The discussion about the use of alternative means of transport is revving up as more people begin to realise that the price we are paying for our current choice of vehicles is not just in terms of time lost when stuck in traffic but, even more seriously, through the negative impact on our health. It also impacts the environment due to the ever-increasing number of cars on our roads.
Therefore, what should be done about the new, usually battery-powered, vehicles (such as motorised foot scooters) that are increasingly being used as alternative means of transportation?
I was particularly surprised, even taken aback, by the negative reactions of the callers that rang in on a recent radio talk show I participated in as a guest.
There is clearly a great deal of frustration vented by motorists at the behaviour of users of these two-wheeled devices, whether motorised or not.
Reaching the irrational conclusion that such users should be totally banned from roads is the sort of reaction being levelled out by a few. While car users need to change their behaviour and be more aware and accepting of other road users, there is also the regulatory aspect that needs to be looked at.
To be clear, the current regulations do not allow for the use of foot scooters on the road, so if we are to decide to make them acceptable means of alternative transport, then changes must be made.
Needless to say, sharing the road should also mean sharing the responsibilities it brings with it. We should not have the situation highlighted by Dr Bianchi in his letter, where such users are difficult to trace in the event of damage or injury caused to others and are thus able to avoid carrying these responsibilities.
While many of those who post comments on social media often accuse the insurance industry of safeguarding solely its own interests, all agree that it would be unacceptable if everyone drove around without insurance. Thankfully, the law has long catered for this and introduced a mandatory requirement for third-party liability insurance to be in place for motor vehicles used on the road.
This requirement was introduced specifically to safeguard against damages sustained by third parties using the road. Insurers provide the necessary funds for compensation by pooling the premiums paid by the “many” to pay for the damages sustained by the “few”.
If we are to decide to make acceptable means of alternative transport, then changes must be made
We also have, in Malta, a brilliant system in place to reduce the risk of uninsured vehicles, which is known as the ‘co-terminus system’. This basically means that the road licence term and the insurance period run concurrently, and you cannot renew the vehicle’s licence without a valid insurance policy. It is a system that has worked very well, especially when one considers the problems faced in other countries where it is possible for vehicle owners to continue driving when their insurance policy has expired.
Unless low-powered vehicles fall under this system – and currently they do not as they do not carry any registration number and thus are not subject to an annual road licence renewal or even registration – they are not effectively compelled to have an insurance policy while being used on the road.
Let us remember that the law is quite clear. By virtue of CAP 104, Article 3(1), it shall not be lawful for a person to use a “motor vehicle” on a road unless there is in force a policy of insurance covering third-party risks complying with the requirements of the law. So, there is no distinction between the various types of vehicles; if they are motorised, they must have insurance to be used. The idea of course is to protect innocent victims of accidents caused by these vehicles.
Thus, if low-powered vehicles, such as foot scooters, are to be allowed on the roads, they must carry a registration plate that makes them identifiable, and they should also have the obligation of taking out insurance cover and renewing a road licence.
Furthermore, a minimum age must be set for the use of such vehicles together with other basic safety requirements such as wearing a helmet and a ban on carrying a passenger.
It would also be ideal to impose a maximum speed limit, which in other countries has been set at 20 kilometres per hour.
It may be worth mentioning that other countries have already experienced the regularisation of the use of foot scooters on their roads. It is reported that some cities like Zurich and Basel have now decided to ban their use, and that the number of accidents arising out of their use in Paris is alarming the authorities there.
The UK has recently (July 12) witnessed its first horrific, fatal collision between an electric scooter (driven by YouTube personality Emily Hartridge) and a lorry, which got a lot of media coverage.
It seems it is now considering enforcing more strictly the existing ban of their use on public roads – which currently carries a £300 fine – rather than going down the road of allowing their use as had been announced by the Department of Transport last March.
In any case, if motorised foot scooters are allowed to be used on the roads, there needs to be clarity in the regulations made, which must be enforced in full. For example, in Denmark, police have recently charged 30 people for operating electric scooters under the influence of alcohol or drugs. We must ensure that a framework is in place for dealing with accidents that would put injured parties’ minds at rest.
Regularising these modes of transportation will also entail a further review of the infrastructure in place and the improvements required for certain areas, such as cycle lanes, which could be used by such low-powered vehicles to cope with increased usage. With such vehicles, it is also likely that they would be offered for short-term rental purposes, and so their numbers would surely increase as well as the risk of accident.
Allowing a free-for-all approach would only encourage the situation that Dr Bianchi referred to involving some road users being able to escape living up to their responsibilities.
Adrian Galea is director general of the Malta Insurance Association.