Should e-scooter users wear helmets?

A man using a foldable electric scooter.
A man using a foldable electric scooter. PHOTO: FALCON PEV
The wake for Mr Sam Koh, who died from severe head injuries on Sunday. He was riding his e-scooter with two friends in the wee hours of Saturday morning when he fell and landed on his back.
The wake for Mr Sam Koh, who died from severe head injuries on Sunday. He was riding his e-scooter with two friends in the wee hours of Saturday morning when he fell and landed on his back. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Death of 'expert and experienced rider' leads community to debate safety measures

The death of a well-known member of the electric scooter community has ignited debate over safety precautions for users.

Mr Sam Koh, 23, was riding his e-scooter with two friends in the wee hours of Saturday morning near East Coast Park when he fell and landed on his back. Emergency responders said he was found conscious but in a drowsy state. It is understood he later fell into a coma.

Mr Koh died from severe head injuries on Sunday afternoon in hospital. His case is believed to be one of the rare fatal incidents involving e-scooter users here.

His younger brother, Benson, 22, said Mr Koh was not wearing a helmet but that he was an "expert and experienced rider". "He would wear a cap when riding - it was the kind with a hard surface," the full-time national serviceman told The Straits Times at his brother's wake in Mountbatten yesterday.

Mr Sam Koh worked at Passion Gadgets, a shop selling e-scooters and electric unicycles.

"He would always say it was his passion, how he liked to fix these things," said the younger Mr Koh. His brother was known in the community as a passionate advocate of the devices.

The freak incident involving one of their own has led some e-scooter users to raise the issue of whether protective gear such as helmets should be worn.

Last week, an expert advisory panel submitted a list of rules and guidelines on e-scooters and mobility devices to the Transport Ministry for consideration. It did not recommend the use of helmets for those using these devices but only for cyclists and users of motorised bicycles riding on the roads.

Experts say wearing a helmet on a slow-moving device like the e-scooter does not have to be made mandatory but individuals should assume personal responsibility for their own safety, and understand the risk they take if they do not wear protective gear.

Advisory panel member Denis Koh, who heads the interest group Big Wheel Scooters Singapore, said the panel decided not to make helmets compulsory because the move could be "intrusive". "It is a recommended practice, but we decided not to make it mandatory. It would mean that all the aunties and uncles who ride to the coffee shop have to wear helmets too," he said.

He does use a helmet himself, he said, adding: "Safety should be a personal responsibility."

Users say the devices typically travel at speeds of between 15 and 25kmh, although more powerful versions can hit speeds of 40kmh.

"I think the risk is very low. I've been cycling for 30 years and never fallen and hit my head. The risk is lower on an e-scooter - the centre of gravity is lower and it's easier to get off," said Dr Kevin Soh.

Dr Soh, 52, uses his e-scooter daily for the 5km commute to Mount Elizabeth Hospital in town from his home in Bukit Timah. He travels at a speed of about 15kmh, he said.

Education manager Gerald Goh said that while a helmet might be a useful safety precaution, it was also important to stay vigilant while riding. "Riding safely and staying alert to traffic should be of the utmost importance," said Mr Goh, 35.

Still, there are others like Ms Kelita Yeo from retailer Falcon PEV who feel helmets could potentially save lives .

"We highly recommend wearing helmets even though there are no regulations at the moment stating that it is mandatory," said Ms Yeo.

"This helps to protect the rider in the event of an accident."


••Additional reporting by Samuel Mak

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2016, with the headline 'Should e-scooter users wear helmets?'. Print Edition | Subscribe