E-scooter safety: Australian states and territories under pressure after spate of fatal crashes

After three riders died in September and injuries rise, doctors are pushing for better helmet compliance and a rethink on regulations

State and territory governments have largely resisted calls from doctors for tighter regulation of e-scooters, despite a recent spate of accidents that caused serious injuries and deaths.

Last month three Australians died while riding e-scooters, doubling the number of fatalities since 2018, when the first rental scheme was rolled out in Queensland.

Moustafa Abou-Eid, 28, lost control of a scooter on a speed hump in Pascoe Vale in Melbourne on 22 September, 19-year-old Laura Wallace died when the scooter she was riding collided with a car in Canberra on 26 September, and a 37-year-old man died on 29 September after losing control of his scooter on a Brisbane street.

Neither Abou-Eid nor Wallace were wearing helmets when they crashed. Queensland police are still investigating the fatal Brisbane accident.

Abou-Eid was riding a private scooter, which are increasingly popular and easy to purchase, despite being illegal in some states, including Victoria.

Cities including Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart are trialling the use of shared e-scooters, while Queensland and the ACT allow privately owned and shared e-scooters with regulations.

Sarah Whitelaw, the emergency medicine representative of the Australian Medical Association, said doctors were concerned about the increase in fatal head injuries.

“It doesn’t sound like many, but when you look at the increase, what we are worried about is that number compared to previous years,” Whitelaw said.

“We need to see a decrease in the number of grieving families.”

Emergency departments around the country had seen a spike in injuries this year, she said.

“They’re different to injuries you would get from roller-blading or playing a team sport,” she said. “They are injuries that require months and months of rehab.”

The AMA wants a database of deaths and injuries, a public health campaign on rider safety, limits on the time of day they can be ridden and uniform regulations across the country.

Whitelaw said it was important to shift the culture, so that people understood the dangers as they do with motorbikes and bicycles.

“Most of us wear bike helmets not because it’s illegal not to, but because we understand why you have to put one of them on,” she said. “It might save your life.”

The response from state and territory governments to the rate of serious accidents has so far been limited.

New rules will apply in Queensland from 1 November, allowing “personal mobility device” riders to wear either an approved bicycle or motorbike helmet.

“In addition, a broad public education campaign will begin from late October focusing on helmet compliance, with riders reminded to wear a helmet or be fined,” a spokesperson for the transport department said.

A spokesperson for the ACT government said a three-strike rule targeting multiple acts of non-compliance had been used since March to “better protect riders and others who use our roads and paths”.

The spokesperson declined to comment on whether the government would consider tightening regulations further in the light of last month’s fatality.

“This matter was referred to the coroner and it is too early to make assumptions about the manner and cause of death until the coroner’s investigation is complete,” they said.

Electric scooters in Adelaide, where trials of a rental scheme have also been taking place.
Electric scooters in Adelaide, where trials of a rental scheme have also been taking place. Photograph: Amer Ghazzal/REX/Shutterstock

A spokesperson for the Victorian transport department said there were stringent laws in place to ensure safety, and would not say whether the death of Abou-Eid would change the parameters of the current 12-month trial of its e-scooter hiring scheme.

“The purpose of the e-scooter trial is to assess the benefits and risks of e-scooters to better understand whether they can be safely regulated within the broader transport mix,” the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for the New South Wales government said there had been no recorded injuries within the locations allocated for its trial scheme – the western Sydney parklands and the botanic gardens at Mount Annan – and said more locations would be announced before the end of the year.

There is no national database that captures the rates of injuries relating to e-scooters, but data from several jurisdictions shows the most common infringement enforced by police relates to riders not wearing helmets.

In Queensland that offence made up 5,581 of the infringements handed out since 2019, compared with 1,281 for riders being on prohibited roads and 331 for travelling at more than 25km/h.

Between September 2020 and September 2022, the ACT police fined 146 riders for not wearing helmets, 12 for riding on the road and 11 for taking a passenger.

Of the 487 fines handed out in Victoria between December 2021 and August 2022, 142 were for riding on footpaths, 139 for not wearing a helmet, and 80 for taking a passenger.

Kirsten Vallmuur at the Queensland University of Technology has been researching e-scooter injuries.

She looked at almost 1,000 e-scooter-related presentations across three of Brisbane’s biggest hospitals and found that young males were most likely to be involved in accidents.

Fractures mainly to the head and the arms accounted for the highest proportion of injuries at 37%, while injuries to the head and face made up about 25%, she said.

There were growing concerns private riders could hack their scooters relatively easily to go faster than the speed limit, she said.

“One of the things is shared schemes have a speed limit on them. They can’t go over 25km/h,” Vallmuur said.

“With private scooters, there’s more ability for the riders to turn off the speed limitation. Sometimes it’s as easy as flicking a switch.

“If you are travelling at higher speeds, you’re at a much greater risk.”



Cait Kelly

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
'Disgrace’: 2,000 trucks receive defect notices in police crackdown
The operation, done in four states and the ACT in a day, had 26 drivers testing positive for drugs

Christopher Knaus

02, Feb, 2018 @3:23 AM

Article image
Australia’s high-speed rail should be rolled out in small stages with Sydney to Canberra first, experts say
Exclusive: Progressive upgrades of existing sections will pave the way for a proper link between major cities, lobby group says

Elias Visontay Transport and urban affairs reporter

23, Feb, 2023 @8:51 PM

Article image
ACT to incentivise electric vehicles with registration fee based on emissions rather than weight
Territory expects 96% of owners to pay same or less under new model, 4% paying more to be owners of more-polluting vehicles

Elias Visontay Transport and urban affairs reporter

02, Feb, 2023 @4:07 AM

Article image
Australian states tighten borders as community transmissions grow – as it happened
Schools and aged care homes closed after two women who returned to Brisbane from Melbourne test positive. This blog is now closed

Luke Henriques-Gomes (now) and Calla Wahlquist (earlier)

29, Jul, 2020 @9:31 AM

Article image
Jail rates soar in states and territories, statistics show
Victoria and Queensland preside over the greatest rise in imprisonments, as other jurisdictions jump to 10-year highs, according to the Bureau of Statistics

Nick Evershed, Oliver Milman, Helen Davidson and Joshua Robertson

12, Dec, 2014 @5:13 AM

Article image
Stoush over electric vehicle tax nears Australian high court hearing
With a hearing expected later in the year, the outcome could have far-reaching consequences for state revenue raising from electric vehicles, say lawyers

Peter Hannam

05, Sep, 2022 @6:13 AM

Article image
Spring outlook for Australia’s eastern and southern states is rainier, cooler weather
The Bureau of Meteorology predicts a shift toward La Niña-like conditions associated with more rainfall for the east, but drier conditions in the west

Lisa Cox

02, Sep, 2021 @7:00 AM

Article image
Tax reform meeting cancelled until Malcolm Turnbull provides 'clarity' to states, territories
Northern Territory chief minister says Council for the Australian Federation meeting would ‘add little to the national conversation’

Lenore Taylor Political editor

09, Feb, 2016 @12:23 AM

Article image
WestConnex: bitter battles mark the road to Australia's urban future
The controversial 33km road and tunnel project in the city’s inner west has become a litmus test for Australian urban planning

Christopher Knaus

04, Apr, 2017 @8:21 PM

Article image
Solution or hazard: e-scooter debate gains speed
With rising petrol prices and environmental concerns, e-scooters are quickly growing in popularity. But as legislation lags, are they safe?

Caitlin Cassidy

22, Jul, 2022 @8:00 PM