Electric Kick Scooters: Ease of Use Has Encouraged Dangerous Riding

There is no end to the dangerous operation of electric kick scooters, for which traffic rules have been greatly relaxed. Accidents involving electric kick scooters have resulted in deaths and injuries. The situation should be investigated in detail and safety measures strengthened.

Electric kick scooters are two-wheeled vehicles that can be ridden standing up. Until the Road Traffic Law was revised in July 2023, users had to have a driver’s license, as they do for small motorcycles.

Under the new rules, people who are 16 years of age and older can use a scooter without a license as long as the vehicle meets certain conditions, including a maximum speed of 20 kph. Users are obliged to make efforts to wear helmets. Electric kick scooters are now being handled in the same way as bicycles.

Since the introduction of the new rules, the dangerous use of scooters has become more noticeable. According to the National Police Agency, there were 7,130 cases of traffic violations in the six months through the end of last year, including disregarding traffic signals and traveling at a high speed on sidewalks.

Electric kick scooters, which have attracted attention as vehicles that can easily travel short distances and are environmentally friendly, have been spreading partly due to a government policy aimed at promoting new businesses. However, it would be putting the cart before the horse if excessive priority was put on convenience and safety was disregarded.

In addition to individuals purchasing their own scooters, a growing number of people rent them in urban areas and at tourist destinations. The police need to crack down more thoroughly on violators.

It is also essential that the rules be made well known to the public. A license is still required for vehicles that can run at a speed of 20 kph or more. However, a man arrested in Nagoya for an alleged hit-and-run accident involving a pedestrian said he “thought he did not need a license” even though he was riding a vehicle capable of going faster than 20 kph.

Many people are unaware that whether or not a license is required depends on the type of vehicle. It is important for businesses involved in sales and rentals to provide users with thorough explanations.

It is hoped that measures will be considered that do not allow people who have committed serious violations to newly use the vehicles.

In recent years, there has been a movement overseas to tighten regulations due partly to safety concerns. In Paris, a referendum reportedly resulted in the decision to remove rental stations.

The town government of Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture — where a fatal accident involving a rider on a scooter occurred in December 2023 — has issued an unusual call for people to refrain from using electric kick scooters on public roads.

Relevant ministries and agencies should meticulously examine the situation in Japan and abroad, and reconsider what the current system should be. If dangerous operations still continue, it will also be vital to give top priority to accident prevention and review the operational policy from scratch.

Electric kick scooters are ridden with both feet on a long, thin board, making it easy to lose one’s balance. Structural improvements may also be necessary to enhance the stability of the ride.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 14, 2024)