Bonn For more than a year now, electric scooters have been an integral part of Bonn's cityscape. But many users underestimate the dangers - and are seriously injured.
The police in Bonn have recorded 54 accidents with e-scooters since June last year. Fourteen of these resulted in serious injuries. "However, the number of unreported cases is likely to be much higher," says police spokesman Michael Beyer.
Electric scooters became legal in Germany at the end of June 2019. There are four suppliers available in Bonn: Tier, Lime, Dott and Spin. The exact numbers of e-scooters on the road has not been revealed for competition reasons. Tier, for example, says that they started with 200 scooters in June and have since expanded "by several hundred". E-scooters are limited to travelling no more than 20 kilometres per hour. They must use cycle paths where available and otherwise ride on the road. Because of their relatively small wheels, the scooters have completely different reactions to bicycles, for example, when facing minor bumps, curbs or when changing the road surface or on cobblestones. It becomes especially dangerous when alcohol is also involved.
At least one or two accidents every day
Jochen Müller-Stromberg, head of trauma surgery at St. Petrus Hospital, speaks of one or two accidents a day that are treated on his ward alone. "When the boom started, we had many more accidents," he says. But that had already subsided by the first winter. With the start of the corona crisis in March, the number of accidents has continued to fall and has decreased significantly compared to summer 2019. It is evident that the scooters users have become more disciplined, he explains. "Although night-time accidents with drunken youths are still very common," says Müller-Stromberg. Most accidents happen at the weekend, when the numbers at the accident clinic on Bonner Talweg can quadruple. In the last sixteen months, Bonn police have recorded twelve accidents that can clearly be attributed to alcohol-related offences.
Müller-Stromberg cites the typical and most frequent injuries as wrist fractures, shoulder fractures or joint fractures that occur when the users are trying to support themselves. He has the impression that most young people are "properly drunk" when arriving at the clinic after such falls. Despite these findings, which have not only been made at the Bonn accident clinic, Electric Empire, the Federal Association for Small Electric Vehicles, is demanding an increase in the blood alcohol limit for foot scooters to 1.6 per mil, which police spokesman Beyer calls "populist". At present, e-scooter drivers are liable to prosecution, as are motorists, if the blood alcohol level exceeds 0.49 per mil.
The Bonn trauma surgeon has noted that bicycle accidents in particular are constantly on the increase. Around four times as many cyclists would end up on his operating table as scooters. In other clinics, too, a significant rise in the frequency and severity of injuries has also been observed over the last ten years. However, Müller-Stromberg himself also likes to ride his scooter in city traffic.
"Finally make sure that e-scooters have a good place to park"
While the riding itself is rarely a problem for experienced scooter users, it is mainly the carelessly parked e-scooters that become a hindrance and annoyance for pedestrians. "Finally make sure that e-scooters have a good place to park," says Brigitte Buchsein of the German Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (DBSV). "Only the very fewest people should not care about their fellow human beings," she says, "but most people do not think about how others feel.” Buchsein is blind and knows how difficult it is to react to the scooters that are left lying around on the pavement or parked at random. Electric scooters that are disrespectfully parked at traffic lights are especially bad for the blind, making it almost impossible for them to reach the button to cross the street. "And you get a terrible fright when someone races past on the pavement almost silently", says the DBSV spokeswoman.
"Many users ride on the pavement to protect themselves and not to deliberately provoke pedestrians with their behaviour", says Lars Zemke of Electric Empire in defence of e-scooter drivers and passes the buck to the cities: "Only wider cycle paths and more usable space for all the more vulnerable vehicles can help to eliminate the problem. Higher fines are not the solution here". In an interview, Andreas Gassen, head of the Federal Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KVB) went so far as to say that e-scooters should be completely banned. Only this would help to prevent injuries, he believes. There is, however, no legal basis for this. The Ordinance on Small Electric Vehicles regulates the requirements allowing e-scooters to be operated in traffic areas. If these conditions are met, the setting up and use of e-scooters in urban areas cannot be prohibited.
What are the rules?
E-scooters are not allowed on footpaths. If there are no cycle paths, they must use the road. Pavements, pedestrian zones and green areas are prohibited in general. Paths that are also open to e-scooters are indicated by a corresponding additional sign.
The maximum permitted speed for e-scooters is 20 km/h. They may be driven without a driving licence from the age of 14. It is forbidden to carry persons and objects on the footboard or to attach the e-scooters to other vehicles.
There is no legal obligation to wear a helmet but this is highly recommended. Even a fall at low speed can cause serious head injuries.
Riding an e-scooter under the influence of alcohol can result in a fine of up to 1500 euros and a ban of up to three months, even at low blood alcohol levels. An absolute ban on alcohol applies to novice drivers and those under 21 years of age. The same applies to the consumption of drugs and the use of a mobile phone.
(Original text: Stefan Hermes, Translation: Caroline Kusch)