A man rides a scooter in Istanbul, Turkey, on Sept. 16, 2020. (Xinhua/Osman Orsall)

Turkey sets standards for e-scooters as accidents multiply

The COVID-19 pandemic has breathed new life in electric scooters worldwide, but multiplying injuries and traffic accidents in Turkey caused by daredevil users have pushed the government to set up strict regulations.

Turkey’s Transport and Infrastructure Ministry has recently announced new legal arrangements for scooters in traffic, which will be put into effect from the beginning of 2021.

According to the new measures, the maximum speed will be 18 km per hour. Users over the age of 18 can ride scooters without a permit, but those between 16 and 18 will be asked to have motorbike licenses while teenagers under 16 will not be allowed at all.

The issue of rentable scooters and micro-mobility solutions in urban areas has significantly gained media attention in major Turkish cities after an 18-year-old high school student using an electric scooter died in a traffic accident on an Istanbul highway in February.

The two-wheeled vehicles have been widely used lately, especially for short distances, amid the coronavirus outbreak, mostly by young people.

From now on, scooters will not be permitted on pedestrian roads and pavements. There will be special scooter parks as the riders will not be allowed to leave their scooters on any sidewalks.

Scooters will also be prohibited on roads where the speed limits are higher than 50 km.

“Our main goal is to establish globally competitive smart transport systems. For this, we have to specify the obligations for scooter riding,” Transport and Infrastructure Minister Adil Karaosmanoglu told reporters in the capital Ankara.

“Over 3 million residents ride scooters in Turkey, with 35,000 active scooters at the moment. Due to the pandemic, the demand for alternative transportation and their presence in traffic has increased rapidly,” he noted.

The debate about scooter-riding in Turkey began with the renting application Marti, Seagull in Turkish, which has become very popular since 2019, especially with the start of the pandemic in mid-March as people wanted to avoid cramped public transport.

Marti allows its users to travel with e-scooters using a smartphone application that shows the nearest scooter tied to a lamppost and rent it.

But accidents also followed at an increased rate.

“We hear and treat scooter injuries on a regular basis now, mostly ankle, tibia and femur fractures, all serious injuries which need treatment,” orthopedic surgeon Oytun Tunc at a clinic in Istanbul’s Pendik district told Xinhua.

“The issue is a hot one in the orthopedic and trauma community, we hear of frequent accidents caused by scooter use. If the person uses crowded roads or highways, an accident is bound to happen,” said the doctor.

Istanbul, a megapolis of over 16 million separated by the Bosphorus strait in the European and Asian sides, is among the world’s top cities with traffic jams. People spend hours on traffic.

“I myself saw scooter users take the highway at rush hours, so regulating their use would be something beneficial for all,” added Tunc.

Other incidents implying legal conflicts with e-scooter companies have also been recorded.

Sena, a 36-year-old business professional, had a serious accident with a two-wheeled rented vehicle, which she claims, was the result of faulty breaks.

“I had a very serious femur fracture early last month when the e-scooter abruptly broke and projected me on the asphalt. The company didn’t provide any information on breaking issues when I first rented the scooter,” she told Xinhua.

She is suing the company for moral and financial compensation as she needed an emergency surgery and was unable to work since the accident.

According to new standards, a new “Shared E-scooter Business Code” will establish security standards for the scooters, allowing police officers to write tickets for e-scooters and drivers.

Istanbul resident Murat Akinci had recently escaped narrowly to hit a teenager on an e-scooter on the Bagdat avenue, a popular and up-scale residential area located on the Asian side of the city, known for its restaurants and cafes.

“He came from nowhere while I was crossing a pedestrian lane on a green light for me. As I was not going fast, luckily, he escaped the accident without any injuries, but we were both quite scared,” he explained to Xinhua.

“I think the new standards will prove beneficial for scooter users and drivers alike,” he added.