Standards will make e-scooters safer

New TC to provide standards for personal e-transporters

Walking down a city street, pedestrians have recently been confronted by a new phenomenon. Sailing by on sidewalks or bike lanes, commuters have adopted electric scooters as a popular mode of transportation. Offering a convenient means to travel distances considered too far to walk, they eliminate the need to rely on public transportation or a private vehicle. And given that 46% of car traffic consists of distances of less than 5 kilometres, e-scooters could serve as a solution to the increased traffic congestion in many cities.

Image of two riders on e-scooters
E-scooters are a popular mode of transport but not without danger

In the past year, cities have been inundated with electric scooters provided by a vast number of e-scooter sharing services. Offering a convenient and inexpensive access to electric scooters, they have proven popular with city commuters and tourists. And these services have proven so successful that one e-scooter sharing service claims to have reached 26 million riders within the first year. Another was valued at over USD 1 billion within 15 months.

Hazards lurking

But electric scooters are not without danger. Hospital emergency departments have seen an uptick in the number of injuries caused by the widespread use of e-scooters. According to the medical journal JAMA Network Open, more people were injured while riding standing electric scooters than by riding or walking based on a study over a one year period in two Los Angeles emergency rooms.

Dangers have also been caused by the malfunction of electric scooters. In Zurich, one e-scooter sharing service recalled certain scooters that stopped abruptly during travel, causing injury to riders. And, more traumatic, a passenger train in the Netherlands collided with an electric cart, used to transport school children, after the cart’s brakes failed to function properly.

Some issues with electric scooters will be resolved by government regulation. Already, some city governments have begun establishing rules regarding speed limits, designated parking spots and e-scooter travel lanes.

Standard to the rescue

To ensure safety on a global level, standardization is needed. Currently, few or no standards exist for devices with multiple wheels used for personal mobility or to transport passengers without the use of a steering wheel. Standards are needed to harmonize rules for manufacturers and users as well as ensure the implementation of safety features.

Recognizing the increased prevalence of personal e-transporters and the need to ensure their safety, the IEC has set up a technical committee, TC 125, to provide standardization in the areas of safety and reliability and the protection against hazards. It will also provide standards for docking stations, battery recharging and recycling.

According to Luk Van Hecke, who will serve as assistant secretary to TC 125, “there is a need in the IEC for the work of a technical committee to standardize the evolutions in this market and to guarantee public safety as these devices become more and more common in the public space”.

These standards will apply to electrically powered transport devices with one or more wheels where the speed and/or steering is controlled electrically. It includes electric scooters, monocycles and Segways but excludes electric bicycles, motor bikes and cars since they are already addressed by other technical committees. Standards will only apply for devices used on public roads and spaces.

Issues that TC 125 will address include:

  • Terminology for the different personal e-transporters.
  • Reliability of the speed control (acceleration and braking) and steering.
  • Definitions of the different safety and reliability levels based on the maximum speed of the device and, subsequently, the different safety precautions. For example, should maximum acceleration and deceleration speeds be imposed or should the weight of the user i.e. whether an adult or a child, impact the maximum speed of the device.
  • Requirements regarding visibility depending on where the device is used. This can include requirements to use lights, horns or reflectors.
  • Protection against hazards such as fire and water.
  • Requirements for recharging and public docking stations.
  • Methods for testing safety requirements.

Van Hecke noted that “while avoiding all accidents on e-transporters (or any other road vehicle for that matter) is not possible, setting minimum safety standards will help greatly to reduce them. And it could help avoid accidents like in the Netherlands where public safety and the business of a manufacturer were jeopardized”.

The secretariat of the new TC will be held by Belgium. The first meeting of TC 125 is scheduled to take place on 23-24 September 2019 in Brussels.