Innovation is always good, or at least I thought it was until I first saw an e-scooter. Springing up left right and centre in British cities at the moment – with a 450 percent rise in their use in the last year – these horrible contraptions are unfortunately set to make their first legal appearance in London next week as part of a government-sponsored trial to decide whether to allow them permanently.
Let us hope this does not last long as the problems with them are endless. Starting with their use by groups of young people looking to cause trouble. Whereas, whilst bicycles have long been used for this purpose, the additional mobility e-scooters provide creates an even wider opportunity for anti-social behaviour, with the practice of gangs deliberately slowing down to hold up cars behind, before zapping away to escape along pavements a common phenomenon. Worse, they are also being used for violent crime, with victims such as 14-year-old schoolboy Fares Maatou who was tragically murdered by assailants this April, who then used his scooter to escape.
For the disabled the risks of these scooters is almost as great. Powered by electric motors, the silent hum they emit means they often seemingly come out of nowhere. Combined with the obnoxious tendency of many of their riders to go on their phones and worse use headphones when riding, collisions are a regular occurrence. It is no wonder then that organisations such as the National Federation of the Blind and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents strongly oppose their introduction.
Perhaps the biggest problem with them, is that for the riders themselves they are also incredibly unsafe – being able to reach speeds of up to 70 miles per hour, via a relatively easy hacking procedure. Unsurprisingly then, a recent TFL study using data from the US found that they are as much as one hundred times more dangerous than bicycles, with hospital treatment for riders needed around every three years on average. So, given that these scooters seem to be the latest youth fad – with riding them, and fast, seen as ‘cool’ – it would be deeply irresponsible to ease access to even further, knowing the risks.
Some say all that is needed is greater regulation, but it is clear that this is not working. Rules are already in place to cap speeds at 15.5 miles per hour, to require a driving licence and insurance for riders, as well as to ban the riding of them on pavements and roads in non-trial areas – yet it is undeniable these are being flouted all the time. For example, as of November 2020, the Metropolitan Police have seized 268 scooters and issued over 600 warnings for illegal use. Most shockingly, in January, there was even a rider found by South Yorkshire Police driving a scooter down the M1 in the pitch black and rain at 5.20am.
Exceptional circumstances require exceptional measures, so as unusual as it is to have to jettison free market principles, in this particular case I have no shame in saying nothing less than a total ban on new sales, a seizure and compulsory buyback of existing ones, and an efficacious police crackdown on their use will do.