, like cyclists, flouting those rules, including crossing against the lights, riding tandem or not giving way to pedestrians.

The other factor is speed. Limits exist in the ACT – 10kph when using a crossing, 15kph on footpaths and 25kph on bike paths although some of the private scooters have much higher capability.

Judging distances and the speed of other vehicles and controlling the scooter can all come into play for riders.

Beam e-scooters.

Hire e-scooters now range across much of Canberra. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

A raft of new laws were passed in March which introduced new offences for riding the devices without proper control and gave police the power to direct a person to get off an e-scooter.

According to Transport Minister Chris Steel, adjustments to where e-scooters could be ridden and parked were consistently being made, and frequent accident sites were being monitored.

After Sunday’s accident, police ruled out extra safety campaigns for motorists, saying e-scooters generally followed the same rules as cyclists.

“[Police] can go out and enforce and enforce and enforce, but each individual person who uses our roads – whether it be as a pedestrian, e-scooter rider, car or bus driver – has a responsibility to obey those rules,” Detective Acting Inspector Paul Hutcheson said.

Some will call for licensing of e-scooter riders but it is hard to see how that will actually prevent accidents. It would only impose a bureaucratic barrier on riders, and of course would hurt the business model of the hire companies.

The accident adds to calls to keep motor vehicles and vulnerable road users separate but roads will still need to be crossed and used when a path is not available.

But this woman’s death should not be seen as some sort of collateral damage in the ongoing expansion of travel options in the ACT.

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The more new entrants, the greater congestion and the higher the risk on our paths and road network.

Everybody should be aware of the rules and everyone should drive defensively. But they aren’t and don’t.

Mr Steel should consider a fresh awareness campaign because the traffic environment has changed and will continue to change.

It should target the new e-travellers, although cyclists would also benefit.

The importance of obeying the traffic rules should be reinforced, especially for people as vulnerable as e-scooter riders.

Any campaign should also send a message to motorists that they need to be alert of the new entrants because any collision could inflict significant injury or even death.

It wouldn’t hurt for police to blitz rule-breaking e-scooter riders to make it clear such behaviour won’t be tolerated.

Risk can never be eliminated but to simply let a more complex traffic environment evolve without any intervention would be negligent.

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A very responsible article which above all says to me that congestion is the topic to be addressed. The very different user environments of paths and roads need attention, but so do those locations where they cross or mix. As was the case in this tragedy.

There is no way to control Stupidity that is socially acceptable except for EDUCATION. If the schools are churning out pretty much illiterate people and if there are no practical modes of teaching we are pushing it uphill. I hate to harp on about my education (I’m getting on in years) but as a young child in England at a regular government-funded school, we were given hands-on lessons in such things as the Road Rules. There were children’s playgrounds that resembled suburban roads and we practised on our scooters and tricycles. Later in High School in Melbourne, we were taught Comprehension not just the 3 R’s.

It is dangerous riding a bicycle or an E-scooter on the roads in Canberra.

Why are the Bike paths so narrow? In some places, there are dedicated routes that are protected from cars etc.
In Melbourne bicycles and it could be applied to e-scooters, as there are much wider allocated roadways. Why can’t something be devised in Canberra?

Capital Retro5:56 pm 30 Sep 22

“Their popularity is understandable – they are a fun, agile and cheap way of getting around, with the added feel-good factor of being emission-free.”

Anyone who believes in the current climate crisis nonsense would probably get the “emission-free” buzz too.

Some would even think they are immortal.

ChrisinTurner3:18 pm 30 Sep 22

I have watched police on foot patrol in Civic ignore eBike riders passing by without helmets. Perhaps some enforcement is needed.

Maybe if the Police Budget was better they may have the wherewithal to do more.

One of the biggest risks I’ve observed for scooter and bike riders is that they often appear to come out of nowhere onto a busy road at speed, often going straight across a pedestrian crossing or into the traffic, with no warning for car drivers or other road users. This didn’t happen so often when they had to get off their bike, scooter or skateboard to walk across with other pedestrians. That earlier process provided them with more safety as there was more notice for car, bus and truck drivers, with earlier and clearer visibility of their presence.

As they don’t need to slow down to dismount and walk across, it seems logical to many (especially those in a rush or enjoying a quick ride) to speed across to catch the lights before they change, or beat the traffic they can see coming. They can now do this legally. This means that they put themselves and other road users at risk. The ACT government needs to reconsider this law and it’s consequences, especially as this affects children and young people who are more likely to take these risks.

I agree – I nearly wiped out a cyclist in O’Connor who came flying across the road and I missed the rider by centimetres!! I had to pull over to calm myself as I had palpitations at the thought of injuring or killing someone.

Fixed it for you Mr Bushnell: ‘But it isn’t uncommon to see riders, like cyclists AND MOTORISTS, flouting those rules…’ My cycling accident happened when a motorist ran a roundabout and t-boned me. For the record, my helmet (split from back to front on impact with the road) almost certainly saved my life.

OMG! What a terrible experience

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