Tougher e-scooter safety measures called for in legislation

Organisations representing disabled pedestrians concerned about silence and speed

Charities representing disabled pedestrians are calling for sound devices and stricter speed limits for e-scooters as legislation governing the increasingly popular devices reaches its next stage this week.

The Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021 will be debated in the Dáil on Wednesday and Thursday but the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) said efforts to have audio devices mandated so that people can hear approaching scooters have so far gone unheeded.

"E-scooters are becoming so prevalent and in terms of making sure everyone can use footpaths safely there is a growing sense of fear that they will compromise that," NCBI spokeswoman June Tinsley told The Irish Times.

The NCBI, along with the Irish Wheelchair Association and Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind are appealing to Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan to include a number of key changes.

Specifically, they have noted the current Heads of Bill fail to expressly prohibit the use of e-scooters on footpaths or in shared spaces, to require audio alert systems or specific parking infrastructure to prevent them being left “haphazardly on our footpaths and streets”.

They also say a maximum speed of 20kms/h is excessive by comparison to limits in place in other European cities.

The NCBI says near misses with visually impaired people attempting to cross roads and walk on footpaths where silent e-scooters present a potential threat is an issue that needs to be recognised in the design of legislation.

It has also engaged with opposition TDs on a minimum standard of safety provisions.

Léan Kennedy, advocacy and policy officer at Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind has had a close encounter on a footpath with her dog Higgins and says the animals can find such encounters challenging.

“E-scooters are silent, they can’t hear them. Often guide dogs can’t gauge the distance in terms of how much space they have so the best decision they can make is just to stop but often a visually impaired person doesn’t know why the dog has stopped,” she said.

“It’s really disconcerting and you [then] have to settle the dog and encourage it to keep going.”

Safety concerns are set in the context of a probable increase in use with scooters are expected to form part of a major a shift toward electric transport options as part of Government strategy to cut carbon emissions.

As well as private purchase, many e-scooters will become available through rental companies with more than 20 operators having expressed interest in launching shared services.

Long anticipated legislation formalising their use was approved by Government in October and is expected to be concluded before Christmas.