A law regulating the use of electric scooters in Estonia is to enter into effect in the new year, with speeding and obstructive parking punishable.
The law will define scooters as a form of light travel, with other similar means of transport including skateboards, hoverboards and even unicycles being included in the same definition, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera. Nädal" (AK) reported Sunday night.
The law will address safety concerns surrounding the use of the electric scooters – a familiar sight on the streets of Tallinn and other major Estonia cities since several companies started issuing rental services in summer 2019 – both for scooter users, pedestrians and other road users.
The maximum speed will be capped at 25 km/h, but the law is likely to contain a requirement to travel at slower speeds in the vicinity of pedestrians, AK reported.
While rental scooters maximum speeds are set at a little over 20 km/h, more powerful, privately-owned scooters can go much faster, up to 100 km/h with some models
"In future, those who purchase such scooters must account for the fact that those with a power rating over 1 Kwh and which go faster than 25 km/h are not worth buying," Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) spokesperson Sirle Loigo told AK, adding that what the speed limit near pedestrians would be under the new law has not been decided on yet.
Some users say they already exercise caution when using electric scooters on the streets.
"Certainly, when I'm traveling among pedestrians in the town, I do so at a slower speed, then I can speed up to 25 km/h", one user and private electric scooter owner, Nils Piirma, told the show.
"If I want to do some sort of speed test or extreme things, I will definitely do so, but outside the city limits," he added.
Accident rate rising
AK reported that the number of accidents involving electric scooters had been on the rise, from 18 last year to 33 this year, with many less serious accidents and incidents likely to go unreported.
A fatality involving the use of an electric scooter occurred in Tartu in July.
However, the new law will not change all that much from the PPA's perspective, Sirle Loigo said.
"Nowadays we are monitoring light traffic lanes, because there is simply so much traffic it requires it. With the new law we will certainly continue to do so, but to what extent and if this will need increasing will become clearer to us over time," Loigo said.
Scooter enthusiast Nils Piirma also noted that he would have expected stricter rules on wearing helmets, which the new law will confined to users under age 16.
"A helmet should be made a legal requirement, as there's little difference whether you're going at 15 km/h or 25 km/h," he said.
"If you come across some sort of obstruction and you have to throw yourself to one side or go over the handlebars, a helmet is definitely a basic requirement," he went on.
Sandra Särav, spokesperson from one of the major electric scooter-rental firms, Bolt, said that the opposite was the case.
"We say vice versa, that we like the fact that the law brings clairty. We have been regulating things ourselves, but now users have clarity," she told AK.
"This really brings clarity to private scooter users. While we have from the outset had speed restrictions, there have been cases which we have seen, for instance the instance of someone traveling on Laagna tee at 80 km/h on a private scooter, without, by the way, any safety equipment," she continued, noting a notorious case reported in the private media in summer.
"Instead, the law helps to create more general traffic safety," she added.
The law would also regulate parking, and would require at least one-and-a-half meters' space be left on a sidewalk when parking, to enable pedestrians to pass.
"It is certainly the case that [scooter] parking has caused serious problems," said Tallinn deputy mayor Andrei Novikov (Center).
"It is really the responsibility of the user, rather than the company renting out the scooters. When we rent them from the starting position, as it were, then everything is nicely parked, but from then on it is up to the user," he went on.
For-hire scooters are usually lined up at key locations at the start of the day.
Novikov added that notifying city authorities or Bolt itself, at email@example.com, leads to action being taken, and in the case of multiple violations, users have even been blocked from the service, he said.
The city authorities will not monitor compliance with the new law, Novikov added – that will be the responsibility of the PPA – but the no-parking zones highlighted on scooter rental apps will continue to be under the City of Tallinn's remit.
Rental scooters' speed automatically restricts in some locations in the Old Town and city center, including Vabaduse väljak, taking the maximum speed well below the usual limit.
Novikov added that further cooperation with rental companies is on the cards in terms of its overall approach to planning transport in the capital, including where and whether to install cycle lanes, light traffic statistics and more.
As to how long the service will continue through winter – last year Bolt ceased scooter rental in late October – Sandra Särav said that this would be monitored on a daily basis.
"This year, we will check in the early morning if, for instance, snow is expected or here, and if it is we simply do not run the service at its start time of 6.00 a.m., but we can decide to start it later in the day, as weather permits," she said.
Other rental companies include Tuul, whose scooters users report have suspension which makes the rider more comfortable on some of Tallinn's streets.
Editor: Andrew Whyte