Should Lime scooters stay or should they go?

by The Listener / 16 November, 2018
A Lime scooter. Photo/Getty Images

A Lime scooter. Photo/Getty Images

RelatedArticlesModule - Lime scooters

For every safety warning about Lime scooters, there’ll be a righteous uproar about the public good regarding the environment. It's about finding the right balance.

Four wheels bad, two wheels good – but not when they’re on the footpath.

The unresolved controversy over electric scooters has become a seething indignation burn-off between those who see them as a public safety risk and those who, in their thousands, are hiring and buying them. It’s fast becoming an intergenerational battlefield: the fun-police fogies versus green-conscious youth.

Confoundingly, the facts are inconvenient to both sides of the argument. Electric scooters are extremely popular, handy and environmentally friendly.

But they are a new safety risk. ACC statistics tell that story: nearly 150 scooter-related claims in the first two weeks of street-hire company Lime’s launch in Auckland and Christchurch. With the strong demand for scooters, more accidents are inevitable. As they can move at up to 27km/h, where few pedestrians travel at more than 5km/h, the danger is obvious, especially to children and the elderly, who are less able to leap out of the way of the near-silent machines.

The scooters have no suspension to speak of, so riders are at high risk of coming a cropper on uneven surfaces – and many have. The technology behind them is still evolving, with two recent global recalls of some models for smoulder-prone batteries and disintegration risk. Already, there has been a reported brake failure here in a public-hire scooter. And there’s no regulation requiring protective equipment such as helmets.

We could force scooters onto the road as with bikes, but that would only accelerate the accident rate. However brightly coloured, they’re far less visible than bicycles, and even confined to the cycle lane, their low speeds would frustrate other road users.

The ideal would be that we all learn to “share”. This is, after all, a popular and affordable new way to get people out of their cars – a goal near the top of the planet’s survival list. Just as drivers are legally obliged to share the road with cyclists, we could oblige pedestrians to cooperate and accommodate scooters.

The public backlash so far – not least from health professionals – suggests this would be a hard sell. It seems only a matter of time before a child is injured or killed by an e-scooter, and then what? Yes, cars will always be the No 1 killer on wheels. Yet the appalling fact that, in just six days in early November, nine people were killed on New Zealand roads, including children and a pregnant woman, is a stark reminder that no transport tragedy is “acceptable”. Lives are precious and must never be traded for convenience.

There’s no easy solution to this dilemma. Cycling is an “at your own risk” activity, but scooters on footpaths endanger other footpath users. It’s possible the Auckland Council will limit the permitted range of street hires after Lime’s three-month probation is up. But other cities, including Wellington, are letting them in, and they have a growing fan club. Every city wants to be seen as hip, green and youth-focused – sans the backlash following accidents.

The Lime experiment comes as a petition to allow children under 12 to ride bikes on the footpath gathers momentum. Save for the compulsory bike helmets, this proposal carries a similar risk profile to scooters. Children may be less adept at, or considerate about, keeping a safety margin around pedestrians.

Cycles on footpaths also carry the risk that cars emerging from driveways will strike them – already this year a refugee child died in Auckland when his bike was struck by an emerging car as he took to the footpath while approaching a busy intersection.

For the most part, however, children would be safer cycling on footpaths than roads. As for the risk to pedestrians, many would argue children’s safety takes priority. Others would claim the green value of e-scooters also outweighs risks to walkers.

One thing is certain: this is yet another instance of the onrush of new technology, ready or not. Ethical and safety considerations will challenge us over drones, driverless cars and whatever comes next. For every jeremiad of safety warnings, there’ll be a righteous uproar about the public good regarding the environment.

We need to focus on a working consensus. And do it well before the Jetsons’ flying car is upon us.

This editorial was first published in the November 24, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.


Prepare for a return to the 'old normal' of sharemarket volatility
100287 2018-12-18 00:00:00Z Investment

Prepare for a return to the 'old normal' of sharem…

by Pattrick Smellie

In the decade since the global financial crisis, investors have enjoyed a steady upward ride and very few shocks.

Read more
Is cryptocurrency a haven from market volatility?
100307 2018-12-18 00:00:00Z Investment

Is cryptocurrency a haven from market volatility?

by Nikki Mandow

It’s been a wild ride for cryptocurrencies over the past year, but can they become a stable store of wealth for investors?

Read more
Stop your new build from feeling cookie-cutter with these clever solutions
100101 2018-12-18 00:00:00Z Property

Stop your new build from feeling cookie-cutter wit…

by Noted

Building a new home but want something unique? These creative solutions prove new-builds and personality do go together.

Read more
Dumplings with Wings is the new place to get your dumpling fix
100543 2018-12-17 15:39:32Z Auckland Eats

Dumplings with Wings is the new place to get your …

by Alex Blackwood

Dumplings with Wings' colourful creations take cues from all over the world.

Read more
The Children Act doesn't do justice to Ian McEwan's novel
100520 2018-12-17 11:27:11Z Movies

The Children Act doesn't do justice to Ian McEwan'…

by James Robins

Emma Thompson may be on the bench but legal drama The Children Act is yet another example of the limits of literary adaptation.

Read more
After a testing year, can Simon Bridges survive 2019?
100499 2018-12-17 08:57:04Z Politics

After a testing year, can Simon Bridges survive 20…

by Jane Patterson

Simon Bridges has held on to the National Party leadership as a testing year ends, but how secure is his position? He says he's not worried.

Read more
Capital offences: A grammarian on nouns proper and common
99726 2018-12-17 00:00:00Z Education

Capital offences: A grammarian on nouns proper and…

by Ray Prebble

A look at the nuances of nouns.

Read more
Two small South Island towns' annual clash for the Cup o' Wood
99541 2018-12-17 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Two small South Island towns' annual clash for the…

by Mike White

For 70 years, neighbouring Central Otago villages St Bathans and Becks have taken to the rugby field to battle for the Wooden Cup.

Read more