Wednesday 21 August 2019

E-scooters seized as gardai warn riders to stay off streets

FATAL: YouTuber Emily Hartridge being given her e-scooter
FATAL: YouTuber Emily Hartridge being given her e-scooter
TRAGIC: Mark Sands

Alan O'Keeffe

The apparent 'freedom of the streets' being enjoyed by growing numbers of e-scooter owners may soon be brought to a halt. As more than 2,000 people glide around the streets of Dublin on electric scooters during rush hour, seizures of the e-scooters are continuing.

"Gardai have seized a number of them. The cases will be appearing in the courts in the coming months," said a garda spokesman.

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Sales of e-scooters are strong as the public believes their use is a legal grey area.

Department of Transport officials are preparing a list of options for minister Shane Ross who is devising official policy on the use of the low-tech environmentally-friendly vehicles.

Safety concerns deepened with the recent death of Channel 4 and YouTube star Emily Hartridge (35). She was killed when her e-scooter collided with a lorry in London eight days ago.

In February, Irish student Mark Sands (21), from Blackrock, Co Louth, was riding an e-scooter when he was fatally injured in a traffic accident in Texas.

Two hospitals in the US treated 249 people involved in e-scooter accidents in a 12-month period. One in three of the riders suffered head trauma while only four per cent were wearing helmets. Some 40pc of the casualties suffered broken bones.

The most vulnerable e-scooter users are those who ride while intoxicated with alcohol or drugs. In a single weekend in Copenhagen, police caught 24 people riding scooters while drunk. They stopped another four riders who were stoned.

Garda authorities say there is no doubt about the law in Ireland and they have declared e-scooters to be illegal on our roads.

E-scooters are mechanically propelled vehicles which must be insured and taxed if used on Irish roads. But there is no provision for taxing or insuring them here.

The Garda spokesman said: "The Road Traffic Act defines a mechanically propelled vehicle as a vehicle intended or adapted for propulsion by mechanical means.

"It also includes a vehicle the means of propulsion of which is electrical, or partly electrical and partly mechanical. Whether or not a vehicle requires a push-start is legally irrelevant.

"E-scooters and powered skateboards fall into this category, and are therefore considered to be mechanically propelled vehicles. Any users of such vehicles in a public place must have insurance, road tax and a driving licence, with penalties under road traffic laws, including fixed charge notices, penalty points, fines and possible seizure of the vehicle."

The spokesman added: "As it is currently not possible to tax or insure e-scooters or electric skateboards, they are not considered suitable for use in a public place. There is no anomaly within the law."

Transport minister Shane Ross asked the Road Safety Authority to research how e-scooters and other such vehicles are regulated in other countries, particularly other EU states.

He will make a decision on whether or not to amend existing laws when he has considered the outcome of the authority's research.

The garda spokesman added: "The minister would need to be satisfied that permitting such vehicles on our roads will not give rise to safety concerns, whether for the users of such machines or for other road users including cyclists, pedestrians and motorists."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport told the Sunday Independent that the report from the Road Safety Authority was received by the department last month.

The report "is currently being considered by officials, in consultation with other key stakeholders, before being formally submitted to the minister for his consideration".

In Britain, an official ban on e-scooters remains in place.

An explosion in the use of e-scooters in some European and US cities was sparked by companies hiring them out to the public but without providing any docking areas. As a result, they ended up strewn around on footpaths. The rental scooters are activated by mobile phone apps.

While the scooters were welcomed by many as eco-friendly solutions to air pollution and traffic jams, there have been an equal number of detractors who view them as nuisances and hazards to public safety.

Barcelona has banned them, while Paris and Brussels have imposed strict controls on their use.

Greenaer is one of several businesses in Dublin selling e-scooters. Staff member Chris Latchford said they were becoming popular because people could rapidly get to work without being dependent on public transport.

"People can carry them into their offices instead of having to find a place to lock their bicycles," he said.

"We sell many for around €900 to €1,000. The politicians have not yet caught up with the people on the use of e-scooters. It would be ludicrous not to allow them. They are far less hassle than a pushbike."

Another business, Lifty Electric Scooters, does its business online. Owner Marco Sants said a big selling point is it does not involve the sweaty business of cycling to work. "E-scooter owners get to work without sweating," he said.

"I have tried to tax an e-scooter but was not able to get it taxed. It's a grey area.

"Safety is important. When I rent or sell, I insist every customer has a helmet, a high-visibility vest and a driving licence."

As electric car sales grow with the blessing of the State, fans of electric scooters believe the next logical step will be to bring in rules to regulate their safe use on the nation's roads.

Sunday Independent

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