Blog | 28 November 2023
Shared e-scooters aren't necessarily unsafe
Whereas most opinion leaders are either fervently pro or against electric transportation like e-scooters and electric cars, the Belgian road safety expert Stef Willems, perhaps surprisingly, has a nuanced view. ‘Right now, we don't have enough data to really know how switching to electric vehicles affects road safety.’
Good to know
About Stef Willems
Stef Willems represents the Belgian Institute for Road Safety (VIAS). His argument is clear: the electrification of transportation cannot be prevented. It's the responsibility of governments to closely monitor the impact of this transition on road safety and intervene when necessary. ‘To ensure the safety of all road users, Brussels has reduced the maximum vehicle speed to thirty kilometers per hour.’
To begin: could you briefly describe VIAS?
‘VIAS is an independent Belgian knowledge institute for citizens, governments, and businesses. Our goal is to enhance road safety, mobility, and security. We take an integrated approach, involving stakeholders' input. We propose solutions for legislation addressing (infra)structural, technological, and social issues at local, national, and international levels."
In terms of sustainability, electric vehicles might benefit cities. But what about safety?
‘Right now, we don't have enough data to really know how switching to electric vehicles affects road safety. However, we do know that electric cars tend to be heavier on average than gasoline or diesel cars, due to the battery's weight. This implies that the impact of accidents at the same speed could be worse. Additionally, drivers of electric vehicles tend to accelerate faster, posing a concern for road safety.’
‘On the other hand, once electric cars are in motion, they generally aren't the speed demons out there. The battery requires significant power and runs out rapidly when used intensively. This acts as a deterrent. Of course, advancements will continue. Lighter batteries and increased ranges will become more common in the coming years. This will change the situation again.’
And what about electric bicycles?
‘The reality is: there has been an increase in accidents involving electric bicycles in recent years, often involving older individuals. But what's the cause of this? Firstly, electric cycling has become more popular, resulting in a higher number of accidents. Secondly, the elderly don't ride electric bikes faster than regular ones. But they are, compared to the past, more fit and mobile. This leads to increased cycling and consequently more accidents.’
‘What we do observe is that accidents, particularly those without another party involved, occur more frequently when mounting or dismounting electric bikes. This disproportionately affects the elderly, because they are more vulnerable. The issue during mounting often arises from the electric engine being in a higher gear. Riders take off and before they know it, the bike accelerates with them instead of the other way around. Additionally, e-bikes are much heavier. When a bike falls on top of someone, the injuries are worse.’
And the (shared) e-scooters in Brussels?
‘The (shared) e-scooters in Brussels are not necessarily unsafe, provided they are used responsibly, and users protect themselves with helmets and elbow pads. A growing number of people are embracing these scooters, either alone or in conjunction with public transit, as an alternative to cars. Usage regulations were tightened last year. They are no longer permitted on sidewalks, and there is a minimum age requirement of 16.’
‘There are pros and cons. E-scooters are more environmentally friendly than cars. On the other hand, due to their small wheels, the visibility for users is limited. Furthermore, there's a misguided belief among some that alcohol and drugs mix with scooter riding. This is rightfully prohibited.’
What's the primary role for governments?
‘In the broadest sense, governments must ensure safe traffic solutions in a sustainable manner. The electrification of the vehicle fleet is unstoppable. It's essential for society to have a diverse range of options available, particularly in terms of lighter vehicles.’
‘It is also critical for governments to monitor transportation-related developments and implement measures when necessary. What's entering the market? What's being adopted, and is it safe? Efforts should ultimately be directed toward encouraging people to embrace alternative modes of transportation. If electric bikes can discourage many individuals from driving fifteen kilometers to work, that’s a positive outcome for traffic. It also benefits public health, as cycling reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases.’
And what are the major challenges?
‘Some aspects cannot be regulated exclusively at the Belgian level. For instance, concerning e-scooters, VIAS is advocating for improved technical standards on a European scale. Belgium also supports type approval. However, this can only be achieved at the European level.’
‘Adapting the infrastructure poses another challenge. This requires time, and urban space is limited. Enforcing rules for all road users, especially the vulnerable ones, is a third challenge.’
Urban Road Safety Index 2023
How do 25 European cities fare when it comes to road safety?
In 2023, we asked 7,515 people who use the roads in 25 European cities.
We wanted to know how safe they feel when they are on the road. We also asked whether they avoid certain traffic situations and whether residents are waiting for all this (electric) shared mobility in traffic at all.
Download the whole report for free at the link below!