Light electric vehicles, that is, electric scooters, have returned to the cityscape and public debate has started about them.
The debate is characterised by the various challenges to traffic safety that are caused by some riders of scooters. Serious accidents that have happened to riders of electric scooters, and other accidents involving them, are discussed.
The current topics of public debate include intoxication while riding an electric scooter, the rules of giving way, and issues related to the use of various parts of the road, and parking.
Common rules necessary
The appearance of electric scooters in the cityscape has again posed challenges this spring. And these challenges cannot be tackled only through measures taken by one or a few parties, but a common effort by the whole society is needed. Both citizens and legislators must be involved, and also the civil service in between.
Value judgment of various objects of legal protection may come up when the challenges are mitigated. For example, how high value do we place people’s health, and traffic safety, for example, in relation to other objects of legal protection.
It is certainly challenging for local authorities to try and guide the use of electric scooters so that all residents of the municipality are taken into account. The role of the police is to supervise the legislation that has been passed, and we do that on an everyday basis.
Traffic rules the same as for cyclists
Light electric vehicles were permitted in Finland in 2016. Common features of these vehicles include maximum motor power of 1 kW and maximum structural speed of 25 km/h.
The Road Traffic Act does not define these vehicles as motor vehicles. Instead, riders of these vehicles are obliged by law to comply with the traffic rules that apply to cyclists. As an exception to this, self-balancing light electric vehicles, that is, vehicles that stay balanced even without anyone riding them, can use the pavement.
Electric scooters are by far the most common light electric vehicles, and they have become very popular in the largest cities, due to the expansion of rental companies’ operations.
The situation varies greatly across the country
The situation is different in various parts of Finland. The National Police Board collected information from police departments around the country to put together an overview of the situation.
- In the area of Eastern Finland Police Department in Kuopio, the number of scooters is high and the main problems include riding on the pavement and, to some extent, parking. The problems are similar in Joensuu and Mikkeli. Accidents resulting in injuries have happened.
- In the area of Eastern Uusimaa Police Department, electric scooters are used on a small scale and have not caused any major problems for the police.
- In Helsinki, there are several operators and scooters are parked at random across the city, even though the operators have taken measures to remedy the situation. Accidents happen on a daily basis. One of Helsinki Police Department’s main themes for the summer is supervision of electric scooters, and the supervision has become stricter.
- In the area of Häme Police Department, Lahti and Hämeenlinna have scooters. Problems include riding on the pavement and unruly parking. Several accidents resulting in injuries have happened.
- In the area of Southeastern Finland, Kotka and Lappeenranta have scooters, and the most recent additions this spring include the cities of Kouvola and Imatra. Some accidents have happened, but as a whole, electric scooters have not caused any major problems yet.
- In the area of Lapland Police Department, electric scooter rental has started in Rovaniemi this spring. Unruly parking of scooters, for example on bicycle routes and pedestrial streets, has already been seen. Several accidents have happened in the area, and many of them have involved intoxication.
- In the area of Southwestern Finland Police Department, electric scooters are available for rent in Turku and Pori, and problems include unlawful use of pavements, overtaking at too close range, intoxication and performing tricks on the scooters. For the police, riding of scooters and cycling are among the permanent targets of supervision for the time being.
- In Western Uusimaa, scooters are available in southern Espoo and their use is expanding continuously. In the main, electric scooters are used appropriately, but sometimes young people use the scooters for purposes other than riding, and problems come up with parking, regardless of remedial measures taken by operators. Several accidents resulting in injury have happened, often involving children on a zebra crossing.
Information about accidents makes for grim reading
Last week, the Finnish Medical Society Duodecim’s medical journal published news about accidents involving electric scooters, and they make for grim reading. Of those injured, 71–91 per cent were under the influence of alcohol and the accidents typically happened at night.
Last year, news released by the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa revealed that in May–June, Meilahti Emergency Department admitted for treatment a total of 143 persons injured in electric scooter accidents. Typical injuries targeted the head, including the brain, the face and teeth. During the same period, 72 persons injured in cycling accidents were treated in Meilahti.
Injuries caused by collision with scooters left on the pavement or bicycle path have also been reported.
In order to avoid accidents, it is important to pay attention to other people in traffic, and to observe traffic rules.
It seems that riders of electric scooters have room for improvement in the knowledge of and compliance with rules on giving way, that apply to cyclists and motor vehicle traffic, and parking regulations, anticipation of situations, keeping a sufficiently low situational speed, operating a scooter only when sober, and minding children in particular. The same applies to other road users as well.
Municipalities and other parties responsible for road maintenance also have challenges in making the traffic environment safe, as do legislators and the police that enforce the law in traffic surveillance.
Key traffic rules:
The National Police Board emphasises that compliance with traffic rules is vital to ensure the safety of all parties concerned.
- Electric scooters belong to the bicycle path or lane, not on the pavement. Children under 12 years of age may ride on the pavement if it does not cause problems for pedestrians.
- Electric scooters must not be parked so as to cause danger or harm to other traffic. This rule also applies to parking on the pavement or bicycle path. A penalty for endangering traffic safety may be imposed on anyone violating this rule.
- When riding across the driveway from a bicycle path (even when using a zebra crossing), vehicles driving straight on the driveway must be given right of way, unless they are under the obligation to give way as indicated by a traffic sign. At a crossing, turning vehicles must give way to an electric scooter that continues on its way across the crossing road, but even in such situations, it is important for the electric scooter rider to ensure safety and make sure that the driver of the vehicle has noticed them.
- Children must be approached with particular caution when operating any vehicle.
- Carrying a passenger on an electric scooter is not permitted (unless the vehicle is equipped with a seat suitable for a passenger).
- According to the Road Traffic Act, it is prohibited to operate any vehicle if the driver does not have the prerequisites to do so, for example due to intoxication. Breaking this rule carries a punishment of 12 day-fines for endangering traffic safety. In cases of causing concrete danger, the offence will be driving when intoxicated using a non-motorised vehicle.
The most important consequence of following rules is not that one does not get punished, but that traffic is predictable and safe. In addition to compliance with rules, it is important to act with due caution required in the circumstances and prepare for situations that can be anticipated, and choose a safe speed for the conditions in each traffic environment. This applies to all means of transport.
There is legislation in force in Finland concerning light electric vehicles. However, it seems that more regulation is needed. It looks like no-one is in control of the overall picture at present.