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Big e-scooters are safer than small ones, but practice makes perfect

Typically, rental e-scooters are larger than those popular with private owners. The latter tend to to favour lighter, cheaper models which can easily be carried about. But which are safer?

In a new study, a team from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden compared a large e-scooter and a smaller, light e-scooter with a bicycle to see how they compared in terms of safety.

Marco Dozza

Bicycles were found to be better at braking than e-scooters but of the two scooters, the larger one performed better, with the lighter one suffering from longer braking distances.

Again, when it came to manoeuvrability, bicycles were perceived as more stable and safer than e-scooters.

The team also found that previous experience of riding a bike can play a big role in a scooter user’s ability to handle a critical situation. There is the potential for a false sense of ability and confidence driving a seemingly similar vehicle.

Marco Dozza, Professor in Active Safety and Road-user Behaviour at Chalmers said: ‘The results from the study suggest that new micromobility vehicles necessitate ad-hoc training to be safe. The fact they resemble a familiar and possibly over-trained vehicle – the bike – may trick us to believe that we know how to master them but that is not necessarily the case.’

‘Personal experience creates a feeling that it is easy to ride an e-scooter, because we can transfer our balance skills directly from a bicycle to an e-scooter. When we are then faced with an emergency where we are forced to brake, the expectations we have from our previous experiences of cycling do not match. We may overestimate the braking ability of the e-scooter, something that can have disastrous consequences.

‘One third of all e-scooters crashes happen on the first ride. Our results suggest that an expectation mismatch on manoeuvring performance would explain this puzzling finding that has been confirmed in multiple studies.’

For those who find themselves in a critical situation with their e-scooter, research has shown that a steering evasive manoeuvre can be more effective than a braking manoeuvre in avoiding a collision.

‘If there is space for moving aside, and braking is not enough to stop in time, steering is a better alternative,’ Marco Dozza said. ‘Because small e-scooters suffer from longer braking distances than bikes and larger e-scooters, the situations in which steering is a better alternative than braking are more common. Unfortunately, our study shows that participants are less comfortable steering away to avoid a collision when riding an e-scooter than when riding a bicycle.’

He emphasises that it is a mistake to think of all e-scooters as the same, and they are definitely not bicycles: ‘The e-scooters may look alike, but their actual manoeuvrability, stability, and overall safety is not the same,” he says.

To first time users, he says: ‘Practice braking and steering avoidance maneuvers in an empty space. Do not wait for a critical situation to happen before testing how the vehicle can brake or steer. The simplest exercise is to imagine a line on the road and try to brake as late and as close as possible to the line. Most people will overshoot, and many may be surprised by how much. Repeating this exercise a few times may already be enough to make a difference.’




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