As I sped down the sidewalk on a rented electric scooter (also referred to as “e-scooter”), I was sure I would make it to school on time in October 2020. I zig-zagged through people, with some of them yelling curses for how close I passed them by. Rounding the final corner before school, a woman suddenly appeared, which made me swerve and crash into a wall and eventually break my wrist. The woman, who was also startled, fell over. A witness called an ambulance, and we were both taken to the emergency room. After this incident, I never rode an e-scooter again and came to the realization that e-scooters are dangerous for both riders and pedestrians. To ensure the safety of all parties, local governments must enact stricter e-scooter regulations.
|[My wrist in a cast after the e-scooter accident. Photo credit: Yunho Choi]|
The explosion of e-scooters on the streets worldwide has thus far been a boon for those in a rush or trying to avoid public transportation during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also, however, resulted in accidents involving pedestrians and vehicles, as well as solo crashes. In Seoul, where I live, the frequency of e-scooter accidents has skyrocketed, with the number of reported traffic accidents involving personal mobility devices increasing by 4.6-fold between 2017 and 2019 (from 29 to 134 cases), with two casualties and 225 injuries.
Currently, Seoul’s 16 mobility companies operate a total of 60,000 e-scooters. After the pandemic started, this figure increased by eight-fold (there were approximately 7,500 electric scooters operating in 2019). There are many reasons behind the e-scooter problems. Many riders do not wear helmets, ignore traffic rules by running red lights, circumvent the age requirement, and - in my case - at times, ride illegally on (pedestrian) sidewalks. Furthermore, many e-scooter users are not aware of the traffic mandate that e-scooters are required to be ridden on motor roads if there are no bike lanes available. Seoul Metropolitan Government is currently building more bike lanes, of which there are not enough to accommodate the explosive increase in riders. Another issue is that users leave their e-scooters in unauthorized places, which turns them into obstacles for pedestrians and those who wish to enter a commercial/residential building.
|[Rental e-scooters lined up on the sidewalk. Photo credit: Hankyum Kim]|
To get more information on e-scooters, I interviewed a classmate, Hyunbin Kim, who rents an e-scooter every day to get around the city and is a registered user of four personal mobility apps. Kim explained that he uses the city’s rental service because of its convenience: the e-scooters can be found on virtually every street corner, with the rental fee being very cheap at KRW 1,000 won as a base fee and with KRW 200 per additional minute. He usually rides one to and from school so that he can avoid a crowded bus and added that the e-scooters are fun to maneuver.
|[Screenshot of interview with Hyunbin Kim. Photo credit: Hankyum Kim]|
When I asked Kim how many accidents he has had so far, he responded that he crashed solo twice and had one accident involving a car. For the latter, he was in a motor lane when a car suddenly cut into his lane and braked, causing him to swerve in order to get out of the way and crash into a street light. Luckily, he was not seriously injured, but it was a reminder of how dangerous e-scooters can be. Despite everything, Kim admitted that he will keep riding e-scooters because they are cheap, readily available regardless of location, and more convenient than public transportation.
With 1.15 million people registered to rent e-scooters in the country, the safety of users and pedestrians is becoming increasingly important. What, then, is being done to improve the safety of e-scooters for riders like Hyunbin? Seoul Metropolitan Government has plans to build more bike lanes to accommodate e-scooters and introduce more regulations: as an example, the minimum rental age is just 13. There is also legislation planned to tow illegally parked e-scooters and require users to wear protective helmets. While the introduction of e-scooters has been received mostly positively because they are inexpensive, reduce traffic congestion, and can be picked up/dropped off anywhere, the rash of accidents has resulted in public demand for stricter regulatory efforts.
It is a good sign that stricter regulations are being considered seriously planned. Seoul Metropolitan Government, however, needs to be more vigilant about fast-tracking them so that the number of accidents decreases as soon as possible. While policies such as raising the minimum age and enforcing helmets are a good start, law also needs to enforce aspects that are directly related to road safety (e.g. traffic laws) and not hesitate to give traffic citations to e-scooter riders who violate the law. Once reckless riders are brought under control, the safety of both riders and pedestrians should start to improve.
Seoul Scholars International
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