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VOICES

Vision-impaired woman 'Please legislate to keep e-scooters off footpaths'

Anne Marie Kearney is vision impaired and uses a cane. She says e-scooters must never reach a footpath.

LAST UPDATE | Feb 2nd 2023, 3:21 PM

TAKE A MOMENT. Imagine it’s early morning and the street lights don’t work. You are on your way to work. You are surrounded by shadows and there is a strange fog in your eyes.

You use your cane to navigate your surroundings. Imagine connecting with the sounds of the environment as you walk along the footpath. Some people are walking by, a car engine runs across the road.

Now, just as you’ve gained your composure, out of nowhere comes an e-scooter at full speed, along that footpath, heading in your direction. The person on board has just been flying along in traffic and has maintained that speed, mounting the footpath to continue their journey. Do you have enough time to react and get out of their way? Remember, you are partially sighted or fully blind.

Such interactions will rarely end well for people with vision impairment. And they’re on the increase. Even the most independent and confident people with vision impairment are absolutely scared by the potential implications if this government does not ban e-scooters from travelling on footpaths. 

This week, the Road Traffic Bill is on the Seanad agenda. This presents the last opportunity for final amendments to be inserted to guarantee that some minimum safety standards apply to the use of e-scooters.

Dangers of e-scooters

At a basic level, this must include a ban on their use on footpaths. I, like others who are blind or vision impaired, have had near misses or collisions with them.

My first encounter was when I was on holiday in Portsmouth in the UK and standing on a corner of a pedestrian street, suddenly I realised I was being approached by two blurred silent objects coming at speed from different directions, one from the path to my left and the other from the pavement in front of me.

Luckily, carrying my long cane, I had enough vision and agility to jump out of the way before either of them had an impact. I urged the riders to pay more attention when they are approaching a person carrying a long white cane in their future journeys.

So if they startle and someone like me, who has experience of cane use, what is the potential of these silent objects speeding down pavements doing to the confidence, independence and safety concerns of those who are only recently disabled, those who are less mobile or those who have a lower level of vision?

A new travel mode

While Transport Minister Eamon Ryan feels it is time these vehicles are welcomed onto our roads, vision impaired people feel it is definitely wrong to allow them on our paths.

Similarly, there must be designated parking bays for e-scooters. Without them, it will lead to injury, particularly for those with a vision impairment as e-scooters can be parked against trees or poles and become trip hazards.

It already happens with bicycles, do we now have yet another obstacle to overcome?

Accidents involving e-scooters and the general public have increased significantly in recent years and among those who are vision impaired there are numerous accounts of near misses. Gardai reported 1,373 traffic incidents with e-scooters involving 440 collisions resulting in the deaths of two people and 42 being seriously injured.

One accident is one too many and there needs to be an awareness campaign put in place addressing how users of powered personal transporters must act when approaching a person with any kind of vulnerability.

Other European cities have felt the effects of e-scooter rental schemes that have not been properly planned. Lanzarote finds scooters abandoned on pathways so that blind and vision impaired tourists now feel it is like an obstacle course getting around. Elsewhere, the mayor of Paris is offering a vote in April 2023 regarding the continuation of the rental schemes due to scooters being abandoned on pathways and even thrown in the river Seine. We need to know what steps the government here is going to take to ensure that similar mistakes are not made in Irish towns and cities.

Finally, as part of the much-needed technical and safety standards, it is imperative that audio devices are attached so that people who are blind or vision impaired are aware of the approach of the e-scooters. Research is ongoing into the most effective sounds to be employed on such vehicles and once finalised and approved must be inserted into their design.

Despite the increased usage of e-scooters for the past number of years, legislation around this new mode of transport has been slow to catch up. For some of us, these modes of transport present real challenges so it is crucial that legislators in Ireland act to provide immediate clarity around e-scooters.

Once we have this clarity, it will ensure the continued confidence and independence of people with disabilities and maintain the safety of all. And please, if you’re using an e-scooter, stay off the footpath.

Anne Marie Kearney lives in Wexford. She is a long cane user.

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