Can Safety be Ensured Without Requiring a Driver’s License?

Electric kick scooters, two-wheeled vehicles on which the users stand, will no longer require a driver’s license from July this year. Accidents have been increasing as these vehicles have become more popular, and concerns about their safety persist.

The National Police Agency has announced that the revised Road Traffic Law, which sets new traffic rules for electric kick scooters, will go into effect on July 1.

Under the current law, the scooters are classified as motorized bicycles and require a license to drive.

The revised law classifies vehicles that meet certain requirements, such as a maximum speed of 20 kph or less, as “specified small motorized bicycles” and allows them to be driven by people 16 or older without a license. Helmets are mandatory now, but the new rules will change this to the obligation to make efforts to wear a helmet.

In addition to roadways and bike paths, the new regulations will allow riders to travel on sidewalks as long as they move at low speed and blink lights, which eases the restrictions to a “bicycle-like” level.

However, electric kick scooters are operated by placing both feet on a long narrow board with wheels on the front and back, and holding a small handlebar, making it easy to lose one’s balance over bumps and other obstacles. The risk of accidents from such falls cannot be said to be low.

There have in fact been many accidents involving these scooters. Sixty-nine accidents resulting in bodily injury or death occurred nationwide between January 2020 and November 2022. In September last year, a man died in Tokyo when he fell after the kick scooter he was using collided with a wheel stop in a parking lot. There is also a notable number of accidents involving collisions with automobiles, and there is no end to drunk driving.

If riders on these scooters no longer need a driver’s license, there will be fewer opportunities for them to learn traffic regulations. There is concern that accidents will further increase.

Under a government policy for encouraging industries more, businesses are increasingly renting out electric kick scooters in urban areas and at tourist destinations. They are becoming increasingly popular as a means of transportation that is environmentally friendly and avoids close spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Under such circumstances, however, if safety is neglected, they will do more harm than good.

The new rules stipulate that users who commit repeated violations, such as disregarding traffic signals, will have to take a safety course and will also be subject to a “blue ticket,” which carries a fine.

However, it is too late to take such measures after an accident has already occurred. The important thing is how to prevent violations and accidents from occurring. Can safety really be ensured by after-the-fact measures such as taking a safety course or imposing fines?

In many other countries, no license is required and helmets are not mandatory. But some have begun to tighten regulations, as there have been a number of accidents. It is important for the police to analyze in detail the occurrence of accidents and violations, and apply their findings to the future implementation of the system.

To prevent drunk driving, it is hoped that businesses will consider measures such as refraining from renting out these scooters at night.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 1, 2023)