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Canberra
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
BAL Lawyers
Amazing Clean

‘I regularly see cars driven badly’: An open letter in support of e-scooters

Dear Elizabeth Lee MLA (Leader of the Opposition, Shadow Attorney-General),

There is significant public debate about the use of e-scooters in the ACT, and you issued a leaflet to residents in the Inner North about contacting you with concerns.  The debate is overwhelmingly dominated by disparaging views about e-scooters, and this open letter seeks to open up the discussion more reasonably.

I am a regular user of e-scooters.  I use them to get from Braddon to the Australian National University regularly.  I use them to get from my office to Civic for lunch.  I use them to get out to Ainslie IGA for groceries.  Every time I use them, it’s a car off the road.

I regularly see cars.  Next to my building is a five-storey car park.  Under my apartment building is a car park.  Several of the buildings near me have multi-floor car parks beneath them.  If you were to ask me if I would rather see a few dozen e-scooters parked badly around the ACT or the hundreds of cars I see each day clogging up roads or needing land allocated to their parking, I would struggle to side with the cars.

I regularly see cars driven badly.  Spend any amount of time in Civic, and you will almost certainly see a car come close to hitting pedestrians in the ‘pedestrian priority’ area.  Spend any amount of time between Braddon and the ANU, and you will almost certainly see a car come within inches of hitting cyclists.  Just this week, I was nearly hit by a car going at 60km/h that ran a red light.  Last week, a car went through a pedestrian crossing in Civic and nearly knocked over a group of pedestrians.  Also last week, on my way to Ainslie, a driver ran a cyclist off the road entirely.  If I drive an e-scooter badly, I am limited in the amount of damage I can do at 25km/h.  In pedestrian-heavy areas, I’m limited to 10km/h, limiting my damage further.  In contrast, a car driven badly will kill people.

I regularly see unnecessary cars.  According to the Canberra Times in 2019, three of the top ten most popular cars in Canberra were the Ford Ranger 4×4, the Toyota Hilux 4×4, and Nissan X-Trail.  These monsters are allowed on our road, regularly driven poorly, regularly parked unsafely on the central strip along MacArthur Avenue, O’Connor, or along the side of the Gungahlin Drive, Bruce, or along Parkes Way, Reid.  And yet despite the way that these tanks are parked unlawfully, despite the risk that large vehicles pose to other road users, and despite the complete lack of need for them, we don’t have inquiries about banning them or regulating them further.

There is a lot of animosity from other road users towards e-scooters.  I have had older car drivers yell at me from their vehicles even though I was riding lawfully.  I have had cars drive menacingly near me in an attempt to intimidate me.  I even have cars drive illegally near me, to the danger of other cars on the road, just to yell at me from their vehicles.

Other road users need better understanding of the law.  The Road Transport (Road Rules) Regulation 2017 defines e-scooters as a personal mobility device (s 18A).  It was widely noted in the press that s 244D prohibits the use of personal mobility devices (and therefore e-scooters) on the road.  What was less widely noted were the exceptions contained within s 244D to this rule: the rule does not apply where there is no adjacent area (footpath, nature strip or shared path adjacent to the road) or where it is impractical to ride on the adjacent area.  In each place where I have had car users yell at me to get off the road, there was no available adjacent area (usually due to construction on the footpath, or because there was no footpath).

It is due to these exceptions and the widespread unavailability of adjacent areas that s 244E is important: when we are on the road, e-scooters must keep to the left, not ride into oncoming traffic, and must ride single-file.

The best solution to this would simply be to abolish s 244D entirely and have personal mobility devices follow similar rules to cyclists.  It is entirely commonsensical to allow e-scooters to use bicycle lanes where they are less likely to encounter pedestrians.  Abolishing s 244D would erode the sense of entitlement that many ACT car-drivers feel they have to exclusive use of the roads, including towards cyclists.

For all the ‘bad behaviour’ of e-scooters in the ACT–and I have definitely seen other riders engage in some less than sensible behaviour–it pales in comparison to the poor behaviour of car-drivers in the ACT.  Not only is dangerous driving of cars far more frequent than dangerous driving of e-scooters, the consequences of dangerous car driving is far, far more serious.  We need a reality check in this debate, and we should be supporting approaches that will reduce the number of cars on our roads that require vast quantities of land to be converted into parking spaces for them.

Warm regards,

Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a PhD student at ANU studying the public understanding of law. He’s written for the GuardianNew Matilda, and SBS, discussed politics on ABC and BBC radio, and on Channel 10’s The Project. This open letter appears on his blog.

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