Exploring the safety gap between shared and private scooters

Sep 16, 2022

In the last Safety Lab article about scooter safety and road infrastructure, it was highlighted that safety statistics are still underdeveloped for scooters compared to other modes of transportation. 

Although there’s growing attention on scooter safety in the media and research community, there are ways to improve how such data is gathered and reported.

Shared vs private scooters

It’s important to note that many news articles and independent studies don’t yet differentiate between shared scooters and privately owned scooters when reporting on scooter safety incidents and data.

And this is significant because we must account for the differences in usage, even though these two vehicle categories share many physical characteristics. 

There’s a shortage of data that directly compares the safety of shared and privately owned scooters. However, by examining the most common causes of scooter accidents, we can infer how shared and private scooters are likely to differ in terms of their safety performance and why reporters and researchers should take steps to distinguish between the two categories.

Scooter accident causes — high-speed 

Research has shown that high speed is a crucial driver of scooter accidents. For instance, according to one UK study, 42% of orthopaedic injuries related to scooters happened above the legal speed limit of 25 km per hour.

Similarly, research from the United States showed that 37% of injured scooter riders reported that excessive speed contributed to their accidents.

Implementing speed limits on shared scooters

Given that high speed is a significant driver of incidents and injuries, limiting a scooter’s maximum speed is crucial to the safety of riders and road users. It’s an area where there’s a critical difference between the safety of shared and private scooters. 

While some brands market personal scooters for their high speeds exceeding 100 km per hour, Bolt takes numerous steps to cap speeds at responsible limits.

Bolt has a general limit of 25 km per hour or less, depending on the city, to ensure compliance with local regulations. Because of centrally managed speeds, Bolt scooters cannot exceed these limits — even on downhill slopes.

Furthermore, Bolt was the first operator to introduce Beginner Mode, which allows users to limit a scooter’s top speed to 15 km per hour as they learn to ride. And as a further measure to limit risks to pedestrians, Bolt works in collaboration with cities to define low-speed zones where scooters automatically reduce their top speed and no-go zones where scooters can’t operate at all.

Bolt collaborates with cities to define slow-speed zones (yellow) and no-go zones (red). These kinds of centralised controls improve the safety of scooters for riders and other road users and are much more challenging to implement on privately owned scooters.

By implementing such controls, Bolt is taking essential steps to ensure that riders use shared scooters at responsible speeds in ways that cannot readily apply to privately owned scooters.

Intoxicated riding

Another critical factor contributing to scooter accidents is rider intoxication. 

According to one academic review that examined 37 separate pieces of research, the median intoxication rate among injured scooter riders across all studies was 27%. While specific estimates vary, it’s clear that intoxication is a critical factor that elevates scooter safety risk.

Preventive measures for shared scooters

Today, there are many public campaigns to educate people about the dangers of drunk driving in cars. However, there’s relatively little education on the topic dedicated to scooter riders.

Similarly, there’s limited regulation and enforcement to prevent private scooter owners from riding home after having too many drinks.

On the other hand, the Bolt app includes education on the dangers of intoxicated riding. It features a cognitive test function to assess if a rider is sober before starting a ride during the hours when intoxication is most likely — such as on weekend nights.

For intoxicated users, the app encourages them to take a ride home with a Bolt driver instead of using a scooter.

Bolt’s cognitive test assesses rider sobriety when intoxicated riding is most likely, such as on weekend nights.

In addition, Bolt collaborates with cities to take further steps, such as reducing scooter speeds and limiting availability at night. We also limit usage around major city events where scooter usage could be dangerous.

As with speed limits, Bolt is implementing various tools to reduce the risk of intoxicated scooter riding that are unavailable with private scooters.

Continuous safety improvement 

While speed limits and drunk riding prevention help to mitigate two of the most significant safety risks related to scooters, there are other ways Bolt protects riders and the public, such as:

All of these initiatives point to the fact that Bolt has a wide range of tools available to assess safety risks and introduce new features and processes to mitigate them.

In the case of a private scooter, the vehicle that comes out of the box is what the rider will use throughout its lifetime, with limited ability for the manufacturer to update its functionality to address evolving safety needs.

On the other hand, Bolt’s scooter service is continuously improving, with teams working to assess, develop, and deploy new safety measures across the 230,000 vehicles already deployed. Today, the ability to introduce new safety measures on private scooters at such a scale doesn’t exist.

Refining scooter safety data

The growing field of scooter safety research is helpful for cities to understand this new transport mode. However, the significant differences in safety measures between private and shared scooters indicate a need to collect and disclose data that more clearly differentiates between the categories.

This research will give transport planners a clearer view of how to regulate these new vehicles and provide both the private and shared scooter industries with helpful insights on how their products can be safer for riders and other road users.

Similarly, ensuring that media reports make this distinction is critical for the public to be accurately informed and, therefore, able to make informed choices.

This same principle should be applied to other shared transport modes such as bikes, mopeds, and cars to understand the safety implications of a broader shift away from privately owned vehicles.

For more information on scooter safety research and data, contact us at safetylab@bolt.eu.

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