The Malta Independent 22 September 2021, Wednesday

Watch out for that e-scooter!

Sunday, 18 July 2021, 08:40 Last update: about 3 months ago

Mark Said

Standing upright, they glide, ghostlike, along the street. They have no emissions. They are alone, outside, unlikely to catch anything or pass anything on. They are no burden to the public transport system, nor do they contribute much to congestion. They take up little space.

Now they join a busier road, one with buses. Perhaps they feel small, vulnerable. But when the traffic bunches up and stops, they can pass. A road menace or saviour of the commute?

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E-scooters have become a regular sight on Malta's roads, particularly where they are an easy way to get from A to B without walking in the summer heat or getting stuck in a traffic jam. It is also possible to rent them.

Riders must be 18, hold a driving licence and be insured. They are supposed to be banned from arterial roads, underpasses and tunnels (with fines of up to €500) but can be ridden in urban areas and cycle lanes.

All e-scooters will have to be registered and licensed with Transport Malta and the maximum speed is 10km/h on promenades and pedestrian areas and 20 km/h on roads. Anyone riding at night will have to wear a high visibility vest and helmet use is not mandatory, though recommended.

Whether you are a seasoned or newly-licensed driver or just an ordinary pedestrian taking a stroll for some fresh air, you must have had a close encounter of I do not know what kind, or at least a close shave with imminent peril to your physical integrity. If not, you are bound to have one sooner or later.

The problem is dual: lack of observation of the regulations in question is rife among young drivers of these e-scooters and there is a conspicuous lack of enforcement by community officers and Transport Malta officials.

Before delving into some of the dangers which e-scooters and some of their irresponsible drivers pose to vehicle drivers and pedestrians alike, it is worth considering some of the inherent problems which e-scooter drivers have experienced. E-scooter accidents have involved cars and ground obstacles such as curbs, poles and manhole covers. Other factors that led to accidents include mechanical problems such as failing brakes and wheels. Distracted riders were also a factor.

E-scooters are also dangerous because they are not easy to ride safely. I, for one, and many believe that e-scooters are unsafe and a hazard to pedestrians. These days you see them everywhere – on the  streets, in parks and off-road. Riders glide right by you and you hear that electric zoom of the e-scooter. Pedestrians may think that electric scooters are a nuisance. It can get frustrating accommodating an electric scooter on a busy sidewalk or road. They can spell danger to those in a wheelchair. Electric scooter riders can also lose concentration when riding in the city because of the various distractions.

I am afraid that with time, electric scooters may increase  the number of accidents. I notice that they are being negligently and irresponsibly left behind everywhere. They are only suitable for short distances and definitely dangerous for obese drivers. They increase in danger because, to my mind, there is a lack of sufficient, clearly and properly designated scooter lanes.

In our Wild West of transportation, no one knows what to do about scooters. They appeared suddenly in many towns and villages, triggering complaints of clutter and blocked sidewalks. When ridden, scooters emerged as sidewalk bullies fast enough to unsettle pedestrians and create safety issues. But force scooters into the streets and they are slow and vulnerable amid two-ton vehicles, not to mention potholes that can swallow small tires. In some countries, for example, nighttime driving for e-scooters is banned since the incidence of scooter deaths at night was on the increase. Not to mention the erratic driving of e-scooter drivers under the influence of drink or drugs.

Because scooterists tend to take risks to further their travel along at a faster pace, they put themselves at a higher chance of risk. Accidents occur. As small as the scooter is, it does not stand a chance against a car. Because of this, lots of scooterists may risk being injured. In cases where they strike a pedestrian, the pedestrian may either get killed or severely injured. Helmets are necessary and vital to safety, but electric scooterists do not seem to be receiving the message.

Perhaps the biggest problem with electric scooters is the overall lack of enforcement. Touched on before, the preference to ride without helmets is just one small aspect of this problem. While you are supposed to ride with a driver’s license, many do not. While you are not supposed to ride on the sidewalk, many do. The regulation and enforcement of these rules are unclear.

Does it fall under private or public enforcement? Without clear answers, these problems will continue and violators will continuously fall through the cracks. In some towns and villages, the scooters have been welcomed and in other places, like Sliema and Msida, from where I hail, people would wish to round them up in a huge heap and bulldoze them away.

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