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Battery technology has advanced to the point where it’s now practical to put a pack of cells on the undercarriage of a scooter and use it to provide motive power to the rear wheel. The range of these devices is remarkable, especially those of us used to the pathetic energy density of the ni-cad batteries of the 1980s and 1990s. High-end models at the $500 price point will go more than 18 miles on a single charge, making them suitable for all but the most brutal intra-city commutes.
Electric scooters, like many of the other innovations in the space, have become synonymous with children’s toys. The electrification of personal transportation began with segways and quickly moved on to hoverboards, all of which targeted the youth market. But are these devices suitable for children?
One of the benefits of electric scooters is the freedom that they offer. Like a bicycle, a child can potentially go for miles on a scooter, all the way across town, and transport themselves with minimal energy expenditure. It’s not exercising, but it does free parents up from having to provide taxi services from one location to another endlessly.
Kids are free to go where they like with an electric scooter. The range is sufficient to mean that they can make journeys within and, sometimes, between towns. And the fact that riding an electric scooter doesn’t require any energy expenditure makes it relatively effortless to go from A to B. Electric scooters, therefore, provide families with an excellent way of freeing up time. Scooters give kids independence and help them journey to and from school without all the usual hassle involved in picking them up and dropping them off.
Of course, no discussion of electric scooters would be complete without talking about the dangers too. Many parents, especially those in the US, would probably balk at the thought of allowing their children to transport themselves to and from school by themselves. Cities are just too dangerous in the eyes of many.
Then there’s the danger of a collision. According to accident lawyer Jacob Emrani, electric scooters are dangerous for a wide variety of reasons. In California, for instance, state legislators have put in place general guidelines that scooters should not exceed more than 25 mph, but there’s no legal requirement that they should. The faster that scooters can travel, the more dangerous an impact is likely to be.
There are other issues too: sidewalk riding, racing, product defects, and the fact that scooters are as likely to collide with cars as motorbikes, if not more so. It’s all a worry to parents who want to keep their children safe but also give them the freedom that electric scooters bring.
Safety Track Records Are Poor
So far, we’ve discussed safety from the perspective that it’s something that parents really care about. But data don’t support this conclusion. The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan recently conducted a study of helmet use among children between the ages of 4 and 13. You would think that because of the dangers that these new modes of transportation pose that parents would be keen to ensure that their kids had all the latest safety gear. But this isn’t what the data say at all. In fact, it’s quite the reverse.
The Children’s Hospital study revealed that only 59 percent of parents said that their child always wore a helmet when riding a bike and that the number was much lower – only around 39 percent – when riding an electric scooter. The number of children using hand signals to communicate with nearby traffic was pitifully low as well, with only one in five saying that they made gestures to inform other road users of their intentions.
Nobody is saying that kids shouldn’t have access to powerful modes of transportation. Most children don’t have the maturity or presence of mind to operate a full-size motor car, but most have it within their capacity to pilot an electric scooter or ride a bike. But what people are saying is that more children need to wear protective gear while they’re out on the road.
That’s not to say that some organizations aren’t fighting back and claiming that children can’t have any transportation independence at all. The American Academy of Pediatrics is now telling parents that children under the age of 16 should not have access to electric scooters of any type, because of the responsibilities that they bring.
The electric scooter rental business is substantial oversees. Many metropolitan districts, like Paris in France, see it as a way of cutting down on both congestion and pollution in one fell swoop. You can fit way more people riding scooters into a given area of road space than you can with practically any other mode of transportation, with the possible exception of buses. Motorized scooter rental is also coming thick and fast to the US market, thanks to their speed and the fact that you don’t need to be wiry and athletic to ride one. Just about anyone with a pulse can stand on one and then let it do all the work.
There are two ways of looking at motorized scooters for kids. One view sees it as a dangerous new development in transport, putting children at unnecessary risks while helping manufacturers make profits. The other sees it as a necessary development in the fight for a sustainable future. Kids who learn early how to operate these devices are more likely to use them in their adult life, cutting down on CO2 emissions and congestion at the same time.
Both of these visions have their merits. And both likely contain a kernel of truth. The trick is to see scooter-related injuries in a broader context. Scooters offer kids the opportunity to prove that they are capable of responsibility and directing their own activities. Freedom isn’t free. It comes with the distinct possibility of danger. For some parents, that’s a price worth paying.