14 December 2019
Travis Schultz savvy shoppers beware e-scooters

It’s that time of year again. The Christmas lights are up, the stockings are out of the cupboard and the sales are whipping consumers into a shopping frenzy.

Among drones and wireless headphones, one of the most popular gifts anticipated to sell out before Christmas 2019, is the electronic scooter or e-scooter.

If you have one on your Christmas list you might want to ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Do you know where you can legally ride an e-scooter?
  2. What size does the motor need to be?
  3. At what speed must you adhere to in a public space?

And if you don’t know the answers to these questions you are not alone!

With major retailers now stocking the devices, e-scooters are set to become a Christmas favourite. But there are rising concerns over the safety of e-scooters, compounded by the very uncertain and confusing legal landscape in which they reside.

Since shareable e-scooter trials first hit the streets in September 2017, there have been 22 recorded scooter-related deaths worldwide, including one in Australia.

Brisbane became the first city to allow the trial of Lime e-scooters in November 2018.

Queensland is the only State or Territory in Australia where an electronic scooter above 200W can be ridden on footpaths like bike paths and local streets, and is the only State where riders can travel above 10 km/h.

If you live in New South Wales, South Australia or Western Australia, then it is only legal for you to ride your new Christmas present on private property. It’s a different story again for Tasmania, Victoria, the Northern Territory and ACT. Confused yet?

Regulators have struggled to keep up with the technology and demand for e-scooters, leaving consumers at risk of inadvertently breaking the law – or worse – finding themselves seriously out-of-pocket in medical and legal fees following an incident.

The legislation is so fragmented, it also makes the sale of these products very difficult, and already there are reports of retail employees giving inaccurate advice to consumers on the laws.

I’ve previously been vocal in sharing my concerns on the rise of e-scooter public trials in Australia. In particular, I find it disturbing that thanks to amended Queensland Legislation in December 2018, companies such as Lime Scooters can avoid registration of their scooters, therefore skipping the requirement to provide Compulsory Third Party Insurance to their consumers.

And, I am not the only one in the industry raising concerns. Last month, the Motor Accident Insurance Commission (MAIC) along with the Jamieson Trauma Institute (JTI) presented their findings into the challenging landscape of collecting injury data in e-scooter related incidents and the lack of information and simplistic figures available to regulators.

The MAIC and JTI suggest that rapid implementation of e-scooter trials with minimal consultation with the clinical community is limiting the opportunity to implement proactive data collection, resulting in a heavy reliance on retrospective data.

This may not sound like an earth-shattering dilemma, however, when that simplistic data is being used to inform local councils regarding the commencement or continuation of e-scooter trials, and informing the drafting of revised Australian Road Rules, there should be cause for concern.

In Brisbane, there were 1.8 million Lime trips recorded between November 2018 and the end of October 2019. The estimated Emergency Department presentations of Lime scooter-related injuries in the same time frame was 447. This equates to 27 injuries per 100,000 trips. Lime estimated 1 injury per 100,000 trips for their New Zealand market, as a comparison.

The MAIC says there are still lots of unanswered questions when it comes to understanding the consequences of e-scooter trials in Australia. For instance, there is little known about the direct or underlying cause of crashes involving e-scooters, if the incidents involve alcohol misuse or helmet use, the severity of injuries, injury hot spots, the cost of medical treatment and the impact on health services, or if there are any product-related issues such as breaking failure or wheels locking up.

So what does this all mean and where does it leave the savvy Christmas shopper? The MAIC and JTI say there is a need for a data sharing agreement between a range of stakeholders across the e-scooter landscape including the police, health, local councils, transport and e-scooter companies. I also agree with their finding that community consultation, education and publicity is essential prior to any public trial and proactive engagement with companies to stay up-to-date with new products before they are ‘guinea pigged’ on the broader community.

I still maintain there is an urgent need for companies to proactively offer consumers of their products public liability insurance to protect the consumer in the wake of an accident.

And if you are considering an e-scooter for your Christmas stocking, ensure you understand the laws where you live so your scooter is used safely and legally.