SINGAPORE: They may seem light, minimalist devices, but a hit by an e-scooter packs a wallop about nine times that of an average person’s punch – or more energy than a professional boxer’s punch.
And that’s if the e-scooter is travelling at the legal limit of 15kmh when it hits you.
This is enough force to easily send a grown man flying into the air, what more a frail senior citizen or a young child. But even so, it’s not the direct impact of the collision itself that pedestrians should be concerned about.
It’s what happens next that is the most dangerous, according to Associate Professor Yap Fook Fah from the School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering at Nanyang Technological University.
“As the body falls, the head will hit the ground at a speed of 15kmh, 20kmh or even higher - that is equal to 1.5 or two tonnes of force,” he told the programme Talking Point, after demonstrating the magnitude of the impact in a lab.
Studies show that this "could lead to very serious head injuries such as loss of consciousness, skull fracture, haemorrhage, tissue damage and so on”.
And then, he added for good measure – if the pedestrian is “really unlucky”, this is followed by the rider landing on the pedestrian, crushing him or her.
In March, a 45-year-old woman had to undergo brain surgery after she was hit by an e-scooter as she stepped off an overhead bridge. A 23-year-old man was arrested for causing a rash act.
In a recent episode, Talking Point explored the debate on whether personal mobility devices (PMDs) like e-scooters should be more stringently regulated, or even banned from footpaths altogether.
CAN’T STOP IN TIME
From January to September 2017, there were about 110 accidents involving PMDs. Of these, 30 involved pedestrians on footpaths and walkways.
The same year, the authorities decided on more stringent rules that would move e-scooters from the roads to the pavements, with speeds capped at 15kmh on footpaths and 25kmh on shared and cycling paths.
But it’s not the physics of a collision alone that makes e-scooters a potentially growing danger in Singapore: There’s the proliferation of these devices, particularly in the hands of young and inexperienced riders; and the fact that stopping in time is not as simple as some riders might think.
To illustrate, programme host Diana Ser conducted an experiment where an e-scooter rider had to brake when the host flagged her to stop. In the first run-throughs at 15kmh, it took the rider 1.65m to 3.2m to come to a complete stop.
The implication: Even at the legal speed limit, the likelihood of collision is extremely high if a pedestrian suddenly appears in front of a rider.
When the rider ratcheted her speed up to 25kmh – the legal limit on shared paths – it took her up to 7m to come to a complete stop.
The lag times make these devices particularly dangerous when ridden in places like void decks.
Take 65-year-old Madam Lee, who in April, was stepping out of a lift when she was hit from behind and fell. She hadn’t heard the e-scooter coming.
The rider, who also fell, picked up his device and sped off without so much as a word, she recalled.
“I screamed, “Why did you ride here? You can’t ride here,” said Mdm Lee who suffered a cut on the face and some bruises. (Read: 15-year-old assisting police in Ang Mo Kio e-scooter accident investigation)
In another incident that same month, a 24-year-old e-scooter rider was arrested after crashing into an 11-year-old girl from behind. She needed to have her jaw and gums realigned, aside from losing two teeth, said her father.
AGE, IMMATURITY PLAY A PART
Then there are those who illegally modify their rides to travel in excess of 100kmh – faster than some motorcycles.
Mr Victor Lee, general manager of e-scooter distributor Falcon PEV, said he has heard that the highest speed clocked by an e-scooter was a staggering 140kmh.
Last October, three men aged between 32 and 37 were arrested after they were caught riding their e-scooters at speeds of more than 100kmh along Nicoll Drive.
Still, Mr Lee was of the view that it is the rider, not the ride, that makes the difference.
“A very experienced rider – whether he’s riding a modified or a fully compliant e-scooter – would have the foresight and awareness to slow down to a speed that he can handle, and that is safe for the public,” he said.
WATCH: From braking, to impact (2:13)
Many accidents are caused by young riders, typically below 20 years of age, he said. “They are the ones who, due to a lack of maturity, training and experience, do get into more accidents.”
And with more e-scooter sharing services entering the market, there have been concerns over how responsible these service providers are.
Telepod, the first e-scooter hire service to launch in Singapore, said they impose no minimum age limit. Their youngest user is a primary school student.
But to use their services, riders are required to have a debit or credit card, said chief executive Ms Gan Jin Ni, and most young children would not have access to these unless they had their parents’ permission.
“We actually have some form of control because the parents would be aware, and they would decide whether they want the kid to use the service or not,” she said.
REVIEW SPEED LIMITS, OR BAN E-SCOOTERS
Elsewhere in the world, the tide is turning: In San Francisco earlier this year, for example, e-scooter sharing companies were prohibited from operating.
In Singapore, the number of riders travelling in an inconsiderate and reckless manner has been rising, noted the Active Mobility Advisory Panel. Hence its proposed mandatory registration for all e-scooters, to kick in later this year.
This month, the Active Mobility Act took effect, which not only spells out the rules and codes of conduct for the safe use of PMDs, but also gives the authorities more teeth to deal with reckless PMD users.
But for all these measures, the presence of e-scooters on pavements here is still provoking debate.
For instance, in Parliament this week, Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan called for the “unsafe” speed limit of 25kmh on shared paths such as park connectors to be lowered.
Others are calling for an outright ban on e-scooters from footpaths - given impetus by the rising number of accidents and people feeling unsafe, acknowledged Mr Andrew Cheah, acting director for the Land Transport Authority’s Active Mobility Unit.
He said the unit is keeping “a very close eye on the situation on the ground”, and hoped for a more gracious culture where all pedestrians and riders “behave responsibly and co-exist in a respectful manner”.
“But say, in the future we find that it is difficult to achieve this and more measures are needed –it is safe to say that we will not hesitate to take firmer action as well,” he added.
Watch this episode of Talking Point here. New episodes every Thursday at 9.30pm on Mediacorp Channel 5.