Why we should be Free to Scoot.
Britain’s ban on the public use of electric scooters has left the country behind a transport revolution. Across the major cities of the world, electric scooters are only becoming ever more popular. Nearly 40 million e-scooter trips were made in the US last year alone. This is no surprise. E-scooters are a quick, mobile, and cheap way to travel in urban areas that are otherwise congested. Late to work? No problem. Just make a couple of taps on an Uber app and you could borrow a scooter and be at a meeting in no time. Not to mention e-scooters are good for the environment. Not only does using them produce no carbon emissions, they are about 100 times more energy efficient that a gasoline-powered car. But perhaps most importantly, e-scooters are just good fun! With all these benefits of electric scooters, the Department for Transport’s decision to review the scooter ban was a great step forward. Perhaps soon Britons will be free to scoot.
Of course, it’s understandable why some might be concerned with removing the ban. It was just over a week ago, that we had the tragedy of Britain’s first fatal e-scooter accident (13th July 2019) proving that people make risky decisions. So surely the government should protect us from ourselves?
The problem with this kind of paternalism is that it ignores the right to make our own decisions. While a parent may know best for their child, citizens are not children of the state. Adults should be able to judge the benefits and risks of their actions to make an informed choice, even if we disagree with their decisions. Men and women who choose to smoke, drink or ride electric scooters are not naïve to the risks.
If scooters are too dangerous, then why should we allow motorbikes, let alone cars? Nearly 2,000 people are killed every year on our roads caused by vehicles that are already legal. If we really want to save lives, no matter the cost, would not banning all motor vehicles be a logical first step?
Let’s look at the data. Since 2017, on average 4 people die per year in e-scooter accidents in the US. That is equivalent to the 4 fatalities a year in the United States every year caused by vending machines.
While outright bans go too far, it is right to protect people. But a ban on using e-scooters means that those who ignore the law, ride without any oversight of the government. If we want to reduce the dangers of e-scooters here are a few initiatives the government could take. For instance, electric scooters, bought in the UK, can exceed 30kmh, New Zealand has taken the lead by considering a law that would limit e-scooters to 10kmh a logical and considered approach. Another example is securing rigorous standards for break mechanisms on e-scooters. And if we really wanted to, we could ensure that electrics scooters could not be rented without a helmet. Even a campaign to raise awareness of safe e-scooter practice would be welcome.
With increased use of the scooters I have no doubt people will learn from the mistakes of others and use them more sensibly. In 1941 nearly 10,000 people, in the UK, died in road casualties. As the use of cars became more commonplace, we learned the hard way how to use them safely. Speed limits were enforced, seatbelts became popular, car design was improved, and, I suspect, people learnt to be more careful.
Whilst safety is important, we must not forget that individuals can consent to the risks of their behaviour and the consequences of their behaviour. While we should consider our options, regulation should not stifle individuals from making informed risks.
Those who wish the state to nanny us off our e-scooters would best remember the importance of individual responsibility taught by Mary Poppins “Those who get their feet wet must learn to take their medicine.”
With all the value e-scooters can bring us, I welcome the government’s review of the ban on their use. I only hope it is soon that I will be able to whizz along London’s South Bank on an e-scooter. No matter how much we try to protect people, some tragic accidents are inevitable. I hope that with the right government foresight, and an informed approach from users, we can finally be free to scoot!
Toby Fitzsimmons is a third year PPE student at Durham University and a Local Coordinator for Students for Liberty.