Many of us are now familiar with personal mobility devices (PMDs), including devices such as electric scooters, Segways, hoverboards and electric skateboards. These increasingly popular PMDs provide portable personal transport to users in getting from one place to another quickly, particularly for short trips.
Millennials and even the elderly welcome PMDs, which are in line with the government’s plan to encourage active mobility – reducing congestion on the roads while also promoting healthy behaviour.
However, before one hastily jumps onto the PMD bandwagon, the risks and dangers of riding PMDs in Singapore should be understood.
Curiously, individuals are currently prohibited from riding PMDs on the public roads in Singapore. It may well have been to protect the users of PMDs from accidents with vehicles on the public road. This has unfortunately made our footpaths a most dangerous environment for pedestrians instead as PMDs zip by at speeds much faster than a strolling pedestrian.
Interestingly, policy makers in other countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia have taken the contrary approach to Singapore by banning or restricting PMDs from footpaths, which are traditionally a safe preserve for pedestrians. Even in the U.S, states like California that allow for PMDs to be used on both roads and pavements prescribe for minimum safety features such as front, rear and side mirrors, as well as horns or bells.
In Singapore, the existing laws and tighter new measures on the use of PMDs under the regulatory framework of the Active Mobility Act 2017, the related provisions in the Road Traffic Act, and other subsidiary legislation and guidelines do not go far enough in providing protection to injured pedestrians.
There is currently no compulsory insurance framework in place to ensure that the claims for damages by accident victims against errant e-scooter riders can be satisfied.
Legal recourse for injured pedestrians – The Great Lacuna
In February 2019, a 23-year-old e-scooter rider in Singapore pleaded guilty to knocking down a pedestrian while riding his e-scooter along a footpath in March the year before. The rider subsequently fled the scene of the accident.
The pedestrian, a 45-year-old woman, was knocked onto the ground and suffered serious brain injuries. As a result of the hit-and-run accident, she was unable to continue working as an accountant, and now needs help with basic daily activities such as standing, walking and showering.
The e-scooter rider was sentenced to imprisonment for eight months and seven weeks by the District Judge who noted that a deterrent sentence had to be imposed to discourage rash, inconsiderate or unsafe riding in public places given the proliferation of the use of PMDs such as e-scooters.
In such an instance, how can this woman successfully seek compensation from the e-scooter rider if he lacks the financial means to satisfy her claim for damages?
The introduction of some form of compulsory insurance framework similar to the existing compulsory insurance legislation for motor vehicles should be considered. The impending proliferation of the PMD ride sharing platforms with consequent surge in PMD users will arguably provide further compulsion for such a framework to be implemented.
Overview of a compulsory insurance framework
Since 1960, it has been mandatory for all vehicles operating on public roads in Singapore to obtain insurance coverage from a licensed insurer to cover the death or bodily injury to third parties arising out of the use of that vehicle on the road.
The intended aim of this compulsory insurance framework was to ensure that aggrieved third parties can be compensated financially for injuries or death, even if the involved motorists lack the financial capability to do so themselves. The same should perhaps be applied to victims of PMD-related accidents.
Issues surrounding the use of PMDs
Over the years, PMDs have present a host of issues that highlight the need to mandate a similar insurance framework as vehicles on public roads.
#1: Rising numbers of PMD-related accidents
Given that the number of road traffic accidents resulting in injuries annually is far higher than PMD-related accidents, detractors may argue that there is hardly the same compulsion for a massive nation-wide implementation of a compulsory PMDs insurance system as that warranted by the operation of motor vehicles on the roads.
However, this neglects the sharp growth in reported accidents involving PMDs in recent years. In 2015, 19 such accidents were reported, this rose to 42 in 2016,128 in 2017. In 2018, there were 251 reported off-road accidents involving active mobility users. Significantly, about 25% of PMD-related accidents reported in 2017 were on public paths involving pedestrians and PMD users. The community has understandably grown very concerned with the use of PMDs along walkways.
#2: Few or no safeguards against the use of PMDs
Unlike in the case of motor vehicles, there are few or no additional safeguards in terms of age restriction or qualifying tests for riders of PMDs. Based on reports of PMD-related accidents, many involved riders are young and/ or inexperienced, and hence the lack of safeguards. This is worrying. For instance, while one must be at least 18 years of age with a Qualified Driving Licence before being allowed to operate Class 3/ 3A motorcars, there is a lower age limit of only 16 years old for one to ride power-assisted bicycles, and no age limitation set for the use of PMDs.
Notwithstanding that from 2 January 2019, certain PMDs with handlebars and an electric motor attached will have to be registered, and the minimum requisite age to be a registered responsible person is 16 years old, it still does not place any qualifying thresholds for PMD-riders. There have been PMD-related accidents where the riders concerned were not the owners of the PMD in question. In December last year, a 15-year-old rider, who was admitted into the intensive care unit with liver injuries after a collision with a bus, was found to be riding a borrowed e-scooter.
Additionally, some PMD hire and sharing services have not imposed age limits on their users.
#3: Reaction time lag and severity of impact of PMD-related collisions
Perhaps most importantly, the risks and impact of PMD-related collisions are not to be reckoned with.
PMD-riders are subject to inevitable lags in reaction times when stopping, pointing to a high likelihood of collision especially in narrow walkways shared with pedestrians with unpredictable and inconsistent walking or running speeds. While the revision of the speed limit for PMDs on footpaths from 15 km/h to 10 km/h after 1 February 2019 will hopefully reduce the incidence of accidents by allowing path users more time to react, some PMD riders have questioned the practicality of imposing such onerous rules that in effect force them to travel at merely a fast running pace.
Some recent examples of the severity of PMD-related accidents include a 53-year-old housewife who suffered severe brain injuries and was placed on life support after being knocked down by an e-scooter rider on a pavement. An 11-year-old girl lost two teeth, sustained several serious cuts and abrasions and had to have her jaws and gums realigned after being hit from behind by an e-scooter rider. In such situations, what recourse do the victims have in seeking fair compensation for their injuries?
#4: Inadequacy of available means to seek recourse
It was noted in Parliament that there are at least three existing avenues for PMD-related accident victims to seek recourse: 1) private settlement via mediation, 2) pursuing a civil claim based on tort law, and 3) making a police report.
Practically speaking, none of these options address the need to assure the injured that their claim for damages against errant PMD riders will be successfully paid by the errant PMD rider and/or his underwriting insurer.
Given the severity of bodily injuries typically sustained in PMD-related accidents, the requisite compensation may be beyond the means of an ordinary PMD rider.
Even if the injuries sustained are minor, the costs involved in going through with a civil claim or mediation process may ultimately not be a meaningful exercise for the parties involved.
The current policy of keeping third party liability insurance coverage for PMD riders voluntary, and focusing on public education and statutory enforcement of rules and regulations in relation to the use of PMDs, do not go far enough to provide sufficient or adequate recourse for pedestrians.
In encouraging the use of PMDs, our lawmakers should not overlook the interests of pedestrians as well.
Proliferation of PMD – PMDs Ride-Sharing Phenomenon
Aside from the noticeable increase in privately-owned PMDs on our pedestrian footpaths in recent years, the introduction and impending growth of commercial companies in Singapore licensed to provide e-scooter ride-sharing services will surely compound the risks faced by pedestrians in Singapore by many folds.
As of 15 February 2019, the local media reported that up to 14 e-scooter ride sharing operators have applied to the local authorities for a sandbox license to operate a maximum of 500 e-scooters each.
Given the lack of safeguards in relation to the use of PMDs, the proliferation of ride-sharing e-scooters on the common pedestrian footpaths in Singapore could see this problem magnified, resulting in more accidents with pedestrians, PMD users and/or other road users.
The pursuit of corporate profit surely cannot be limited to espousing the benefits of PMDs to commuters without looking into the concerns of the safety of users and those around. Afterall, as have been the experience of many other cities around the world, the introduction of ride sharing e-scooter services have inevitably led to a sharp rise in accidents and injuries from the use of these devices.
Further, it is doubly worrying given that users of ride-sharing e-scooters are more likely to be inexperienced and/ or less careful, given the fact that they are not the owners of these PMDs and may have little or no experience in controlling of the devices.
The entrepreneurial exuberance about the business prospects and adoption rate of ride-sharing e-scooters appears to overlook what is most fundamentally a corporate social responsibility on the part of the operators – to ensure they benefit the community they operate in (i.e. accounting for the eventuality where e-scooter ride-sharers injure pedestrians or anyone else in the shared public space. To clarify, this is rather different from efforts to simply promote a safe riding culture, even though such measures should also be encouraged.
In this regard, the impending proliferation of ride-sharing PMDs on our already narrow and congested footpaths reinforces that the need for compulsory insurance imposed on the use of all PMDs, or at least ride-sharing PMDs, in public areas.
The pursuit of Singapore’s goal of becoming a car-lite society should not come at the expense of pedestrians’ well-being and safety on our footpaths and walkways. In mandating the use of PMDs on footpaths and walkways, and encouraging the proliferation of PMDs by allowing ride-sharing, the authorities cannot ignore the plight of pedestrians who may be injured as a result, and left with no practical legal recourse in seeking compensation for damages against them. Imposing some form of compulsory insurance for the use of PMDs will go a long way in filling this legal lacuna.
Have a question about the usage of PMDs?
If you have any questions about the usage of PMDs or need legal advice, you can request a quote with Patrick Yeo from Withers KhattarWong or get a Quick Consult with lawyers of similar expertise. With Quick Consult, from a transparent, flat fee of $49, a lawyer will call you on the phone within 1-2 days to give you legal advice.
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.