September 21, 2023
News Opinion

MICHAEL WOLSEY: Why we need a law to keep us safe from scooters

I was shocked to read that Lisa Banes, the actress from Gone Girl and Young Guns, had died after being hit by an electric scooter.

Ms Banes was on her way to dinner in New York and was on a pedestrian crossing when the scooter, which had been driven through a red light, struck her with such force that she was sent flying across the road.

The actress suffered serious head injuries and died later in hospital.

It’s selfish, I know, but my first thought on hearing the news was “that nearly happened to me”.

I was walking across  a narrow street. It was a one-way street so I looked only in one direction. No car or van should have been coming from my right. If there had been one, I would have heard it.

But electric scooters make no noise. When I saw this one it was almost on top of me, travelling at speed in the wrong direction.

The driver was a reckless idiot but adept at handling his vehicle. He swerved around me and  mounted the footpath where he almost hit a woman shopper. Incredibly, he managed to keep control of the scooter, landed it back on the road and headed off against the legal flow of traffic, travelling, I would guess, at around 20kph. That’s the estimated speed of the scooter that killed Lisa Banes.

Unlike lightning, scooters can strike twice in the same place. Well, very near it anyway. There’s a pedestrian bridge over a canal with bollards at both ends to keep out cars. Cyclists often ride on it. They shouldn’t really, but a pushbike is unlikely to injure anyone, unlike the e-scooter that came silently up behind.

The teenage rider had no problem avoiding me but the family ahead had to hastily pull their children out of the way. The scooter swerved and brushed the bridge’s handrail. Here again, the rider managed to keep control, but it was extreme good fortune that neither she nor any of the children were hurt.

I have told these stories to several people and all of them have responded with  similar tales of their own.

Are electric scooters really such a menace? When I saw an empty table outside a coffee shop, near a moderately busy set of traffic lights, I decided to conduct a little study.

It wasn’t very scientific and it won’t win me a research fellowship or a prize for investigative journalism. But in about 20 minutes there I watched four scooters approach red lights which every one of them ignored. Two drivers went straight through and two-by-passed the lights by going onto the footpath, presumably under the illusion that this was somehow less illegal.

It’s beside the point, but four cyclists also broke red lights in the same period, evidently sharing with scooter riders a belief that traffic laws don’t apply to them.

Despite my moaning, I am not really opposed to electric scooters. I’ve no plans to ride one myself but I think they are a good way of getting around cities and towns.

Nevertheless, they are mechanised transport and they need to be regulated as such. At present they have no legal status at all on our roads, and, strictly speaking, shouldn’t really be allowed on public thoroughfares.

The Department of Transport says it is working on legislation to cater for them. Unlike the scooters, it needs to go a bit faster.

We need laws about the vehicles themselves. They should  have horns to sound their approach, lights, a standardised braking system that can be checked, and number plates so that law-breakers can be traced.

They should be allowed to use cycle lanes and should not be allowed on footpaths.

There should be an age limit on the people who ride e-scooters. They should be obliged to take lessons, pass a test and carry insurance like the drivers of any car, van or motorbike.

Electric scooters are not toys and they are not just a variant on the bicycle. They can be dangerous and we will all be a lot safer when the law recognises that fact.

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