The number of scooters and electric mini-vehicles in our streets. Especially in big cities, where the traffic is often congested, people are finding in scooters a valid alternative to their conventional means of transport. Scooters allow people to bypass the traffic, enjoy the fresh air during their trips, save money on fuel and expensive vehicles, and also contribute to the fight against pollution and global warming.
As we see more and more scooters in our streets, however, asking ourselves “are these scooters dangerous?” is a fair question. The answer is more complex than a simple yes or no, that’s why we decided to do some research and provide a detailed discussion in this article.
Are these scooters safe? We’re going to discuss the topic under a copula of point of view taking into consideration how these mini-vehicles are perceived and then analyzing the data about fatality and injury.
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Are scooters safe? The users’ perception
If the use of scooters is increasing so much it must be because people all around the world are appreciating the benefits it provides. On the other side, many of them are also worried about their safety. In this section we’re going to discuss what are the benefits and risks of scooters according to people’s perception (without considering the data).
What are scooters used for?
A study conducted in September 2020 has collected data about who are the people that opt for scooters for their mobility (including a percentage of non-riders), what they use them for, and what benefits and risks they perceive about it.
The study revealed that the majority of people (72%) use their scooter as a real means of transportation, riding to or from work, or other types of activities. Scooters are also used for fun or leisure.
These people were also asked what means of transportation they were replaced with their scooter: the majority of them answered that, if their scooter wasn’t available, they’d simply walk. This means that more than replacing polluting vehicles, scooters are a faster and less tiring alternative to walking. Therefore, their path often avoids busy streets where the danger of traffic is higher: the risk, in this case, is only given by the possibility of slipping on the pavement or losing control of their electric scooter. To get an idea about how often these types of accidents happen, see the dedicated paragraph below.
However, the percentage of people who have replaced their car with a scooter isn’t negligible: 25% of the interviewed people claimed that their scooter is their alternative to their car. Are these people more likely to have an accident compared to those who are driving a car? Data says no (see the dedicated paragraph).
What are the perceived benefits of using a scooter?
During the same study we’ve quoted above, participants were asked why they enjoyed replacing their walking or bicycle trips with e-scooters. The majority of them answered that the main reason was speed: riding an e-scooter is faster than walking. The other reasons that were mentioned were e-scooters’ convenience and fun. A lot of riders just enjoy their trips on their electric scooters: fun and relaxation revealed themselves to be two of the main reasons why people opt for scooters over walking or riding their bicycle.
As you can see, none of the participants mentioned that their choice was for safety reasons: nobody chooses to ride an electric or conventional scooter instead of walking because it is considered safer. Participants only mentioned safety in relation to crime: electric scooters are considered safer from crime so that if you’re riding your scooter instead of walking, attackers are less likely to bother you.
However, no one mentioned increased safety from traffic, for example. Does this mean that people, even those who ride their electric scooters every day, think that electric scooters are dangerous?
What are the perceived risks of using a scooter?
Those same participants were asked what they didn’t like about riding scooters. The participants who were not riders were also asked why they didn’t do it. In this part of the study, the issue of safety was central.
While many non-riders are simply happy with their current means of transport, a big percentage of them claim that they don’t like electric scooters because they’re too afraid of hitting someone. The riding skills are also a cause of concern: many people feel unsteady on a scooter and they’re afraid they’re going to lose control. Some also address the unsafety of streets that have not yet been upgraded in a way that is safe for scooter riders.
All these issues were also addressed by riders, even though they are less worried about their riding skills.
When we put together this information, we can see how scooters and electric scooters can be perceived as dangerous. On one side, people are worried about traffic: the city traffic and infrastructure are not yet ready and used to e-scooter riders among them and this is what makes riders and non-riders feel unsafe.
But are electric scooters dangerous even for other reasons? People are afraid that they may lose control of their device and hit someone, for example. But isn’t this something that could happen even while driving a car? Are these perceived dangers real? Electric scooter riders are more likely to encounter any accident?
To answer these questions, we have no other choice than to take a look at some data. Electric scooters haven’t been around for long, but we already have some data concerning riders’ accidents of different sorts. Let’s take a look at them!
If we take a look at some recent studies that compare hospital admissions for traffic injuries, we can have a clear idea about whether electric scooter trips are more likely to result in an injury than bicycle, car, or other motor vehicle trips.
The studies revealed that bicycle and e-scooter risks are similar in terms of hospital visits. The comparison with the number of injuries occurring as a consequence of car accidents (or other vehicles) is still hard to do, due to a lack of detailed studies available.
The data at our disposal, however, tell us that these injuries:
are often due to accidents involving another motor vehicle;
rarely involve pedestrians;
are sometimes due to the poor conditions of the street floor;
are aggravated by a lack of helmet use.
So, are electric scooters safe? In general, it seems that riding an electric scooter in the street is just as safe or dangerous as driving, riding a bike, or walking.
To investigate whether using a scooter as a means of transport is more or less dangerous than driving a vehicle such as a car, we are going to take a look at the reported fatality data in the USA (where electric scooters are most popular) in a period that goes from the end of 2018 (when electric scooters began to become more and more popular thanks to e-scooter sharing provided by companies such as Bird or Lime) to 2019.
At the end of 2018 more than 80,000 electric scooters were available for rent in the USA area, and the number at least doubled during 2019. In this period, 29 people have died in electric scooter accidents. Most of these fatalities involved a collision with a motor vehicle and resulted in the death of the rider. On a couple of occasions, the accident involved a rider who hit a pedestrian and resulted in the death of the pedestrian.
What about cars? In the same period, more than 36,500 motor vehicle fatalities occurred in the US. Riding a bike doesn’t seem safer than riding a scooter: in 2018-2019, 29 fatalities involving a bike rider occurred just in the city of New York.
As these data confirm, a trip by an electric or conventional scooter is not more likely to result in a traffic fatality than a trip by car or other motor vehicles. Furthermore, bicycles don’t seem to be safer than electric scooters as well.
How to stay safe on your electric scooter?
Buy a safe scooter
Many people opt for an electric scooter because of money-saving: an electric scooter is cheaper than a car or a motorcycle and it doesn’t require additional money spent on fuel. Even though you want to save money, avoid cheap and weak electric scooters.
Cheap electric scooters may look just as big and strong as more expensive ones, but why can they be more dangerous?
They have a weak structure and an unsafe folding system that can result in the electric scooter’s structure failing while you’re riding it.
They don’t have efficient brakes. Brakes need to be able to slow down the electric scooter but also to stop it abruptly and safely, without locking its tires. Cheap electric scooters often don’t feature an ABS which is the system that avoids the wheels from locking and your electric scooter from slipping on the terrain.
They don’t have a proper set of lights. Even if you don’t ride at night, you want to have a proper set of lights that makes you visible in the street.
Riding under the rain is certainly more dangerous than riding on dry terrain. What do you need to pay attention to while riding in the rain?
First of all, you should avoid riding in the rain unless you have an electric scooter that has an IPX5 (or higher) waterproof certification. Most electric scooters called “waterproof” are actually protected against splashes of water, but they can’t be ridden under the rain.
Rain worsens the visibility, yours and the one of every street user. This means that when you’re riding your electric scooter under the rain you want to make sure you have lights powerful enough that makes you visible, and also a strong and powerful headlight that makes you see where you’re going.
Wet terrains are slippery. Slipping with your electric scooter can be very dangerous: you could fall or hit someone or a big vehicle. Tires and brakes quality are the features that prevent you from slipping. Avoid smooth tires under the rain and opt for an electric scooter provided with ABS.
Just like any other vehicle, electric scooters need some maintenance too. When you take care properly of your scooter, it will keep on working for a longer time and you’re also safer on the street.
The main features that require maintenance are the tires, especially if they’re inflated ones. You need to check their pressure regularly: if it’s too low or high, your stability on your electric scooter would be compromised. Also, check them for any sign of damage, and do the same for your battery.
Batteries are also important for your safety: they can become extremely hot and even – in some rare cases – explode. Avoid leaving your electric scooter plugged into its charger for hours after it’s 100% charged and – when possible – plug it in a place where you can take a look at it.
You’re not the only street user out there: ride responsibly, respect the speed limits, keep your eyes on the street. In one word, keep your attention as high as though you were driving or riding any other vehicle.
You need to have a responsibility even towards yourself: safety gears, such as a helmet, aren’t mandatory when you ride your electric scooter, but it can make your riding much safer. Do not wait for the law to make them mandatory, be responsible and wear at least a helmet when you ride your electric scooter.
Electric scooters are means of transport and therefore there are rules that riders need to respect in order to be safe on the street and guarantee the other street users’ safety as well.
In most cities, the speed limit for electric scooters is 15 mph. So, if you’re in traffic you need to respect this rule if you want to be safe. In some cities, electric scooters are not allowed in the main streets but only in pedestrian paths. This is usually meant for your safety because the traffic in those streets is too intense to guarantee a rider’s safety. If you’re not allowed in a street, do not go there – it’s for your safety.
Are electric scooters safe for children?
Electric scooters aren’t just a means of transport for adults. Many models of electric scooters are dedicated to children: they can ride in the park or they can use it to commute to school when they reach the proper age. But are electric scooters dangerous for them?
If you take a closer look at the issue, we could come to the conclusion that the same safety principles that apply to adults also apply to children. Electric scooters aren’t dangerous for children if you pay attention to some details:
Provide them with electric scooters aimed at children. These electric scooters are smaller in size and more lightweight so that children have no difficulty handling them. They also have a limited speed and brakes that are strong and easy to use.
Teach your kids how to ride responsibly. Before letting your children ride in the park or commute to school, make sure they’ve become skilled riders.
Provide your children with safety gear. Safety gear is important for adults as much as it is important for children. When kids ride their electric scooter they should at least wear a helmet.
Teach kids traffic rules. Traffic rules don’t only apply to the busy streets downtown. Kids need to know how to behave even towards pedestrians they may encounter at the park.
Proper shoes. It’s important that riders don’t slip on the electric scooter’s deck. Sandals and flip-flops aren’t suitable for scooter riding. Teach your children that they need to wear proper non-slippery shoes when they ride their electric scooter.
Electric scooters are quite new on our streets and this is why many are wondering whether it is safe or not to ride one. The evidence studies and riders’ experiences collected so far show that riding an electric scooter isn’t safer or more dangerous than driving any other vehicle.
Also, riders have many ways of improving their safety on the streets and on their electric scooters. As technology develops and as street users become more and more used to the presence of electric scooters in the streets, we believe that scooter riders will be even safer in the future.