INDEPENDENT NEWS

The Rules That Apply To Electric Scooters: What You Need To Know

Published: Mon 27 May 2024 06:41 PM
Katie Kenny, Digital Explainer Editor
Motorists on Auckland's Northwestern Motorway were surprised to see an electric scooter weaving through traffic at an estimated 90km/h last month. The sight prompted questions about the legality and safety of them on the road.
Meanwhile, others have raised concerns about e-scooters on footpaths.
But a recent safety review found dangerous behaivour wasn't typical, and riders were more likely to injure themselves than anyone else.
What are the rules around e-scooters, and do they need updating?The rules
Electric scooters typically fall into the category of low-powered vehicles and more broadly, wheeled recreational devices.
Low-powered vehicles are ones that don't meet the definition of a motor vehicle or have been declared not to be a motor vehicle by Waka Kotahi. Meaning they can be used without registration or a driver's licence.
To meet the requirements, an e-scooter's wheels must not exceed 355mm and the motor must have a maximum power output not exceeding 300 watts. (At 300W, an e-scooter's top speed is about 35km/h. More on that later.)
As with push scooters, skates, skateboards, and other similar ways of getting around, e-scooters can be used on the footpath.
Riders must comply with the Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004 requirements. Meaning if you're on the footpath, you must be "careful and considerate", travel at speeds that don't put other footpath users at risk, and give way to both pedestrians and drivers of mobility devices.
A helmet isn't legally required when using an e-scooter but is recommended.
E-scooters can also be used on the road, as close as possible to the edge of the roadway - but not in designated cycle lanes.
What about e-scooters above 300W? Technically, they could be registered as motorcycles, but would likely have difficulties meeting the safety standards and other requirements. And if they're not registered, they aren't legally entitled to be on the road.
Note: Although power-assisted cycles, or e-bikes, with a maximum power not exceeding 300W, are also considered low-powered vehicles, different road rules apply. E-bike riders must follow cycling-related rules. Meaning it's illegal to ride on footpaths, unless you're delivering mail. And riders must wear a helmet, along with any passengers.'Not exceeding 300W'
The maximum power wattage of the electric motor isn't necessarily the same as the maximum power output of the e-scooter. Confused? You're not alone. The best way to determine a scooter's maximum power output is to rely on what the manufacturer says, according to the Transport Agency. Or, to physically test the system on a dynamometer.
Rentable e-scooters from companies such as Lime, Flamingo, and Beam now have GPS-enforced speed limits, restrictions on where they can be parked, and other in-built safety measures.
But privately-owned scooters aren't monitored, with some boasting top speeds of nearly 100km/h.
Retailers of top-of-the-line e-scooters, costing thousands of dollars, warn customers to wear safety gear, and to ride safely and considerately.
Several New Zealand websites selling e-scooters warned customers "many scooters are officially for off-road / private land use only".
"Please check the relevant laws for your intended use case."
Police do not "routinely monitor the wattage of e-scooters", a spokesperson said, "but are aware that in some instances e-scooters with a maximum power output above 300W may be operating on roads or footpaths".
"E-scooter riders can also be charged with offences under the Land Transport Act 1998, including careless and inconsiderate driving, if the circumstances warrant an intervention of that nature."Safety and effectiveness review
Since 2018, Waka Kotahi has twice-extended a five-year exemption of e-scooters (that meet the criteria of low-powered vehicles) to not be classed as motor vehicles. Issued in September, 2023, the most recent notice expires in 2028.
The Transport Agency said it made the decision to renew the declaration after reviewing the effectiveness, safety and compliance of e-scooters, with engagement with key stakeholders and an online public survey. Without a declaration in place, e-scooters wouldn't be able to be used anywhere other than on private property.
"Our overall conclusion is that e-scooters have made, and continue to make, a useful contribution to the land transport system.
"We have found that they are being used more across New Zealand, that they're used more for getting from one place to another rather than just for fun, user satisfaction is high, and e-scooters can help reduce emissions."
In response to concerns about safety, particularly in areas with a lot of foot traffic, the agency said it planned to improve "existing systems" and "promote safe use of e-scooters for users and pedestrians".
Field work found the average speed of e-scooters on footpaths was about 8km/h, roughly double walking speed. E-scooters tended to travel faster on shared paths, the review noted.Compliance and injuries
The Transport Agency's most recent review found rider behaviour around safe speeds and considerate parking, for example, "started poorly but has been improving with time".
While most people who took part in the agency's public survey were in favour of renewal (70 percent for and 30 percent against), the biggest safety concerns were relating to pedestrian safety.
But the safety assessment found the greatest risk was to e-scooter riders themselves, and the risk to pedestrians was low. Only about 2 percent of e-scooter crashes involved a pedestrian. This result was consistent with overseas studies showing there as a relatively low rate of e-scooter versus pedestrian crashes.
"Virtually all of these crashes happen on footpaths; and in virtually all cases the cause of the crash is the fault of the e-scooter rider," the report said.
The main group experiencing e-scooter related injuries and incidents were Caucasian males between the ages of 20-40. And there was a much higher rate of hospital admission of riders of rental rather than private e-scooters.
Between 2021 and 2023, there were more than 7000 ACC claims for e-scooter related injuries. Most claims were made by those aged between 20 and 29.
ACC clams and costs for e-scooters were lower than for other active transport modes such as bikes, skateboards and even walking. But there was evidence the rate of injury per minute of travel was higher.
The relative risk of e-scootering was estimated to be 4.6 times that of cycling, for example. But the report acknowledged that was probably an "upper estimate". Overseas data suggested a relative risk ratio of two times that of cycling.What's next?
The coalition government will be outlining its objectives for road safety, replacing the previous government's Road to Zero Strategy, later this year.
Within Road to Zero, one programme - called Accessible Streets - contained a proposal to allow e-scooters to use designated cycle lanes. There were also plans to limit speeds. But it was unclear whether the government would continue that work.
In the meantime, Transport Minister Simeon Brown said he was working on new road safety objectives. "As part of setting [the government's] new objectives for road safety we will consider what regulatory changes are required to improve safety."
And as long as they remained unclassified as motor vehicles, e-scooters could be used on both roads and footpaths, he said.
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