Ban children under 12 from using e-scooters

I couldn't believe my eyes as I glanced at my right-side mirror; there he was, a primary school boy on his electric scooter.

He not only whizzed past, he even cut in front of me to get to the left side of the road near the pavement!

It didn't bother him at all when the driver of an oncoming car along the single-lane, dual-carriageway road sounded his horn. Very nonchalantly, he then rode his scooter into his school premises. What was he thinking, riding so dangerously? And that too at 6.50am, when it was still dark and traffic was building up as parents were driving their children to school.

Do his parents know he rides his electric scooter to school and gets onto the road among busy traffic? Do they allow it?

Call me overly protective but as a mother of two teenagers, aged 13 and 15, there is no way I would allow my children to ride personal mobility devices (PMDs) such as electric scooters and hoverboards to school or anywhere.

As for that boy, I couldn't help thinking that roads and pavements near schools are just too crowded in the mornings. It's dangerous not just for those on PMDs, but also for other children who are walking.

When I got home that morning, I immediately rang the boy's school and spoke to a concerned-sounding woman, who assured me that she would deal with the matter. I hope she spoke to the boy and his parents too. There is a lot of focus on PMDs these days and rightly so, given their proliferation in the last two years and recent accidents involving users of such devices.

Last November, a 52-year-old man using a PMD died when a double-decker bus hit him in Kaki Bukit.

In the same month, another man was arrested after a video showing an electric scooter zipping down the Pan-Island Expressway went viral.

On Monday - the first day stiffer rules against errant PMD riders came into effect - 11 riders were caught in Loyang Drive during a joint enforcement operation between the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Traffic Police. Those caught riding on minor roads now face a fine of up to $800, and up to $1,000 if caught on major roads. PMD users found riding on expressways will be charged in court.

If convicted, they face a maximum penalty of a $2,000 fine and a jail term of three months. Previously, the maximum fine was $500.

It's ironic that people have to be deterred by stiff fines from doing something that so obviously endangers themselves, such as riding these devices on roads and contending with fast-moving cars, trucks and other vehicles.

The stiffer penalties are useful and timely, but there is a limit to resources and it's impossible for enforcement officers to catch every errant rider intent on braving it out on the roads.

More must therefore be done to protect not just pedestrians and other road users, but also PMD riders themselves. This is especially critical for those who are extra vulnerable such as the elderly and young children.

A multi-pronged approach is necessary in this case.

First, focus on safe riding. The LTA says that from Feb 1, it intends to roll out a Safe Riding Programme in schools, community clubs and foreign worker dormitories. Schools and other institutions can sign up for the 90-minute theory and practical programme conducted on a training circuit.

In fact, I think the programme should be compulsory for all schools. The LTA and the Education Ministry can work on this.

Second, protect the vulnerable. The other question to ask is whether young children should even be riding PMDs. With such devices easily able to reach speeds of about 20 to 25kmh, there are good reasons for the authorities to consider a ban, say, for those 12 years old and below.

Primary schools can start by not letting their pupils use such devices to get to and from school.

Finally, parents must also play their part. If you insist on buying your children PMDs, or they are old enough to buy the devices themselves, make sure you teach them safety rules. If possible, set rules on when and where such devices can be used.

As for me, I'm glad my children don't have PMDs - yet, and I've not seen that boy again since he almost gave me a heart attack.

• This commentary was first published online on Jan 16.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2018, with the headline 'Ban children under 12 from using e-scooters'. Print Edition | Subscribe